Revisiting Ted Thompson's free-agent signings

Weston Hodkiewicz
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Everyone knows the drill with Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson.

Draft. Develop. Repeat.

That’s the way Thompson has presided over the organization’s front office for the last decade, only resorting to outside free agency in the case of emergency. The fruits of that approach have been seven consecutive playoff appearances, three NFC championship berths and a Lombardi Trophy.

Regardless, every year the talk leading up to the start of free agency is whether this is the year the 63-year-old general manager will cast a line into the free-agency pool. More often than not, the market opens and closes with the Packers standing pat.

That’s not always the case, though.

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When Thompson feels the need, he has brought in a veteran to augment the roster. Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett were critical components to the Packers’ Super Bowl championship in 2010. Julius Peppers and Letroy Guion played key roles in the team’s run to the NFC championship game during the 2014 season.

Three weeks away from the start of free agency March 9, here’s a look at the notable veteran signings Thompson has made during the free-agent period since he took over as general manager in 2005 — the good, the bad and the irrelevant. Those with asterisks denote players who were unrestricted free agents:

March 17, 2014 — DL Letroy Guion

The Packers signed Guion to a one-year, $985,000 contract with a $100,000 signing bonus shortly after he was released by Minnesota. He wound up starting all 18 games (including playoffs) at nose tackle after B.J. Raji’s season-ending biceps injury. Guion finished with a career-high 32 tackles, 3½ sacks and fumble recovery. He missed three games due to suspension this year, but hasn’t missed a game due to injury.

March 15, 2014 — LB Julius Peppers

Thompson addressed a pressing need by scooping up the eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end in the days after Chicago cut Peppers for salary-cap purposes. Peppers, then 34, signed for three years, $25.5 million with a $7.5 million signing bonus. He finished with 44 tackles, 7 1/2 sacks, four forced fumbles and two interceptions in the first year before leading the Packers with 10½ sacks in 2015. Started all 32 regular-season games since he signed with the Packers.

April 9, 2013 — TE Matthew Mulligan

In need of a blocking tight end, the Packers signed Mulligan to a one-year, $715,000 deal after Tom Crabtree signed with Tampa Bay. The burly 6-foot-4, 267-pound veteran arrived on the open market after St. Louis released him in a cap-cutting move. Initially slowed by injury, Mulligan didn’t end up making the Packers’ final roster as Green Bay chose to keep Andrew Quarless, Ryan Taylor and Brandon Bostick instead. Mulligan, now 31, played 12 games with Buffalo last season.

May 23, 2012 — DE Phillip Merling

A first-round bust in Miami, the 6-foot-5, 315-pound defensive end was signed shortly after it was announced that Anthony Hargrove would be suspended eight games for his role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal. Merling had two tackles in three games before being released to make room for Mike Neal’s activation from reserve/suspended.

March 30, 2012 — DL Anthony Hargrove*

Nearly four years later, Hargrove remains the answer to the question: “Who was the last unrestricted free agent Thompson has signed?” A veteran of 102 NFL games, Hargrove came to Green Bay with a lot of publicity in the wake of Bountygate. Once he finally got onto the field, Hargrove didn’t do anything to distinguish himself and was among the first round of cuts. Never played in another NFL regular-season game.

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March 23, 2012 — C Jeff Saturday*, DL Daniel Muir

The Packers’ response to losing Scott Wells in free agency was to sign 37-year-old Jeff Saturday to a two-year, $7.75 million contract. They probably made the right move in letting St. Louis pay Wells (four years, $24 million), but Saturday’s best years were behind him. Saturday, who still was elected to his sixth Pro Bowl, announced his retirement after the season. Lightning didn’t strike twice for Muir, who was released during the final roster cuts after making Green Bay’s roster as an undrafted rookie in 2007.

Aug. 3, 2011 — LB K.C. Asiodu

The only outside addition Thompson made after the lockout ended in 2011. A veteran of 11 NFL games, the journeyman linebacker was waived injured less than a month later.

April 26, 2010 — S Charlie Peprah

In one of several instances of the Packers’ re-signing their own players, Thompson brought back Peprah after he played two games with Atlanta in 2009. He wound up starting 11 games next to Nick Collins after then-rookie safety Morgan Burnett tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the fourth game of the season. Peprah finished with 63 tackles and two interceptions to earn a two-year extension.

March 30, 2009 — OL Duke Preston*, S Anthony Smith

The Packers brought in the 6-foot-5, 311-pound offensive lineman after he played in 59 games with 20 starts for Buffalo from 2005-08. Despite a distinct size advantage and ability to play multiple positions, Preston lost out on the backup center job to veteran Scott Wells and was released. Smith didn’t make the roster, but returned a year later through an in-season trade.

March 24, 2008 — LB Brandon Chillar*

Despite having Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk and a blossoming Desmond Bishop, Thompson dipped into free agency to sign the 6-foot-3, 237-pound Chillar to a two-year, $5 million deal. A two-year starter for the Rams, Chillar mostly was utilized as an inside linebacker in the defense’s sub-packages. A shoulder injury limited him to only eight games in 2010 and a torn hamstring led to his release in July 2011.

March 15, 2007 — CB Frank Walker*

The Packers signed Walker away from the New York Giants for a one-year, $1.24 million contract and gave him an opportunity to compete for the nickel cornerback job in addition to a $150,000 signing bonus.  Walker had 17 tackles in 12 games during his only year in Green Bay.

May 1, 2006 — CB Charles Woodson*

One of the crown jewels of Thompson’s tenure as general manager. Woodson sat on the free-agent market for a while before the Packers landed him for seven years, $52 million. Woodson will be the first to admit that he got off to a rocky start in Green Bay, but eventually became one of the most beloved players on the roster. He solidified himself as a future Pro Football Hall of Famer in his seven seasons in Green Bay. Woodson was selected to five Pro Bowls, named all-pro five times and honored as the NFL defensive player of the year in 2009.

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April 26, 2006 — DT Kenderick Allen

The Packers brought in the 6-foot-5, 328-pound Allen to compete for a spot on a remade defensive line. After spending his first three NFL seasons with the Saints and Giants, Allen played in only two regular-season games before he was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury.

March 27, 2006 — LB Ben Taylor*, WR Marc Boerigter*, K Billy Cundiff

Taylor came to Green Bay after starting all 16 games for Cleveland in 2005, finishing with 113 tackles. He was mostly a special-teams player with the Packers, registering 12 tackles in 10 games. Boerigter (6-foot-3, 220) didn’t make the Packers’ roster after his 39 catches for 697 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons in Kansas City. Cundiff lost out on the kicking job to Dave Rayner, though he went on to carve out a 12-year NFL career with six NFL teams.

March 17, 2006 — DT Ryan Pickett*

The other critical signing Thompson made in the offseason of 2006. Pickett played out two contracts totaling $42 million over eight seasons with the Packers and made a seamless transition in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense in 2009. A run-stopping nose tackle, Pickett possessed a lot of athleticism and agility for a 340-pound man in his prime. He remains the last player Thompson has used a franchise tag on. Pickett played a critical role in the Packers’ top run defenses in 2009 and 2010.

March 13, 2006 — S Marquand Manuel*

On the heels of a Super Bowl appearance with Seattle, Manuel started all 16 games at safety during his only season in Green Bay before being released during final cuts in 2007. He had 81 tackles and one 29-yard interception return for a touchdown in his lone season as a Packer. Played three more seasons with three different teams after leaving Green Bay.

April 22, 2005 — LB Raynoch Thompson

Thompson signed with the Packers after spending his first five NFL seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, who released him after the 2004 campaign. He started 54 of the 64 games he played with the Cardinals, but never played in the NFL again after being among the team’s final cuts.

April 15, 2005 — S Arturo Freeman, S Earl Little

Looking to deepen the secondary, Thompson signed the two veteran safeties on the same day. Neither was the answer. Freeman was cut before camp, while Little played only four games before Green Bay released him in November 2005. It marked the end of Little’s eight-year NFL career.

March 17, 2005 — OL Matt O’Dwyer*, G Adrian Klemm*

One of Thompson’s first major decisions as general manager was to determine whether to re-sign Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera. He parted ways with both and signed O’Dwyer and Klemm to help replace them. O’Dwyer, already 32, didn’t make the roster in Green Bay and retired shortly thereafter. Klemm played in 16 games with eight starts at guard in what would be his sixth and final NFL season. and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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