GREEN BAY – His consistency is robotic. Like a grandfather clock that keeps ticking. Ted Thompson is the same today, yesterday, tomorrow.
He never changes.
So it was this week. Sometime between black-and-red confetti falling inside the Georgia Dome and the team touching down in Green Bay, Thompson spoke “briefly” with Packers coach Mike McCarthy. Then routine took over. The Packers general manager headed down to Mobile, Ala., stopwatch in hand, ready to scout prospects at the Senior Bowl.
“He’s probably down there Monday morning,” McCarthy said, “first guy interviewing players. That’s his specialty. That’s where he’s most comfortable at, and that’s where he’s the best at.”
This is Ted Thompson. Get blown out of the NFC title game? Go scout. Win a Super Bowl? Scout some more. No matter the outcome, Thompson sticks to what he knows.
So it shouldn’t be surprising Thompson continued his annual routine as soon as the Packers' season ended. Yes, McCarthy said Thursday, “Ted is back” as the team’s GM. So is his philosophy. In his 11th season, the 64-year-old Thompson just keeps tick, tick, ticking.
McCarthy suggested it’s unlikely Thompson is going anywhere before his current contract expires after the 2018 season.
“I don’t see any change in him,” McCarthy said, “as far as his vision. I know when we have business conversations, which we haven’t had in quite some time, there’s a commitment to the contract that the organization has given us.”
That’s unwelcome news for much of a fan base disgruntled with Thompson’s perceived passive approach to team building. Patience isn’t thick in Green Bay. Not with quarterback Aaron Rodgers turning 34 years old in the December of his next season.
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Thompson could deviate from script this spring. A source told PackersNews.com on Friday that Thompson, aware his Super Bowl contender continues to underachieve, could show rare aggressiveness in the free-agent market this spring.
The Packers enter this offseason with approximately $35 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap and Spotrac. They could recuperate an additional $9 million on cornerback Sam Shields’ $12.125 million cap hit in 2017 if his concussion prevents him from continuing his career.
For a Super Bowl contender — the Packers once again will enter 2017 with some of the best odds in the league — there are significant red flags. The cornerback position is decimated. The edge rushing is either aging or already old. The Packers remain thin at inside linebacker.
It’s easy to see how free agency could help, particularly with the success the Packers had signing tight end Jared Cook last spring. But caution always is wise when predicting Thompson will be active on the open market. It typically isn’t how he operates.
Two years ago, the last time the Packers lost an NFC title game, it seemed like the best time to dip into free agency. The Packers had just benefited from signing Julius Peppers and Letroy Guion the previous offseason. They were similar to Cook, newcomers who became key starters.
On the cusp of a Super Bowl, Thompson didn’t sign a single unrestricted free agent that offseason.
“You don’t say, ‘Hey, we were right there on the doorstep, let’s just change this next year,’” McCarthy said. “We have to change a lot of things. We have to get better at some of the things we did very well this year. Do you know why? Because we can.
“That’s what this game’s all about. You don’t just keep weighing, ‘This is good, this is bad. Let’s take the bad out, and the good’s going to stay there.’ I don’t think that’s how it works, and that’s not the approach we’re going to take.”
With the absence of a different team-building approach, the Packers will have to find different ways to cross the NFC title game threshold. Sixty minutes to the Super Bowl, small tweaks can be the difference.
Not long after supporting defensive coordinator Dom Capers, McCarthy made it clear he expects the Packers to play better defense next season. They can’t surrender four touchdowns and almost 400 passing yards to another quarterback in an NFC title game.
Improving the pass defense, McCarthy said, will be a constant focus throughout the spring.
“Will we spend more time in the OTAs on the passing game?” McCarthy asked rhetorically. “Yes, we will. That decision’s already been made. … We may not run the ball until July.”
McCarthy already had conducted his exit interview with Rodgers by the time he provided his season review Thursday. He said his quarterback’s “all-in” comment after Sunday’s loss wasn’t discussed.
Many interpreted Rodgers’ statement as a call for help, a plea for Thompson to dip into free agency, but not McCarthy. When he saw the comment, McCarthy said his thoughts turned to leaving everything on the field. McCarthy watched as Rodgers lifted his competitiveness “to another level” in the NFC championship game.
“We need that,” McCarthy said, “and that is a great example of a great player elevating, or trying to elevate his teammates.”
But there is a sober reminder that can be seen in the game film. Rodgers, a legendary quarterback, the future Hall of Famer, trying to lift his teammates. His teammates failing to help their quarterback get within three touchdowns of the Atlanta Falcons.
So, yes, it’s easy to see where the Packers might need something more this offseason. The clock keeps tick, tick, ticking on their window with Rodgers.
Thompson will stay in charge.
“He’s not the youngest cat anymore,” McCarthy joked, “but he’s working. I don’t see any change in him.”