COMMENTARY | At some point along the ride that has been Ted Thompson’s tenure as general manager of the Packers it became a given in Green Bay that the team no longer does much in free agency.
This of course would be the same general manager that made a splash in the same risky waters when he first arrived in Wisconsin by signing future Hall-of-Famer Charles Woodson. That would be the same Charles Woodson that helped lead the Packers to their first championship since a young Brett Favre was leading the team in the 1990’s.
It’s the near-impossible reconciliation of these two situations which was likely keeping many Packer fans awake at night as they tried to rationalize yet another off-season without any serious upgrades from the pool of free agents.
It’s true that the Packers won the 2010 Super Bowl and then proceeded to reel off 15 of their next 16 regular season games — a definite indication that Thompson was doing something right. However, it’s also true that the team has followed that up with three consecutive years of disappointing play in the postseason.
Since winning the league title four seasons ago, the Packers are 1-3 in the playoffs, including two losses on the hallowed grounds of Lambeau Field.
What’s was most perplexing was the fact that several of the team’s most critical contributors during the 2010 Super Bowl run were plucked off the free agent heap. This made the idea that the team was no longer a serious contender in the free agent market extremely difficult to digest.
Fans have probably been wondering for some time now why that recipe of success was tossed aside for the more narrow approach of only drafting and developing homegrown talent, as the Packers have done almost exclusively in recent years.
Every team in the NFL has three primary outlets for improving the talent on their squad. A team can draft talented players, they can develop players with the assistance of good coaches, and they can hire free agents from other teams.
It doesn’t take an especially high football IQ to realize that the teams most likely to succeed will execute all three of those tactics to their maximum potential.
Therefore, teams that draft well, develop well, AND add competitive pieces in free agency will likely have the best chance for sustained excellence.
This is in fact the exact recipe that Ted Thompson utilized when he first arrived in Green Bay. Thompson drafted Aaron Rodgers, he developed Clay Matthews, and he added Charles Woodson in free agency.
The result of those shrewd efforts was the team’s amazing Super Bowl run, which culminated in a thrilling victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Going back even further reveals a similar theme. On route to winning the 1996 NFL championship, the Green Bay Packers were led by three players acquired from other teams. The Packers traded for Brett Favre and acquired both Reggie White and Sean Jones in free agency.
Until last week, it seemed abundantly clear that Ted Thompson had moved away from adding talent through free agency. That was evident because the team hadn’t added an impact player in this fashion since Woodson in 2006, who has since parted ways with the team.
Thankfully, that all changed on March 15 when, according to ABC News, the Packers signed free agent defensive end Julius Peppers to a three-year deal. Amazingly, the team quickly followed up with another move only a couple days later when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the team had signed another defensive tackle named LeTroy Guion.
The two moves should go far in helping the team rebuild a defense that often struggled during the 2013 season. More importantly, the signings suggest that Thompson may have realized he had unnecessarily limited the team’s ability by passing on on this particular outlet in recent seasons.
The Packers won the Super Bowls in 1996 and 2010 because the team’s management and staff excelled at all three phases of adding talent to the team — through the draft, through development, and through free agency.
Hopefully, by returning to the team’s original recipe of success, the Packers will now have a legitimate chance of tapping that same level of excellence again in the near future.