In his first year as Green Bay Packers General Manager (2006), Ted Thompson grabbed Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett via free agency. Neither appeared to be a stud at the time—the Oakland Raiders thought Woodson was breaking down—but adding two starters to a team that had gone 4-12 was a step in the right direction.
In the five years that followed, Thompson’s free agents were undrafted rookies, special teamers and situational players. While Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder kept dolling out the big bucks and getting at most one playoff win, Thompson was building a champion through the draft. His teams have consistently been among the youngest in the NFL while going 55-25.
Yet right now, the “Latest Buzz” on NFL.com shows the Packers filled the hole left from Scott Wells’ depature with Jeff Saturday and added Daniel Muir. They are also pursuing Dave Tollefson, Anthony Hargrove and Manny Lawson. So why is he breaking the pattern?
Things change, and the Packers lack of pressure was the primary difference between winning the Super Bowl in 2010—when they were second in the league in sacks—and losing in the divisional round in 2011 after finishing in the bottom-five in sack percentage. His pursuit of these players is a tacit admission that the team could not overcome the loss of relatively low-cost defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins, and shows he understands he cannot rely on his anointed replacement Mike Neal.
Neal was hurt his senior season at Purdue and most of both NFL seasons. He will be suspended for four games in 2012 for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Thompson knows he cannot fill holes in the secondary, outside linebacker and defensive line with the 28th and 59th picks in the draft.
Muir and Tollefson were on the Packers roster as rookies and have been solid players elsewhere. They may be able to start and can at least give the team depth. Hargrove, part of the 2009 New Orleans Saints defense but is likely not facing suspension, is undersized to play end in a 3-4 and lacks the athleticism to play outside linebacker, but would make a good situational player at the right price.
The Packers have a plethora of mediocre outside linebackers (Frank Zombo, Brad Jones and free agent Erik Walden) to line up opposite Clay Matthews, III. Lawson, who was a starter for the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals the past four seasons, would be an upgrade over any of them.
If Thompson can sign or trade for (perhaps from the depth at wide receiver or OLB) one more starter, he can draft everything else the Packers need.