Ted's Finest Hour
A local beat writer (who shall remain nameless and whose column I will not link to for employment related reasons) made headlines (all the puns!) this weekend for a scathing criticism of Packers general manager Ted Thompson's modus operandi.
The gist of the criticism is that Ted Thompson is limiting himself to just one avenue of talent acquisition, which has left the Packers sorely without depth at a few positions (a debatable point, given the injury situation this past year) and generally without playmakers at others (probably less debatable).
The great weakness to this line of thinking stems from its source: a writer who just two months ago had the hubris to declare the Packers a nigh-unstoppable juggernaut who could not even be derailed by the loss of its star quarterback, a viewpoint which was quickly and decisively proven to be perhaps the most foolish thing written about the Packers this year, or maybe ever. How do the Packers go from "we're so deep we can win without Aaron Rodgers" to "we are SO not deep because everyone did a terrible job" that quickly?
I don't know, but what I do know is that there may be some truth to what the writer, whose name rhymes with Schmob SchmcGinn, says about Thompson, if only because this off-season Thompson will have no other choice.
(Isn't that a great idea? Write a column you know will get people worked up in a situation where you know things will work out to make it look like you were right? But I digress.)
This off-season, Thompson finds himself face to face with a whopping 19 impending free agents. Among them, a former first round pick (B.J. Raji), the last of his two major free agent signings (Ryan Pickett), a pair of back-up quarterbacks (Seneca Wallace, Matt Flynn), a few second-tier play makers (Sam Shields, James Jones, maybe Mike Neal), a couple injury questions (James Starks, Jermichael Finley), and a host of role players. He can't sign them all. He can't replace them all in the draft. The judicious acquisition of free agents is an absolute must this off-season.
That's why I think the next few months need to be Ted Thompson's finest hour. The draft and develop model has been terrific (and Morgan Burnett's contract doesn't prove otherwise, Schmob). He's built a good base for the Packers, and they'll continue to be relevant for the rest of the decade because of it. But there must be difference makers on this team, and if 2010 can teach us anything, it's that a couple guys can make a huge impact on their teams.
Think of Charles Woodson's leadership. Where would the Packers have been without his playmaking ability in the secondary? Think of Ryan Pickett and the "It Is Time" play. He was the one who spilled the play to Clay Matthews, leading to the forced fumble which turned the Super Bowl.
This year, the Packers will need those players in addition to their salt of the earth, working class players...and they're probably going to have to acquire them through free agency or trades.
Other teams have already reaped the benefits of identifying players that can make a difference and getting them, regardless of the cost. As I wrote last March, The Seahawks, the 49ers, and the Falcons all made big moves in the off-season, and they paid off big for two of those three. The Packers are probably farther away than one difference maker could move them, but an impact free agent on defense coupled with more depth in the secondary would go a long way.
Turnarounds in the NFL can happen quickly. Look at the Saints. Look at the Chiefs. The Packers are at least as good right now as those teams were when they started their rebuilds. If they can't make a jump quickly, nobody can. But for a jump to happen, Ted Thompson needs to make it happen. And for him to make it happen, he'll have to change.
If he can, 2014 will have a better ending than 2013.