Thomp­son needs to heed ‘all-in’ call

Packer Plus - - Commentary - ROB REISCHEL Send email to ro­breis­chel@gmail.com

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pack­ers GM Ted Thomp­son has won one Su­per Bowl ti­tle with 2005 pick Aaron Rodgers at QB.

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