Mike Vandermause column: Reading between lines on Thompson ahead of draft

May 1, 2014
Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson speaks to the media Thursday at Lambeau Field.
Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson speaks to the media Thursday at Lambeau Field. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson looked a little under the weather Thursday during his annual pre-draft news conference, but he assured everyone he is feeling fine.

“I had a cough-drop thing,” Thompson said when asked about his health. “I’m good. Appreciate you asking. You doing good?”

Then, as if to prove his point during a 24-minute session with the media, Thompson sounded like the same old Green Bay Packers general manager we all have come to know.

When he got done spouting his patented clichés and rhetoric, everyone knew Thompson was in his element and ready as ever for another draft.

Thompson holds his draft cards extremely close to the vest, so little if any news ever results from one of these sessions. But as a public service, let’s dig below the surface and try to decipher what Thompson was saying.

■ “I just think that’s the way it works out sometime.”

Translation: Thompson loves to use this phrase to deflect attention off himself, leaving the impression he just plays along and the Packers’ roster development occurs more by chance than anything else. In reality, Thompson plays a huge role in how things work out. Whether it’s trading up or down in the draft or letting a free agent sign with another team, Thompson has the power and ability to often make things happen the way he wants.

“I just think we had a few too many bumps and bruises as we went along.”

Translation: That was a reference to the Packers’ shaky play at safety last season, but Thompson would never criticize one of his current or former players in public, so that’s about the harshest thing he will ever say. He wears the kid gloves well.

“You can watch a few too many episodes of ‘who’s the best player in the draft?’ and it starts wearing on you. I’m sure that happens with almost all the personnel guys around the league. We understand why the NFL does what it does. They’re smart people. They’re pretty good at marketing. It’s a pretty popular show, I guess.”

Translation: It was Thompson’s subtle way of saying he wished the NFL hadn’t pushed the draft into May, two weeks later than last year. What we get is 14 more days of mindless mock drafts, two more weeks of Mel Kiper chatter, an extra half month of waiting around with nothing much to do. Enough already, can we get this party started? That’s what Thompson might have been thinking, but he knows better than to rip the TV ratings-conscious NFL.

“People who say we don’t use free agency are wrong. We’ve always dabbled in free agency.”

Translation: Always is a relative term, and in the case of the Packers, not exactly accurate. But Thompson was trying to say the Packers always perform their due diligence in evaluating potential free agents, whether they sign anyone or not. But there’s a big difference between window shopping and actually walking into the store and making a purchase.

“This happened fast. It happened very quietly. It was one of those rare things where the thing was put to bed and everybody was back home before anybody knew about it. Quite frankly, it was kind of refreshing to do it that way.”

Translation: That was his description of the stealth Julius Peppers signing. It’s obvious Thompson would be perfectly happy without all the speculation and hype that is prevalent in today’s NFL. In fact, this was the first time he publicly commented on the Peppers signing, which occurred nearly seven weeks ago. The team has yet to make Peppers available to the media, which maybe is the way Thompson wants it. Of course, those smart NFL marketing people Thompson mentioned might not like it.

“We feel that the draft is a long-term investment. We don’t get too carried away with what our perceived needs are at the moment.”

Translation: That could explain why the Packers didn’t draft a safety last season when they desperately needed one. Thompson would have us believe it was a coincidence the Packers drafted defensive players with their first six picks in 2012, the year after his team had the worst-ranked defense in the NFL. There are instances when one player on the board stands out, but in many cases the draft is about matching talent with team needs.

“You have your dark moments during the draft when they call out names that you wish they didn’t call out.”

Translation: Then-general manager Ron Wolf intended to select linebacker Ray Lewis in 1996 in the first round but Baltimore grabbed him one pick ahead of the Packers, who wound up taking tackle John Michels. Lewis is a lock to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame while Michels was an NFL bust. Thompson will never tell, but you have to wonder if, for example, he really wanted someone else in 2007 but had to settle for Justin Harrell.

“I think it’s great that fans have these parties where they get together and try to decide on who’s going to get picked, but you can’t let yourself be steered by that. If you end up sitting in the draft room and you decide to pick a guy because you think you’re going to get a loud ovation from the fans, that’s poor thinking in my judgment.”

Translation: Thompson appreciates fan support, but sorry to be the one to spill the beans, he does not listen to your suggestions, no matter how loud they get. There’s a reason he sits in the GM seat and fans sit on aluminum benches at Lambeau Field. He’s qualified to do a job, while fans just get to come along for the ride.

“I know for a fact that they don’t have any inside information because for the most part, sometimes I’m the only inside information. And I’m not telling anybody.”

Translation: Thompson doesn’t put any stock in so-called media experts and their mock drafts. No one truly knows what’s inside Thompson’s head, and that’s the way he rolls. Or as Thompson would likely say, “It is what it is.”

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

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