Why Bob McGinn is Wrong About Ted Thompson
If Bob McGinn wants Ted Thompson fired, he should say so.
His recent column calling the loss of T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton an “unpardonable sin” nearly gets there, but McGinn pulls up short, instead contenting himself with firing rocks through the Packers’ general manager’s office window.
McGinn wanders through the piece, calling out Thompson’s excessive frugality, Russ Ball’s penny pinching negotiating style, and the Packers’ inability to get to and win more than one Super Bowl in Thompson’s thirteen seasons at the helm.
It would be a great piece if it made any kind of logical sense. It does not, and here’s why.
What actually hit newsstands on Sunday was little more than a hit job, but McGinn couldn’t manage to finish his attack. If the Packers are really being so poorly managed, why not call for Thompson’s firing flat out?
McGinn can’t, because his argument doesn’t actually support his conclusion. Let’s look at McGinn’s major assertions and whether they’re actually borne out by evidence.
McGinn’s 1st Point: Ted Thompson lowballed T.J. Lang
Towards the back half of the piece, McGinn takes Thompson to task for his handling of T.J. Lang’s free agency. Here’s the money paragraph:
Acting in extreme good faith, Lang volunteered to let the Packers’ medical staff examine his hip March 6 in Green Bay, three days before the start of the free-agent signing period. Just like clockwork, the Packers then made an offer averaging close to $8 million (had it been extended during the season, Lang would have accepted).
Detroit, which is home for Lang, and Seattle each made offers comparable to Green Bay’s. After visiting Detroit and Seattle, Lang gave all three teams a chance to increase their offer.
Having drawn a line, the Packers didn’t respond and lost the player to the Lions, who paid an average of $9.5 million on a three-year basis with $19.5M guaranteed.
McGinn frames this as the Packers trying to “extract a hometown deal” from Lang, a criticism he uses elsewhere in the piece.
What’s not addressed, though, is that both Seattle and Detroit offered Lang nearly identical contracts, and he turned those down, too!
Thompson disciple John Schneider, whose offensive line is in far worse shape than Green Bay’s, declined to overpay Lang, as did the team that ultimately upped their offer. Yet it’s only Thompson that gets criticism for making literally the exact same move that two other teams also tried.
Should he have chosen to do so, McGinn could have fairly criticized the Packers for failing to stay in touch with Lang throughout their contract process. Instead, he chooses to poke at the Packers’ choice to make their first offer their best and final offer.
McGinn’s 2nd Point: Ted Thompson is overly frugal in general
McGinn tries to tie Lang’s situation to the Packers’ overall financial strategy, attempting to use perceived failure in one area as an indicator of overall failure. He does not achieve this goal, instead offering only evidence of the Packers’ sound strategy:
Look at the consistency of carryovers by the Packers in recent years: $5.28 million in 2012, $7.01M in ’13, $9.82M in ’14, $7.79M in ’15, $6.95M in ’16 and $7.99M this year.
Those totals have seen the Packers rank 18th, 12th, sixth, seventh, 11th and 10th in the NFL in cap money rolled over.
"Having that same amount basically rolled over every year is not coincidence,” an NFL general manager said. “That’s a plan.”
You’re darn right it’s a plan, and a good one. Criticising it as “failure to buy that extra player or two necessary to win another championship” as McGinn does is not just unfair, it’s inaccurate.
Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith points out that not only is Thompson not excessively frugal, he’s not really frugal at all compared to the rest of the league:
According to NFLPA records, the Packers carried over $7.98 million in cap space, while the average NFL team carried over $9.18 million in cap space. In other words, not only was Thompson overly frugal in his handling of the salary cap last year, but he was actually less frugal than average.
McGinn’s 3rd Point: The Packers coaching staff is mad at Ted Thompson
Back to the loss of Lang. According to McGinn, letting one of the Packers’ best players leave has royally ticked off the coaches, to the point that they are “incensed” at their general manager:
Lang had been talking to James Campen, his position coach for all eight seasons, throughout the process. You’ll be subjected to all that “next man up” happy talk for months to come. The truth is that the Packers’ coaches were incensed, and no doubt some of the players were, too.
Assuming this is true... so what? What difference does it make if James Campen, Edgar Bennett, Mike McCarthy, or the reanimated corpse of Vince Lombardi is mad at Ted Thompson for not signing a player?
It’s not their job to manage the salary cap or the roster. It’s their job to get the roster that the Packers have ready to play.
Flipping this argument around, you can see how bonkers it really is. Imagine if it leaked that Ted Thompson was incensed at the coaching staff over play calling during a key game. It would be ridiculous, because it’s not Thompson’s job to call plays. That sort of criticism would be completely out of line in that situation, and it’s out of line in this one.
And speaking of Lombardi, he did stuff like cutting Sitton all the time. McGinn’s colleague Pete Dougherty outlined several great examples shortly after Sitton’s departure, including Lombardi’s decision to trade Hall of Fame center Jim Ringo even with no replacement on the roster. Thompson’s strategy with Sitton is hardly new or unique.
McGinn’s 4th Point: Losing Lang and Sitton was an “unpardonable sin”
This is the big one. This is where the rubber meets the road. All of McGinn’s arguments lead to this, but he scatters his conclusions throughout the piece. Let’s address them bit by bit:
How not one but two Pro Bowl guards, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, were allowed to depart the Packers in less than seven months strikes at the sometimes absurd nature of the team’s financial practices.
The dictionary definition of absurd is “ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous; having no rational or orderly relationship to human life.” Using that word to describe the Packers would indicate that this sort of behavior is beyond the pale.
Categorically, it is not. Teams choose not to re-sign aging players all the time, especially linemen.
The Sitton affair was bungled from the start. No trade. No final season. No compensatory pick. After cutting their best lineman Sept. 3, the Packers were fortunate Taylor played at what he called a higher level than in the past.
There was no doubt, however, that Taylor still was only the team’s fifth-best offensive lineman just as Sitton was doing his customary outstanding work in Chicago.
Sitton’s situation was not handled well. The Packers cut him when there was little reason to cut him and will get nothing as a result. I agree with McGinn there.
But why are the Packers “fortunate” with Taylor, a player the Packers have been grooming for half a decade and whose contract was extended last offseason? They get zero credit for correctly pegging him as a starting caliber guard?
And as to Sitton’s work in Chicago, he may have been outstanding when he was healthy, but the Packers moved on from their former All-Pro because of concerns his body was breaking down.
What about the hip, you say, and the fact Lang turns 30 in September?
Of course there are no guarantees in pro football, and his age is risky. But at least now the hip is fixed, and Lang won’t be dealing with the misery he did just to play each Sunday. Maybe he’ll have a new lease on his football life.
And guess what? Sitton missed three games, couldn’t start a fourth, and appeared on the injury report nine times last season. If the best ability is availability, Sitton’s ability certainly slipped last year, and in a big way.
His age is risky, but he’s definitely better and he could be better than ever next season, despite the fact that players of his age and position regularly decline significantly at this point in their careers.
No matter how you cut it, losing both Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang was an unpardonable sin. But that’s just the way they handle business in Green Bay.
And this, as I said at the start, is where McGinn misses. He’s attempted to lay out a meticulous argument that the the Packers are being horribly mismanaged, building his case around the departures of Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang. He concludes by naming it as an “unpardonable sin,” but then offers no path to penitence for the Packers.
That sort of claim can’t be left unaddressed. If things are truly so bad that the Packers are throwing away championships by not re-signing aging guards, something has to be done. There has to be a change in the way things are done, and McGinn says clearly that Thompson and his staff aren’t going to change their ways.
So Thompson must be fired, right? That is the only possible consequence for such a willful dereliction of duty. That’s what McGinn should have concluded, but didn’t.
McGinn either doesn’t believe his own evidence or he’s as complicit as Thompson in the Packers’ perceived decline.
Why bother taking someone to task if you’re not going to demand change?