In 2006, Packers general manager Ted Thompson signed cornerback Charles Woodson in free agency, and it was one of the best moves he ever made.
The $52 million deal was a big gamble, because Woodson had been injured and his play slipped because of his discontent with the Raiders in his first stint there. Woodson had seven great seasons in Green Bay, winning NFL defensive player of the year in 2009 and being a huge part of a Super Bowl champion the next season.
You'd think that experience would give Ted Thompson the warm and fuzzies about free agency and he'd spend his time chasing the next Woodson. Instead, Thompson might be off on vacation this week. Wherever he has been, he hasn't been signing any players.
Green Bay didn't sign one player, outside of retaining his own free agents, in the first three days of free agency. It's not like the Packers are broke. They have about $24 million in cap room, according to OverTheCap.com. It's not like they don't have needs. A stud left tackle would have been great, allowing David Bakhtiari to move inside to guard. Any of the top centers would have worked. A pass rusher would be swell. They could have spent on a big-time safety, and it's not like Antoine Bethea, T.J. Ward, Donte Whitner or guys like that got a ridiculous amount of money.
Instead, despite their status as contenders and the fact that everyone in their division and most teams around the league improved this week, Green Bay did nothing. That's not new. Thompson has gone from signing Woodson early in his tenure, to being a little more cautious about free agency, to being practically allergic to it.
The Packers were lauded for being so home grown last season, and they were, to almost freakish levels. For most of the season, among the 53-man roster only quarterback Seneca Wallace, fullback John Kuhn and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett (another nice free agent signing by Thompson back when) had appeared in a game for another NFL team. And Thompson was congratulated for building through the draft.
But going on free-agency signing binges is just as short-sighted as ignoring free agency altogether, as Thompson has apparently decided to do.
The Packers are still a championship contender. They're not as good as the 49ers or Seahawks, but with a healthy Aaron Rodgers they could beat either team on the right day. They lost on a last-second field goal to San Francisco in the playoffs, and it stands to reason that a key free agent might have made one play that turned that game around. But Thompson doesn't go after that player anymore.
Thompson could still find some pieces, and there are plenty of solid free agents left. And Thompson has the draft too. It's commendable to build through the draft, and through the years everyone has come to a consensus that it's the best way to go. Thompson places a premium on drafting players and retaining the best ones to long-term deals. But when you completely ignore signing any outside free agents, you're cutting off an avenue of player acquisition.
We all make fun of guys like Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who year after year would dump huge money on every big-name free agent he could. Thompson takes the extreme opposite approach to free agency. That's a mistake, too.
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