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TT Sticks to His Guns

TT Sticks to His Guns

 

Ted Thompson has boldness to spare. Just not the kind that many fans want him to have.

 

 

 

 

There is no shortage of fans who will tell you that Ted Thompson is not bold enough to be a successful GM. If you define “bold” as “doing what the angriest and most outspoken fans want you to do” (i.e., trade up in the draft and sign as many expensive free agents as possible) then Ted is guilty as charged. But isn’t that really the opposite of bold? Isn’t it actually much more bold to stick to one’s philosophy regardless of outside pressures? The real question, I think, is not whether Ted is or is not bold, but whether his philosophy will lead to success. And the answer to that question is not yet clear.

The driving force behind Thompson’s team-building strategy is supreme confidence in his ability to find young talent. This is why he trades down in the draft. If you believe that at least one of the players you covet will fall to a lower spot, why not trade down to that spot? Then you still get one of the players you wanted, plus you get an extra pick for making the trade. Thus, this strategy that is dismissed by many as overly conservative is really more like the strategy employed by a hotshot businessman who is not afraid to wheel and deal, on the assumption that he will have more hits than misses and will therefore come out ahead in the end. Again, it is open to debate whether this strategy is actually working. But it is not a timid strategy. It would be much easier, at least in the short run, to stand pat in the draft and pick the best-known players.

In fact, contrary to his reputation in some circles as a shrinking violet, Ted Thompson’s tenure as Packers’ GM has been full of gutsy decisions. Let’s take a look at some of them:

 

LETTING WAHLE AND RIVERA GO

When Thompson arrived in Green Bay, everyone knew that at least one of their veteran guards was bound to leave, as the team could not afford to sign both of them to the lucrative free agent contracts they were due to receive. It was expected that Thompson would at least make a push to keep one of them. But much to the displeasure of many fans (and a certain QB), he let both of them walk.

RESULT: In itself, this has to be judged a good move. Marco Rivera did nothing for the Cowboys and was out of the league after a couple years. Mike Wahle had a couple of decent years in Carolina, but was not a difference-maker and has now moved on to Seattle. What complicates the picture, though, is the fact that Thompson did a poor job of replacing these players when they left. The first year he brought in vets who were terrible, and the next year he drafted some guards who have thus far performed erratically.

 

DRAFTING A QB WITH HIS FIRST PICK

In his first draft, Thompson stunned almost everyone by taking Aaron Rodgers in the first round. Of course, Rodgers had already fallen farther than expected, but many fans (as well as Brett Favre) wanted an impact player. Clearly, a backup to the most durable QB in NFL history was not going to be an impact player.

RESULT: With Rodgers finally getting a chance to start in his fourth year, and playing very well, this is looking like a very good pick, and possibly a great one.

 

FIRING MIKE SHERMAN

Bob Harlan did Ted Thompson no favors by bringing him here as GM while retaining deposed GM Mike Sherman as head coach. Although technically the team was in Thompson’s hands, the pretext of him coming here was that he and Sherman would try to become an effective duo. When it became clear that it just wasn’t going to work out, Thompson fired Sherman the day after the 2005 season ended.

RESULT: See next section.

 

HIRING MIKE McCARTHY

McCarthy was a young unknown with a less-than-stellar track record as an assistant. Almost nobody expected him to be hired over the higher-profile candidates who were available in 2006. But Thompson hired him anyway.

RESULT: The jury is still out on this one. In McCarthy’s first season, this looked like a solid choice, in his second season, it looked like a brilliant choice, and in his third season, it looked like a questionable choice. Stay tuned.

 

SIGNING CHARLES WOODSON

Thompson’s only headline-worthy free agent signing did not come about in the conventional way. Woodson was still available after a couple months of free agency, due to his high demands, recent injury history, and possibly some questions about his attitude. Thompson signed him to a huge front-loaded deal.

RESULT: This one has been a smashing success. Woodson has played in almost every game and has been one of the best CB’s in the league throughout his three years in Green Bay. He has also become a team leader.

 

DRAFTING JUSTIN HARRELL

Harrell had missed most of his senior season with an injury, causing him to slip way down on most draft boards. So it was a surprise when Thompson took him with the 16th overall pick.

RESULT: Harrell has been injured for most of his first two seasons and has made no impact when he’s made it onto the field. He is on the verge of becoming a bust and possibly the Packers’ worst first-round draft pick since Jamal Reynolds.

 

TRADING BRETT FAVRE

It’s not easy when your star player decides to come out of retirement two weeks before training camp, and then when you refuse to let him rejoin the team he publicly rips you and demands his unconditional release so he can play for your arch rival (on opening day on Monday Night Football, no less). But Thompson held his ground and eventually traded Favre safely out of the division.

RESULT: Although this move will always remain somewhat controversial, it looks like a winner in pure football terms. Aaron Rodgers showed a lot of talent and poise in his first year as a starter, while Favre’s aging body began to break down before the end of the season and he quietly retired.

 

The way I see it, the balance sheet on these moves is mostly in Thompson’s favor. But it all comes down to wins and losses in the end, and after last year’s 6-10 performance, fans have good reason to be skeptical.

My point is that I think fans misread Thompson when they cast him as overly timid. It is often forgotten that Thompson has earned the respect of Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren, two guys who know a thing or two about football. Thompson is a man of deep convictions. He is going to stick to his plan, and guess what? He doesn’t care what you think, nor should he. The 2009 season should tell us a lot about whether Thompson’s strategy will pay off in the long run.

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Comments (23)

IronMan's picture

I have always enjoyed reading your balanced, objective view on the Packers. You give Thompson credit where it is due; but you are also not afraid to point out his mistakes.

Your writing is exceptional as well.

Andyman's picture

Very nice article man, and very well said.

Aaron's picture

Excellent piece, but one nit I'd like to pick: Judging the release of both Rivera and Whale as a 'good move' is questionable at best. Sure, Rivera broke down, but even Thompson has acknowledged he should have done more to keep Whale. He's not the player he used to be now, but the next few seasons with the Packers he would have been invaluable and certainly much, much better than the players Thompson has brought in to try and replace him.

Just think it's a bit of a stretch to label it a 'good move'.

packerslounge's picture

I just wanted to use the reply button.

Greg C.'s picture

You make a good point, Aaron. The way I was looking at it was that if Thompson had found a good replacement for Wahle within a couple years, which is what you're supposed to do when you let a vet go, there would not have been a big problem. Also, letting Wahle go allowed a lot more room under the salary cap, which was probably directly related to signing Woodson and retaining some of our other vets. With a team that needed retooling at several positions, it would've been burden to have an interior O-lineman with a huge contract.

Tyler Bohms's picture

Maybe the move wasn't "good" but it was definitely necessary. They were in cap hell at that point, and he did what he thought he needed to do.

That was a great article and a creative topic. Kudos!

Pack93z's picture

Here is the analogy that I used this weekend in a call with an old friend.

Bob Sanders paid the price with his job for mainly being either to stubborn to and not knowing how to adjust his defense to repeated attacks on his defensive scheme. He could not adjust from his way of doing things.

To this point, one could make a strong case for the premise that Ted either is too stubborn or unable to adjust to the way the free agency market and system works. He seems to be steadfast set on doing business in the free market only his way... will it be successful in the end for the Packers and Ted on a personal level, it remains to be seen.

Can he adapt and call an audible in his vision and plan?

Asshalo's picture

"The real question, I think, is not whether Ted is or is not bold, but whether his philosophy will lead to success"

That's actually the main reason he gets criticized. When you're always trying to fill big gaps, it's very hard to be successful. That's been the case the vast majority of his time here. 2007 is one more poor season away from becoming an anomaly. He makes good moves but four years later you have no excuse for the kinda of holes this current team has

and rivera, wahle and RUEGERMIER
You forgot that the 2004 line set a record for fewest sacks allowed and the 2005 line was one of the worst in the league. Resigning Wahle, Rivera or Ruegermier would have given our line some much needed experience. It's no use getting rid of all of them when you NO ONE to replace them.

Dale Z's picture

Nah he is criticized because his moves are not exciting or popular despite being correct. The fact that he has a losing record under his belt (numbers skewed due to first year with Mike "genius" Sherman but whatever) is a bonus.

Asshalo's picture

How can you call them correct when we've obviously lacked personnel in 3 of the four seasons he's been here? Make fun of Sherman as you should, but realize 3 of his five starters from the 2004 offensive line were let go which resulted in a terrible offensive line.

He's done good, but his moves aren't as unquestionable as you and greg are trying to imply. one post season in four years is nothing to write home about. In fact missing them again this year could very well loose him his job (and I will be all for it).

IPBprez's picture

Calling Mike Sherman a Genius .... is the stretch, partner!
Wasn't it Mike Sherman that gave us 4-12 with a Legend behind Center?
Wasn't it Mike Sherman that cost us the Lambeau Mystique?
Wasn't it Mike Sherman that called the 4th & 26 defense, over-ruling Ed Donatel?

I could go on and on, but this suppression of facts needs to stop.

Aaron's picture

Criticizing Thompson for letting Ruegermier go. Now I've seen it all...

Asshalo's picture

He played a vital role in that great line in 2004. Make fun of him but we obviously didn't have anything to replace him with as a TERRIBLE 2005 on the offensive line indicates

BTW, nice updates with the new edit and reply functions.

Aaron's picture

They DID replace him - with Scott Wells. And Rugg was such an all star that he went on to the Giants and...sat the bench.

:)

Asshalo's picture

Right but what about the other two? And wells wasn't fantastic in '05 either. Took a couple years for them to be good. Is that how long we're going to have to wait on the D-line? TT doesn't have that much time.

L.A.'s picture

Mike, I will be the first to say that I think it is a tremendous positive for Thompson to have stuck to his guns the way he has. If he is going to the top of the mountain or to the depths of the ocean trenches, it is going to be playing his own game the whole way. In fact, if he did pull a sudden 180, I would probably suggest he leave because it would suggest a level of desperation on his part.
The other thing that I give him a lot of respect for is the change in the climate in the locker room. Under the previous regime, players left and right were complaining about contracts, holding out, playing Sherman as the bad guy. Under Thompson, we rarely hear about guys complaining about contracts (other than Grant and Williams), because they know they will eventually get paid if they shut up and do their job. That has created a much different environment to work in.
I do have many criticisms of Thompson, but this was a good time to acknowledge that TT isn't the antichrist and deserves a chance to play his plan out to its endgame. We may offer criticism along the way, but he has a plan and is sticking to it, even if it is frustrating to many fans.

Greg C.'s picture

I also think it would be worrisome if Thompson suddenly made a big change in the way he did things. There is something to be said for consistency. If he slowly evolved, though, it might be okay. That Patriots have kind of done that. They've gotten more and more willing to sign big-name free agents in recent years. But I think they've been able to do that mainly because they developed a reputation based on that first Super Bowl win and kept adding to that reputation. That has given them a major competitive advantage in the free agent market.

I will add, though, that the Patriots are an unusual case. The last four Super Bowls have been won by teams that have been built almost entirely through the draft and who have had a consistent approach in place for about 8-10 years.

Elmo's picture

You people are ridiculous.
ted thompson is an underachieving gm. How could ron wolf endorse this guy who absolutely has no eye for talent. Every team you can think of vastly improved their situation except for greenbay. . I am a packer fan and also a great evaluator of football talent myself but Ted has done absolutely nothing for the team. How many times are you willing to keep building through the draft waiting three to four years every rip to see if you got some good players or not? You dont you idiot, get a couple of impact players and the need positions and let the veterans groom them for success. Coaches coach but players know secrets and tricks to success. So as of now, from not just me, but fans all over world and wisconsin, Mr. Ted Thompson, you are now on the clock!

IPBprez's picture

I have to disagree with Aaron ... No offense, but the part of this very well written piece that is missing (at the beginning) was whether or not the Packer HAD THE ABILITY to retain one or the other between Wahle & Rivera. Rivera (32) being the older, would have been thelogical choice to give an outright release to. While you couldn't tell it too much, that side of the line had been breaking down more often than where Wahle was standing next to Cliffy. Had it not been for the sheer bull strength of Mark Tauscher, evidence would have shown itself much much sooner. That's on the Play side.

On the money side, everyone please tell me just how much money did Mike Sherman leave Ted Thompson in the piggy bank? Mike Wahle was slated to get an 11million payday just as TT was walking in the door. Did we have eleven million it would have taken to keep Mike Wahle? The answer, period, was NO! So no matter how you prefer to slice it, Wahle was headed out the door, headed for his payday somewhere. Mike Wahle even admitted as much in several interviews, saying he felt his family not only needed, but "deserved" that big payday... so for him it was about FAMILY.

In order to understand the circumstances at that time, you have to go back in time, to see where the money disappeared to. The Writer mentions Jamal Reynolds. What about Joe Johnson? And, that's just two. Mike Sherman as GM was an abject failure on many levels. Certainly, he got lucky with the AL HARRIS Free Agent grab. But, Sherman's bad decisions far outweighed his good ones, which I will always think of as nothing but luck. Al Harris was pretty unhappy in Philadelphia, so he was bound to play well no matter where he went. The fact, that year after year, the Packers were ending up with less and less money in the bank for the FA period, let alone the Draft, was a telltale sign the Board of Directors had the Packers making the wrong choice for a two headed hydra like Mike Sherman.

Now, many will cite Sherman's early stats - him being compared to Vince Lombardi. I don't discount that. Yet, for how long did that last? Wasn't Sherman's early success really due to who was in charge above him? Weren't the Personnel he had to work with given to him by someone who had better judgement? Once Mike Sherman actually began to be the Chef, as it were... how many times did the recipe turn out poorly?

No - Ted Thompson's actual legacy has yet to be finalized. But, the fans pretending Thompson is one of the worst GM's we've ever had is just wrong-headed and myopic in viewpoint. Not only was the Charles Woodson FA grab a decent move, Ryan Pickett has been a good one, as well. In fact, several of TT's moves in Free Agency, while not stellar or "breaking news" for the four-letter (which I could care less about) ... they have been what I term Packer-Logic (akin to Spock Logic).

One other note - as for the Harrell pick. I can see where TT thought this might be another good selection in the mode of Gravedigger, or a Gravy Jackson. I look to the Scouts as to why this pick has become suspect. I also look to the Coaches and the Trainers as to why no apparent incentive has been given the man, to step up and show a better performance, to date. REMEMBER, once a player is selected, it is the COACHES who must make that Player into Packer material. Harrell has been given a sizable amount of money so far, but nothing near what his contract says he should end up getting. I would have to go back and review who else was available at the time and how are they doing for whomever. (??)

All in all - a very good Article which bent on not being malicious in any fashion, whereas many many others have been, especially at JSonline. The events of last offseason have tainted many a good writer's attitudes about the occurrences at 1265. That part is sad to see. A SportsWriter's perspective should never be slanted in that manner. As far as the Packers are concerned? My question is: Just how many other Teams do you see where Players are telling the Staff what's gonna be? In your own homes, do your children tell you how to run your household? I'll leave that where it needs to stay... but those questions were never asked by the Press all of last year, especially by the four-letter. Quite childish all in all. After all, had the Staff caved in, and things still turned out poorly, whose head would the fans be after? Yea, that's what I thought. No one in this man's world should be allowed to escape accountability ... no one!

For me - once the Coaches show some guts out there on the sidelines, then the Players will take it to the bank and leave all of what they have on the field and not in the Locker Room. Let's hope Mr. Redding can stop the injuries. The other Teams may now have film on Rodgers - but they DON'T have film on Capers as a Packers Coach. Let the chess game begin!

packerslounge's picture

That is an awesome post. Gravy Jackson - classic.

Could not agree more on the sliding off staff vs. players. There is a hierarchy and it should be respected.

I am also am pretty sure this is the longest comment in Packer Lounge history. If we actually had money for prizes, I would send you one.

IPBprez's picture

Whoa..... thanks for that. Was just shooting from the hip, John Wayne style.

As an anecdote - we at IPB do have our own version of a SportzDesk and while I'm no Greg C., there is a learning curve and I'm probably about 40% there. Only time will tell if it becomes anything other than a semi-good blog.

Thanks again!

(PS: Our normal linkage needs updating - we're currently residing at http://indypckrbckrs.multiply.com until I get a bit of help (html beginner here) for the actual DOT come we own.)

packerslounge's picture

I will get you on my link list.

longtimefan's picture

Good post IP!!!!!!!!!

I can dabble a touch in html, so if you need help let me know... be glad to offer some novice help

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