Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, CA
No Pack this year but we can get you to this year’s big game!
» Reserve your spot!
By CHRIS HAVEL
Green Bay GM Ted Thompson has been reluctant to use that route to upgrade roster’s talent
The Green Bay Packers’ tried-and-true formula for maintaining competitive staying power – “draft and develop” – hasn’t been unilaterally popular among fans.
Some would prefer that the Packers pursue a more aggressive approach in free agency to fill chronic, aggravating holes.
Inside linebacker, tight end, a pass catching third-down back and another big weapon at receiver highlight the wish list.
Now, if source reports are true, it seems Packers head coach Mike McCarthy also is in favor of taking a more aggressive stance when it comes to signing veteran free agents.
According to JS Online, McCarthy is “fed up” with Thompson’s reluctance to participate in free agency, or as Thompson has referred to it, “those shark-infested waters.”
If the report is true, some are suggesting it’s not good when the coach and GM have different views of such a central issue.
On the contrary, I believe it’s not only healthy but also the Packers’ best chance to capitalize on Aaron Rodgers’ prime. I haven’t been a fan of free agency as the primary means to build an NFL team. It’s a costly, risky way of doing business.
However, the Packers have “draft and develop” down to a T. They are at or near the top of the list of teams with the least amount of NFL experience because they routinely turn over the roster by retaining a majority of draft picks. The Packers also are very active in signing undrafted free agents such as cornerback Sam Shields.
That leaves scant roster space for veteran free agents. This approach has been successful so far because the Packers have a strong coach (McCarthy) and excellent quarterback (Rodgers) which has kept them a playoff-caliber team.
The Packers’ problem is that being in the post-season is good, but only if one or two glaring, season-long weaknesses do not ultimately become the team’s undoing. That’s what has happened in recent years.
Packers’ fans don’t have to be an NFL scout to see the holes. That becomes aggravating when they also see the list of potential veteran free agents that Thompson routinely ignores. Now, with the 2016 salary cap set for a $20 million increase, it appears the Packers have the wherewithal to be active in free agency.
Interestingly, when Thompson has played in free agency, he’s been fairly successful. Recently, defensive lineman Letroy Guion is one example, and Pro Bowl linebacker Julius Peppers is another.
Going back, future Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Charles Woodson is a great example of hitting it big in free agency. That was all during the Thompson era.
If indeed McCarthy’s view on free agency has been altered, it’s likely because of frustrations during the recently completed season.
The Packers knew they had a deficiency at inside linebacker coming into the 2015 season. That didn’t keep them from ignoring the position until the fourth round, where they selected Ohio State’s Jake Ryan.
Ryan ultimately became the starter next to Clay Matthews, but not before Sam Barrington (injury) and Nate Palmer (poor play) failed to fill the bill. It forced Matthews to play out of position a second straight season, and inside linebacker remains a problem going into the 2016 season.
The Packers also badly underestimated the impact of receiver Jordy Nelson’s absence. Obviously, they realized it would sap some of the punch out of the offense. Nobody believed it would routinely undermine the offense’s ability to function.
The Packers acquired veteran James Jones, but Randall Cobb and the rest of the receiving corps had subpar seasons. Other limitations such as a true third-down back with speed and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield were agonizingly obvious.
Perhaps McCarthy’s desire to take a more aggressive approach in free agency will push Thompson to pull the trigger. I don’t believe Packers fans are looking to free agency as some miracle cure, or the best way to proceed, but rather as one of several avenues to acquire talent and upgrade the roster.
If the source reports that McCarthy is “fed up” with Thompson’s reluctance in free agency are accurate, it can’t be a bad thing.
If the reports are false, at least it raises a valid question that the Packers may consider answering.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.