Thompson needs to heed ‘all-in’ call
For years now, Aaron Rodgers’ words have been thoughtful, measured and carried a message almost as powerful as his Hail Mary passes.
In 2014, Rodgers told Packer Nation to R-E-L-A-X following the team’s 1-2 start. Green Bay then went 11-2 the rest of the regular season and reached the NFC Championship Game.
In 2016, with Green Bay sitting 4-6 and headed on the fast track to nowhere, Rodgers said his team could “run the table.” The Packers won eight straight games and again reached the NFC title game before falling to Atlanta two weeks ago.
So it was telling when Rodgers stood at the podium following that loss to the Falcons and fired a missile into the lap of Packers general manager Ted Thompson.
“We’ve just got to make sure we’re going all-in every year to win,” Rodgers said. “And I think we can take a big step this off-season.”
Since Thompson arrived in January 2005, off-seasons have meant preparing for the draft, procuring college talent on draft weekend, then signing as many undrafted players as possible.
Free agency? Thompson abhors that activity as much as a 5-year-old taking medicine.
Thompson inherited a disastrous roster from Mike Sherman back in 2005. And in his first two seasons as GM, he signed seven unrestricted free agents — most notably cornerback Charles Woodson and nose tackle Ryan Pickett.
In the 10 off-seasons since, Thompson has signed five UFAs. That’s right, five. Yawn! In fact, Thompson has completely ignored the UFA market in six of the last seven off-seasons. That approach runs polar opposite to former Packers general manager Ron Wolf, the man who groomed Thompson two decades ago.
“One thing I told my guys: when it’s all said and done, I’m going to have two six-shooters on me and I’ve got 12 rounds on me,” Wolf said in a 2015 interview with Packer Plus. “And I can guarantee you fellows I’m going to fire all 12 rounds. I’m not coming back here with one revolver half full.”
Thompson’s revolvers return fully loaded nearly every season. As a result, the Packers have won just one Super Bowl in Thompson’s 12 seasons, despite having two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in the building.
No one will ever argue that the NFL draft is the lifeblood to success. There, Thompson has been quite efficient.
Thompson revamped the roster when he first arrived with a series of successful drafts, none better than the 2005 class led by Rodgers and Nick Collins. Thompson’s 2009 draft produced Pro Bowlers Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji, two players that took Green Bay’s defense from respectable to elite and eventually helped the Packers win Super Bowl XLV.
And Thompson’s last three drafts have bore nine starters and a handful of solid contributors.
But it hasn’t been enough to get Green Bay over the hump. And Rodgers & Co. know a few key veteran free agents could help the Packers take that final step.
“I don’t think we need to rebuild, we need to reload,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got a lot of players who are young who are big contributors for us. We just need to reload a little bit this off-season.”
The Packers have lost two of the last three NFC Championship Games, leaving many in the building irritated and unfulfilled over the missed opportunities.
Wolf faced a similar situation just more than two decades ago.
Dallas defeated Green Bay in the postseason three straight years from 1993-’95, including the 1995 NFC Championship Game. Wolf had seen enough and was hell bent on getting past the mighty Cowboys.
The Packers had the core of their roster intact, but Wolf did a masterful job of adding a handful of veterans that eventually took Green Bay to new heights.
That off-season, Wolf signed UFA defensive tackle Santana Dotson to complete the NFL’s best defensive line. Wolf also plucked mid-level free agents Desmond Howard, Don Beebe and Ron Cox — all three who were unwanted in their previous homes, but later played huge roles in Green Bay.
Later that spring, Wolf signed left tackle Bruce Wilkerson, who had been released in Jacksonville. When rookie John Michels flamed out, Wilkerson became the Packers’ starting left tackle.
Then in late June, Wolf traded reserve defense end Matt LaBounty to Seattle for Eugene Robinson, who combined with LeRoy Butler to form the NFL’s top safety tandem.
In a few short months, Wolf added a handful of critical pieces. And those 1996 Packers eventually became Green Bay’s first Super Bowl championship team in 29 years.
Thompson has a similar opportunity now. It’s one he’s failed miserably on in the past, and with years ticking away on Rodgers, it’s one Thompson can’t squander again. According to the website overthe
cap.com, the Packers will have approximately $35 million of salary cap room in 2017. Green Bay could pick up even more relief if they part ways with injured cornerback Sam Shields, who has a cap number of $12.125 million. Green Bay could also ask underperforming veterans Clay Matthews ($15.2M cap number) and Randall Cobb ($12.75M) to restructure their deals.
That kind of money could buy a cornerback like A.J. Bouye and a pass rusher such as Melvin Ingram, moves that would go a long way toward fixing the miserable defense Thompson has assembled. It would also allow the Packers to sign many of their own key free agents such as Jared Cook and T.J. Lang.
Rodgers turns 34 next season and remembers all too well watching former teammate Brett Favre leave the game with just one championship. Packer Nation also cringes, too, when thinking that Favre and Rodgers — a pair of quarterbacks that rank among the 10 greatest in NFL history — have combined for just two Super Bowls in 25 years. It doesn’t have to stay that way. The 2016 Packers were close. Rodgers knows it, which is why he implored his general manager to become more aggressive.
If Thompson once again refuses to go “all-in,” it’s time the Packers find someone who will.
Packers GM Ted Thompson has won one Super Bowl title with 2005 pick Aaron Rodgers at QB.