GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It has been six years since Packers general manager Ted Thompson made a significant move in free agency. In 2006, with Thompson in his second offseason as the man behind the yellow and green curtain, he did what would now be considered very un-Thompson-like by signing two high-priced free agents in cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.
Since then, the most recognizable name that the Packers have signed as a free agent: linebacker Brandon Chillar.
That is because Thompson has decided to build the team through the draft, and has been very successful in doing so. Since last making a splash in free agency, Thompson has drafted Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, to name a few.
So, as free agency begins Tuesday at 3 p.m. in Wisconsin, don't expect Thompson to leave his comfort zone and make a headline-grabbing move.
There is no question that the Packers could use some help from outside the organization, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The drastic decline in Green Bay's defense from 2010 to 2011 was the result of a couple ill-advised decisions last summer, namely letting Cullen Jenkins walk. But Thompson has shown restraint in over-compensating for deficiencies in the six years since adding Woodson and Pickett. And, though the need is there to add quality players on defense, it would deviate from the strategy that helped bring Green Bay a Super Bowl just one year ago.
Heading into free agency, the Packers currently have less than 6 million available under the new salary cap figure of 120.6 million. If the team decides to release veterans Donald Driver and Chad Clifton, that would be save an additional 10 million, leaving Green Bay with 16 million to use in free agency.
That makes it appear possible that the Packers could go after former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams, a defensive end and outside linebacker who has been very good for the Houston Texans in his six NFL seasons. Williams appears to solve all of the team's problems in one signing, as he has been an elite pass-rusher his entire career. Aside from his season-ending injury in 2011 that limited him to five games, Williams had always been very healthy. Plus, he's still only 27 years old and would form a monstrous pass-rushing duo with Matthews for many years.
But it's not that simple.
Williams is going to get a massive contract offer from some NFL team, and the Texans don't want to lose him. Even if Thompson does decide to spend significant money in free agency, it's highly doubtful he would get into a bidding war against several other teams for Williams' services. So while this move seems like a winner for Green Bay, it's an extreme long shot.
There are other important factors that will keep Thompson from a major signing, as well. While the team's 6 million in available cap space is a decent amount, the Packers are still without a starting center. Scott Wells, at the moment, is set to become an unrestricted free agent, which would leave Thompson with a major hole to fill. A hole that would likely require around 6 million to plug.
There's also upcoming contracts of current Packers that need to be extended, as Jennings and offensive lineman T.J. Lang are both set to become free agents after this season. Plus, in two years, the contracts of Matthews, Raji and Jermichael Finley will all need to be renewed.
Don't forget that Rodgers is three years from free agency, as well, and will be receiving a huge sum from the Packers. After watching the contract talks between Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints play out this offseason, be assured that Thompson and Rodgers don't want negotiations to ever reach that point.
This is not to say that the Packers won't make any roster moves in free agency, but it just won't be a one-signing-to-fix-all type of transaction.
As has been the case for six years, the time that Thompson will look to improve Green Bay's roster is through the draft. It's just the Packer way of doing business.
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