After years of barely wanting to put his toe in the scary waters of free agency, Ted Thompson finally made the splash many were hoping for.
His signing of free agent DE Julius Peppers to a 3 year/$30 million contract was more than a splash. It was a cannonball of epic proportions for the Packers and their rabid fan base.
Thompson did more than just sign a big name free agent by snagging Peppers tough. In adding Peppers, Thompson did two things which went completely against his modus operandi of running the Packers.
By diving headfirst into free agency, Thompson disproved his reputation that he has no interest in this time of the NFL year. Critics complain year after year that he sleeps during free agency, watching other teams gobble up big name free agents for big time money.
While other GMs were active, Thompson was generally inactive. His preference to allow the initial wave of the signings to die off before venturing in and targeting 2nd tier and lower players was frustrating to fans, as these players were seen as the answer to all that ails the Packers.
Every day that passed with no activity in free agency was another day that saw the Packers fall further down the list of elite teams, because of Thompson’s insistence of sticking with his long standing draft and develop policy.
And then, on a day when no one was expecting any news out of Green Bay, out came the reports that the Packers and Julius Peppers had agreed on a multi year contract.
No one who wanted this to happen expected this to be more than a fantasy, a wish list type acquisition.
But this wasn’t fantasy. It was reality. It was really happening. Ted Thompson had gone out and landed himself an impact player on a defense which desperately needed an impact player for a team friendly contract.
By being able to stay under the radar and sign Peppers, Thompson hopefully proved to his critics that he indeed does consider free agency a viable option. It just has to be on his terms, and terms that are financially friendly to the Packers.
But the signing of Peppers was more than just a signal to the rest of the league not to ignore the Packers as free agent players. It was also the type of transaction that can shake up the entire team, perhaps serving as the impetus to future greatness.
When Dom Capers was hired as Defensive Coordinator, he brought with him his expertise in running the 3-4 defense. McCarthy wanted an attacking defense, and that was the reputation that Capers had-a mad scientist who could generate pressure from anywhere on the field at any time.
The problem with the defense Capers took over was it was full of players who fit the mold of a 4-3 defense. He was going to need two things for his vision of what the defense should be to work-a nose tackle, and an outside linebacker.
Fortunately for the Packers, they had the number 9 pick in the draft that year, thanks to their 6-10 record in 2008. So it was not much of a surprise when they drafted BJ Raji at this spot to be their NT in the new 3-4 defense.
The surprise was to come a little later in the draft, and what a surprise it was.
Ask yourself this question: Did anyone really expect Ted Thompson to trade a second round selection and two third round selections to move back into the first round and select Clay Matthews?
If you answered yes, you are lying.
This trade took the league by surprise, as it was a very un-Ted Thompson like transaction. “Trader Ted” likes his draft day trades, but they generally consist of lower round selections, swapping two 7th rounders to move back into the 6th round type trades. So for Thompson to give up this much to draft the player he targeted, it went completely against his reputation.
The drafting of Matthews was a stroke of genius. Matthews went on to finish third in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, earning the first of his four Pro Bowl births. More importantly, Matthews would play a critical role in the 2010 season, helping the the team earn their fourth Super Bowl victory and first since 1996.
The Peppers signing is eerily similar to the drafting of Matthews. By breaking his norm, Thompson may have added the player who will help spark the Packers back to the promised land of Super Bowl glory.
That is the hope anyways.
It shows that contrary to many opinions, Thompson is not content to sit back and stick with “his players”. He will do whatever it takes to win. He just does it on his terms, not on the terms of the armchair GMs who think they can do his job better than he can.
This is not to say that his work is done. The Packers are still in need of a Safety to play opposite Morgan Burnett. The defection of Evan Dietrich-Smith to the Buccaneers leaves question marks at center that needs to be addressed, and upgrading the ILB position would also help the defense. But adding Peppers adds the player that was desperately needed to take some of the pressure off Matthews and his own pressures of the opposing QB.
Critics will argue that Thompson made a poor decision by adding Peppers. That he added a player at the tail end of career, who is more akin to playing in a 4-3, that he overpaid for him. This may all very well be true. But let’s see how this works out before passing judgement on him.
In signing Julius Peppers, Ted Thompson has added a proven playmaker to the defense. This signing went completely against everything he is known for. He went into free agency and added a big name player in the hopes that it will propel the Packers back into the Super Bowl. This may very well happen as a result of this move. If it does, it will be his biggest offseason move since trading up to draft Clay Matthews.
Or perhaps since he decided to move on from…nah, let’s not go there.
John Rehor is a writer at PackersTalk.com.
He can also be heard as one of the Co-Hosts of Cheesehead Radio. ---------------------
He can also be heard as one of the Co-Hosts of Cheesehead Radio.You can follow John on twitter at jrehor or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.