Ted Thompson’s philosophy as Packers general manager–draft all of your good players and re-sign them to second contracts–has been rather simple.
Thompson has rarely signed any outside free agents to big money deals. He has only been interested in his own guys. It has worked with some players like Jordy Nelson, Josh Sitton and T.J Lang, but it hasn’t worked with guys like Brad Jones, A.J. Hawk and Morgan Burnett.
Thompson didn’t sound like he was going to deviate from that philosophy during his press conference at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last weekend.
“There’s always surprises,” said Thompson. “We try not to get too worked up on what could or couldn’t happen. Like I said, it’s been our policy and it will continue to be our policy and if we can, we would like to keep our own free agents. We take it day by day and let it sort itself out. Every year it’s a little different, as a whole the market is different year-to-year so we’ll work it out.”
Hopefully, that is just saying what he needs to say, because this offseason Thompson must consider change. The team has slid backwards each year since winning the Super Bowl, and his own free agents aren’t worth going the extra mile to keep.
Yesterday, the news that Sam Shields would test free agency sent shock waves through the Packers Twittersphere. Most of the reaction that I saw was vitriol towards Thompson for letting Shields get to the open market. That reaction does not make a lot of sense to me.
First of all, you do not know that Thompson didn’t make a competitive offer for Shields. I would imagine that he did because the reports out of Green Bay have all stated that retaining Shields has been their top priority. However, it takes two to tango, and Shields and his agent Drew Rosenhaus probably saw the opportunity for more money with the salary cap going up.
Also, who knows if Shields even wants to come back to Green Bay. Shields grew up in Florida, so maybe he wants to go to a warmer climate. Obviously, Thompson cannot be blamed if that is the case.
This does not mean that Shields won’t be back, as Shields’ camp may just be using this to gain leverage. The free agent corner class is very strong and Shields might find Green Bay’s offer to be the best one. However, Shields is not a sign at any cost type of player, so if somebody offers him more than $8 million a year than you have to let him walk.
He is a great cover cornerback with the potential to still improve, but he is not among the top 10 corners in the NFL yet. He hasn’t been a huge playmaker, as his career high in interceptions in a season is only four. Pro Football Focus only gave Shields a .4 rating last season, even though I think he played much better than that. If you’re going to offer Shields more than $8 million a year you should just offer it to guys like Alterraun Verner, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, Brent Grimes or Captain Munnerlyn, who are all better players.
Shields is Green Bay’s best free agent, but he is not irreplaceable, which means none of their free agents are. Some of them are guys that they should bring back at their price, and others are guys that they should just let go.
Evan Dietrich-Smith, John Kuhn, Johnny, Jolly, James Jones, Jermichael Finley and Ryan Pickett are the main guys that I would look to bring back at a good price, but again there is no reason to go the extra mile for any of them either.
Bringing Dietrich-Smith back would be good for continuity, but he is certainly not an irreplaceable center. Kuhn, Jolly, and Pickett would be good for veteran leadership and shouldn’t cost much to retain. Jones and Finley would be important weapons for Rodgers, but the draft is fully stocked at their positions this year.
All of Green Bay’s other free agents minus B.J. Raji are backups, so there is no urgency to bring any of them back. As for Raji, he will definitely get more on the open market than I would be willing to pay him.
Thompson has often been criticized for being too stubborn and stuck in his ways. All the great general managers have to adapt to different situations, and this is Thompson’s chance to prove that he can do that. Status quo will no longer be good enough.
The Packers have about $35 million in cap space and do not have any of their own free agents that they absolutely must re-sign. This gives Thompson the opportunity to completely overhaul the defense. It is an opportunity that he must take advantage of.