Going into the 2017 NFL season, general manager Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers had built up a very solid track record in terms of doing his job. Especially since he hired head coach Mike McCarthy in 2006, a year after Thompson took over control of the front office.
Since that partnership took place, the Packers have had 115-61-1 regular season record, with six NFC North titles, nine playoff appearances (including eight straight currently), four NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl win.
For the most part during his tenure as GM, Thompson has utilized a a draft-and-develop program under the guidance of McCarthy and his coaching staff.
The Packers also were a team that retained a lot of their own core free agents and the team almost never cut a draft pick in the season they were selected.
In that time, it’s been rare that Thompson would dip his toes into “pure” free agency, when he picks up a veteran NFL player who has had decent success with another team or teams in the NFL. Instead, Thompson depends much more on the draft and signing “street” free agents or undrafted rookie free agents.
When Thompson does sign a veteran free agent, he usually goes the route of signing a player who was released by his former team. Examples are defensive back Charles Woodson (Oakland Raiders) in 2006, defensive lineman/linebacker Julius Peppers (Chicago Bears) in 2014 and tight end Jared Cook (St. Louis Rams) last year.
Every one of those three examples turned out great for Thompson and the Packers, especially Woodson and Peppers.
In his seven-year career with the Packers, Woodson put together a brilliant resume. Woodson picked off 38 passes, including nine for touchdowns. Woodson also forced 15 fumbles, recovering six more. Woodson had 11.5 sacks to boot.
In addition to that, Woodson was also named the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Plus, Woodson was named to four Pro Bowls and finally won a Super Bowl ring.
Peppers had a great three-year run with the Packers as well. Peppers had 25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions, which were both returned for touchdowns. The Packers were in the NFC championship game in two of the three years Peppers was a Packer.
Cook was also a good signing, even though his stay in Green Bay was only one year. Cook suffered an ankle injury early in the 2016 season, but once he returned to action in late November, the offense of the Packers became a force with his addition.
Also, in three games in the postseason, Cook had 18 catches for 229 yards and two touchdowns, as the Packers advanced to the NFC title game.
Thompson likes signing players who were released by their former teams because they won’t have an impact on the compensatory picks a team will receive in the NFL draft the following season.
Signing a free agent who wasn’t released by his team does factor into the compensatory picks equation. An example of signing a player like that was in 2006, when the Packers signed defensive lineman Ryan Pickett (St. Louis Rams), who had a nice eight-year run in Green Bay.
But things changed a bit for Thompson and the Packers in 2017. For one thing, the Packers lost a number of their own free agents. The list included Peppers, Cook, guard T.J. Lang, running back Eddie Lacy, offensive lineman JC Tretter, defensive back Micah Hyde and defensive lineman/linebacker Datone Jones.
The Packers also released Sam Shields, their top cornerback, due to concussion issues.
Thompson used both the draft and free agency to offset those losses. In free agency, Thompson shocked the football world by signing free-agent tight end Martellus Bennett after negotiations with Cook broke down.
The Packers signed Bennett to a three-year deal that will figure into the compensatory formula because he was hadn’t been released by the New England Patriots at the time of his signing.
But that signing will definitely be offset with all the losses the Packers had in free agency.
After signing Bennett, Thompson kept adding veteran players who were released by their former teams. This list included tight end Lance Kendricks (Los Angeles Rams), cornerback Davon House (Jacksonville Jaguars), Ricky Jean Francois (Washington Redskins and recently released by Green Bay), guard Jahri Evans (New Orleans Saints), linebacker Ahmad Brooks (San Francisco 49ers) and defensive lineman Quinton Dial (San Francisco 49ers).
That free agent group is by far the largest assortment of players that Thompson has ever signed in his tenure as GM with the Packers.
Bennett, House and Evans will all be starters, while Kendricks, Brooks and Dial figure to get more than ample playing time during the season.
In addition to the free agent news, the Packers also released three of their ten draft picks from 2017, which is almost unheard of under Thompson’s watch. Two of the three released players (wide receiver DeAngelo Yancey and offensive lineman Kofi Amichia) were signed to the practice squad however.
What does this all mean? It appears that Thompson realizes that the Packers have been knocking on the door of getting to the Super Bowl in two out of the last three years with teams which have been among the youngest in the NFL.
In 2017, he has added more of a veteran presence to the squad, which will hopefully help out at crunch time.
Add to that, quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be 34 in December, and although No. 12 is still playing at an elite level, the Packers need to surround Rodgers with as many still-effective veterans on both offense and defense.
Thompson has tried to help that cause going into the 2017 season.
It’s still very early in the 2017 season, but the 17-9 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the season opener at Lambeau Field was a very positive start to the season.
In fact, Bennett made the game-clinching catch for 26 yards late in the game which allowed Rodgers to use the kneel down to run out the clock. No. 80 was also a very effective blocker during the game.
The Packers will need that type of performance by Bennett and the other veteran newcomers to the team throughout the course of the season and postseason. If so, the Packers will have a chance to do what Bennett did after Super Bowl LI when he was with the Patriots.
That is, hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Minneapolis after Super Bowl LII.