Does Thompson Really have a Free Agency Phobia?

The dreaded Ted Thompson stare

The  Green Bay Packers’ season ended a few weeks ago, but the 2015 NFL season will come to a close this weekend with Super Bowl 50. And with that will begin the 2016 season a month later.  With that will begin the guesswork of who stays and who is shown the door. Teams will start bidding and trying to woo free agents with the promises of championship rings, each touted the missing link that will carry their new team all the way to Super Bowl 51.

And the yearly question will arise once again: will Ted Thompson pull the trigger finally and sign some talent that is not homegrown?

Draft and develop, it’s been the Packers’ mantra forever. Find that diamond in the rough and polish it until it shines. There’s no question Thompson hit pay dirt with Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb and Demarious Randall. But then there are still big question marks over some of his other picks–Nick Perry, Datone Jones, Eddie Lacy and Davante Adams. And then there were complete busts as well.

By now everyone has read the Bob McGinn article that was published in the wake of the Packers’ loss to Arizona. He pointed fingers at both Mike McCarthy and his deficiencies as the head coach. But he also placed a lot of the blame at the feet of Ted Thompson.

Is Thompson too rigid in his draft and develop mentality that his refusal to search the free agent market for talent is now becoming a boat anchor that will sink the team’s success?

It doesn’t take a huge look into Packers’ history to see where gambles in free agency have paid dividends in championship runs: Reggie White and Charles Woodson easily come to mind.  And then there are also the second tier free agents that also played significant roles in those runs. Would the 1996 Packers be the the same team without Andre Rison?

While it’s noble to think draft and develop is an absolute recipe for success, the inflexibility to see beyond that can also sink organizations.

Instead of football with a franchise quarterback that has the talent and abilities to carry a team, let’s look at this from a different perspective and how rigidity in thinking is not a good thing.

Instead of a quarterback, let’s say this star player is a surgeon. This surgeon is absolutely amazing. People come from around the world to have him fix their knees and shoulders. He has a low complication rate. The outcome is typically stellar, and he’s well liked and respected by his staff.

But this surgeon works for a large corporation that is having a bit of an economic downturn and clinic announces there is a hiring freeze. There will be no new hires. Departments will just have to make due with the staff they have. Sorry gang, no playing favorites here. It’s just business.

Unfortunately, this news came as the surgeon’s right hand–his scrub nurse is retiring. A second nurse is on medical leave for 12 weeks, and his third nurse is a new grad. She graduated at the top of her class, had her pick of job opportunities, but is still very green. She’ll be as good as his former right-hand in a couple of years, but she needs to develop her skills a bit more.

Since there is a hiring freeze within the corporation, he is turned down by the higher-ups when he requests to fill his retired scrub nurse’s position. He’s reminded that his other nurse will be back in June. As for the other position, they’ll see if they can fill it with a nurse from the float pool. It wouldn’t be a new hire, but some of the floats have OR experience.

Things seem okay for a while. But the float nurse doesn’t know the difference between his butt and a hole in the ground. He seems lost in the OR. Oh, that’s right, he was has 10 years of cardiac surgery experience, but no orthopedic experience. And the rookie screwed up the sponge count on the last surgery, and the surgeon had to reopen the patient to find the missing gauze sponge.

The complication rate starts to go up with the surgeon’s cases. Mrs. Baker’s knee got infected. Mr. Smith had a bit of the drill break off in his hip. And the surgeon is just waiting for the lawsuit that will likely come because the rookie marked the wrong knee prior to surgery and the surgeon cut into the wrong shoulder. Thankfully it was caught in time before he got the saws out!

The mistakes and downturn in quality start to wear on the surgeon. He’s not as nice of a guy any more. In fact, he’s a bit of a jerk. He’s quick to snap at the OR staff. He’s thrown instruments at a nursing student because he got in the way. The surgeon no longer has the reputation of being a great guy everyone likes to work with. He’s a bit of a jerk, and no one in the OR–including his peers–want to work with him any more.

So he goes to his department chair, begging for new help. But again he’s told, sorry, you’re going to have to deal with the staff you are dealt. Of course he could work on his own interpersonal skills, because everyone thinks he’s a bit of an ass right now.

Sound remotely familiar?

Of course comparing football to orthopedic surgery is a bit like comparing to apples to hippopotamuses.  Things like this–and the resulting fallout–happen in corporate America all the time. Work with less. Be happy you have the staff you did. If you just each work a little harder, you’ll be more successful. It’s a mantra many of us hear all the time.

mapp_action-cycleBut this problem is amplified when the end product is measured in only 16 3-hour regular season increments. There are only a finite amount of games to “work with less” before that experiment is deemed unsuccessful. Using another business model of Plan, Implement, Evaluate, the Packers–or any NFL team for that matter– have a very small window to evaluate and then modify a plan.

With Thompson, it’s as though he starts at the top of the cycle, but never brings it full circle. Plan = draft, Implement = let the rookies play, Evaluate = ?

The loop never returns to the top. Well, it does, but it goes back to Draft, Develop, Rinse and Repeat.

What if that model is broken?  Where did the evaluation of the plan go?

The Packers cannot keep settling for a simplistic business model, let’s face it,  Aaron Rodgers isn’t getting any younger. His window to carry the team to another Super Bowl is starting to close. It’s not closed by any stretch of the imagination, but that opening gets a little more narrow each passing season.

Wouldn’t it behoove the team to step beyond the “do more with less” model that seems to define the Draft and Develop philosophy and play a more proactive role in surrounding their franchise players with the tools and talent to succeed on both sides of the ball.

Of course free agency is defined by salary caps. But the team can still seek out better talent. That means taking bold moves–trying to sign blue chip veterans that hit the market. And it also means cutting losses even if the player has a first round draft choice stamped on his forehead.

It means not being mired in the past but rather looking forward toward possibilities.

The 2016 Packers season is about to start. Free agency is only a few weeks away.  Will Ted Thompson be happy to once again work more with less, or will he be willing to look at different models to develop a championship team.


Kelly Hodgson is a writer for and you can listen to her as a Co-Host of Out of the Pocket. You can also follow Kelly on Twitter at @ceallaigh_k



9 thoughts on “Does Thompson Really have a Free Agency Phobia?


  2. Ignorant article. Reggie White is no longer available. Do you really think that JJ Watt is going to fall to free agency in his prime (probably the only possible comparable)? Buffalo went after Mario Williams. How did that work? Philadelphia signed free agents to the “dream team”. How did that work? The article ignores Julius Peppers, James Jones, Letroy Guion. Also overlooked is that for all his “genius”, Ron Wolf only brought us one Super Bowl victory. Ted already has one.

    1. Thompson could’ve picked up DE Ryan Kerrigan before Redskins signed him dirt cheap a couple of years ago, he passed on him just as he did TE Owen Daniels earlier last year–both would’ve helped Packers. Wolf MADE TWO SB’s with his teams–McCarthy’s failed to make another one and it got away last year with a team that wasn’t as good as this year’s roster. James Jones was a DRAFT pick for Thompson, he filled in at a need position–won’t be back unless more injuries happen at WR, Guion may not get resigned unless Raji walks in FA. Thompson has stockpiled draft picks instead of investing some in trades to get some of the ‘BEST’ athlete available he touts as his strategy. In the past FIVE seasons, he’s drafted 46 players–nearly HALF are gone now–some no longer even in the league while eight-nine have moved into full time starting positions replacing those that LEFT in FA or were cut–that’s a LOT of roster spots and money invested not to have improved any more than Packers have.

      1. Oh that’s right! I forgot that James Jones was a rookie this year!!! Ron Wolf chased away Holmgren and made many other stupid mistakes that cost us a chance at more SB’s. He’s not the genius he thinks he is.

  3. Hilarious!! Personally I’ve never understood why TT won’t trade say a 5th round pick for a player who could really HELP the Packers when he throws away picks in the 3rd round like Thornton, Rodgersll, Bradford in the 4th, Ricky Elmore in the 6th, or ANY of the 2015 6th round picks, just to name a few! Why not sign more than one FA every 7 years based on what’s happened when he does actually partake. Mike Sherman was an idiot who left the Packers in horrible finacial shape when he was replaced. Thompson is such a tightwad he’s cost the Packers at least one or 2 other SB appearances IMO. There has to be a place in the middle between doing absolutely nothing vs signing EVERYBODY. I’d bet my last dollar had Thompson signed Owen Daniels in 2014 when he visited, they’d have won the SB last season. Instead TT kept Ted’s answer to everything, the UDFA Brandon Bostick and drafted Richard Rodgers who could have been drafted in the 6th or 7th round.

    My biggest fear for the Packers is this…

    TT will retire when Rodgers is 37 and about done. The Packers will have the one SB in 2010 to show for the TT regime and a bunch of 7th round picks Ted traded back to get in his final draft the year before.

    1. That is exactly what is going to happen and it’s only 5 years away

  4. In perspective, is the scrutiny over TT’s actions (or inactions) a result of another tough playoff loss? Before the Seattle playoff loss in 2015, these questions would never have come up. Had Aaron not been severely hobbled in the Seattle playoff loss and the Pack had won that game, would these question still arise? Is it fair and reasonable to complain and point fingers because Green Bay didn’t go to the Super Bowl this year? Sure, we had high expectations, but a lot of teams did – including the defending champs up in Foxboro – but only two teams are suiting up one last time. IMHO, the TT and MM bashing is completely uncalled for, unreasonable and unfair. At first I squawked at TT’s methods of avoiding free agency, but after a few seasons I understood. Why play megamillions for players for a handful of years and sacrifice to the salary cap, when you can develop the talent, keep and pay the best of the talent you develop, and constantly bring in fresh, young players to restock the system. It works; it has worked; it will work.

    1. I’m not talking about signing guys like Suh or Revis. I’m talking about bringing in some players that are upgrades over what the Packers currectly have after the Free Agency period settles down. It wouldn’t take much to improve certain areas of the team. There’s no way in the world one can explain how a GM can just continue to avoid areas of OBVIOUS needs, and not be bashed at least some.

      Bishop was hurt in the 1st preseason game of 2013…. TT finally drafts Jake Ryan in the 4th round 2 full years later.

      Finley was hurt in week 6 of the 2013 season … Thompson selects Rodgers in 2014 in 3rd round and could have him in the 6th or 7th or better yet, taken Crockett Gilmore. He takes Backman in 6th round last year and could have signed as a UDFA. I could go on and on but my point is when you have a QB like Rodgers you do what New England does, you try and get those who will help you win using trades, Free Agency, AND the draft.

      Thompson also did the same thing with the Safety and RB positions. Hell Collins was hurt week 2 of 2011 and he finally drafts HHCD in 2014.

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