Time for Ted Thompson to Use Free Agency

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport created a buzz in Packer nation last week when he reported that Ted Thompson will be active in free agency and sign up to five free agents from other teams.

Who knows whether that is true, as it is impossible to get inside Thompson’s head. Five seems like an extreme amount, but maybe he could sign a few impact guys.

Thompson has basically ignored free agency for many years now despite him saying that he always takes it into consideration. With the Packers clearly behind two powerhouses in the NFC it is time for him to dip into free agency to help his ailing defense and close that gap.

Thompson has a lot of work to do coming off a third consecutive year of the Packers coming up short in the playoffs. Major decisions will have to be made to fill significant holes on the defense and to decide how many of Green Bay’s 20 free agents to keep.

Thompson has long been an advocate of his draft and develop system, and it has been extremely successful for him. The last unrestricted free agent who Thompson signed from another team who had a positive impact was Brandon Chillar in 2008. Prior to Chillar it was Ryan Pickett and Charles Woodson in 2006.

It might finally be catching up to Thompson that he has not used free agency to acquire any talent in several years. Free agency is a way of acquiring players like the draft is, and Thompson should no longer ignore it like it doesn’t exist.

This does not mean that Thompson should throw huge money at multiple guys at the top of the free agent pool. Teams like the Dolphins, Eagles, Cowboys, and Redskins have been burned by that in the past. However, that does not mean that he cannot sign a mid-tier veteran to fill a need. Seattle and San Francisco have past the Packers in talent and they have been able to find some bargains in free agency

Seahawks GM John Schneider signed free agent defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Tony MacDaniel to one-year free agent contracts last season and hit home runs with both. Bennett had eight sacks in the regular season and a +24.2 rating from Pro Football Focus. MacDaniel was a big run stopper for Seattle and had a +16.1 Pro Football Focus rating. Both guys were signed for cheap and they could have helped the Packers’ defense big time if Thompson had signed them.

49ers GM Trent Baalke made a similar low risk move that has paid off when he traded a sixth round pick to Baltimore for wide receiver Anquan Boldin. He also signed defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey to a two-year deal, and he was a positive for them. The 49ers and Seahawks do have a major advantage over the Packers in that their young quarterbacks make peanuts compared to what Aaron Rodgers makes. However, that does not mean that Thompson can’t try to get good bargains in free agency.

Going into this offseason it can be argued that the Packers have holes at center, wide receiver, tight end, defensive line, inside linebacker, outside linebacker and safety. Those are too many holes to fill all in the draft, so this is the year to get involved in free agency. If Thompson leaves too many holes he is risking getting caught by the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears in their own division.

According to overthecap.com, the Packers are still projected to have about $28.5 millionin cap space even with Rodgers and Clay Matthews taking up $29 million of the salary cap next season, which would be the sixth most in the NFL in their projections. They have to use some of that space to sign some of their own free agents and maybe extend Randall Cobb or Jordy Nelson, but that is still enough cap space to sign at least one solid free agent.

The only free agents that the Packers have who I would feel a strong need to keep are Sam Shields and Evan Dietrich- Smith. Everybody is expendable and can be replaced.

Safety and the defensive line are both very deep in solid free agents this year and should be two positions Thompson looks for help at. He is unlikely to ever throw huge money at the top guys like Jarius Byrd, T.J. Ward, Donte Whitner, Randy Starks, Jason Hatcher and Arthur Jones, and that is fine. However, there are plenty of other guys available that could help the Packers at a decent price.

Thompson’s drafts have been slipping a bit over the last few years, and that has caused the team to underachieve in the playoffs recently. They have been far from terrible, but when you do not use free agency at all you have less of a margin for error.

Ron Wolf always said that his greatest regret was that he didn’t give Brett Favre enough weapons. Thompson will likely face a similar regret about not giving Aaron Rodgers a better defense if he does not act soon.

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Matt Bove is a writer at PackersTalk.com. PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on twitter at @RayRobert9.

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