THOMPSON ON RIGHT TRACKby Jerry Gilbert
No General Manager in the National Football League will ever approach perfection. Players become injured, malcontented or simply old beyond their calendar age. No one can predict the future. Nevertheless, in this early stage of the year 2007, it is fair to conclude that Green Bay Packer General Manager Ted Thompson has done a pretty good job.
The fact that he had a pretty easy act to follow is only a small part of the story. Anyone would look better by comparison to the disastrous reign of General Manager Mike Sherman. Sherman left the team with high draft choices such as Ahmad Carroll, Joey Thomas, Kenny Peterson and B. J. Sander. He also bequeathed to his successor generous contracts to such non-stars as Cletidus Hunt, Na'il Diggs and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Finally, the bottom spots on the roster were filled with players who were ineffective on special teams and not good enough to step in when injuries knocked out a starter. Ron Wolf commented in 2005 that the team had too many players who were barely good enough for NFL Europe.
It would be difficult to draft much worse than Sherman did in 2004, when he traded up on several occasions and emerged with Carroll, Thomas, Sander and the bust who surpassed them all, Donnell Washington. That is true unless you look at 2003, which, other than Nick Barnett, produced only one other starter in the league, and that is Hunter Hillenmeyer, who was released in his first training camp, and has been a solid player in Chicago ever since.
Unfortunately for Ted Thompson, this way of looking good by comparison also meant that he would need to replace almost the entire roster. That he has done. With the departure of William Henderson, Ahman Green, and David Martin, very few players remain from the Mike Sherman years.
In this off season, he Green Bay Packers have a team that was playing well at the end of last season largely because young players on defense began to come together as a unit. Subject to the qualification that the season ending winning streak was at the expense of inferior or unmotivated teams, I believe that that Ted Thompson and his staff have seen enough in the films to see that the Packers could be a play off team over the next few years if the core is maintained and some pieces are added.
Thompson began the offseason by evaluating the free agent market. Nearly everyone agrees that it is a weak class. Thompson has refrained from offering huge dollars to these players. That has been a wise move. Take wide receiver. The big news has been the signing by New England of Dante Stallworth. This is a player who has averaged about 50 receptions and 7 touchdowns per season in a 6 year career. Working with Donovan McNaab last season, Stallworth caught 38 passes for 5 touchdowns. This is not a proven superstar. Turning to tight end, another position of need, the big name was Randy McMichael, a liability as a blocker and not worth the huge contract St Louis gave him. The position of running back in free agency, however, may cause Thompson some future embarrassment. He lost his own starter, Ahman Green and sat back while Travis Henry, Thomas Jones, Willis McGahee and other premier backs changed teams. Running back remains a huge issue, and most of the best candidates are off the market.
Where Ted Thomson is excelling is in his choices to re-sign players on his own team. Al Harris, a genuine shut down corner, was locked up for the long term. Emerging defensive end Cullen Jenkins also received a long term contract. He and Aaron Kampman could anchor the line for years to come. Thompson is also negotiating a deal with Nick Barnett. These are every down high motor players, the types a team can build around.
To his credit, Thompson is making a run at a few players with superstar potential. Randy Moss is the best example. How great it could be to watch Randy Moss in green and gold leaping over Darren Sharper, who wears purple, for a winning touchdown. On the other hand, there is much to be evaluated and worked out before that deal should be accomplished. The point is that this is no Donte Stallworth. This player has been the best at his position. If he retains that ability, he is worth the look Thompson is giving him. Thompson has also expressed interest in the top linebackers even though that is a position of strength on the team. Finding the rare exceptional player for an acceptable price is extremely difficult, but always worth the effort.
This is an interim evaluation. Ted Thompson looks good at the moment mostly for what he has not done. After the Draft and after veterans change teams as a result of the Draft, we will be in a much better situation to judge Thompson's performance. As of this point in time, the Packer General Manager seems to be doing pretty well.