Ted Thompson took his turn at the NFL combine podium Wednesday morning in Indianapolis, and his 12½ minutes was a collection of the Green Bay Packers general manager’s greatest hits.
Fans hoping this will be the year Thompson turns over a new leaf and aggressively approaches the open free-agent market likely were disappointed. Thompson, as he does every year, said his primary goal is to re-sign his own players first. The Packers will have 11 unrestricted free agents, including Pro Bowl right guard T.J. Lang, sacks leader Nick Perry, tight end Jared Cook and running back Eddie Lacy.
“That’s our intention,” Thompson said, “and it’s our intention every year. And I stand on this podium every year, I think, and say the same thing. Our best intention will be to sign as many of our own players as we can, and keep it together.”
Thompson, a preeminent drafting GM in the league, is annually asked about his free-agency philosophy at the combine. Free agency opens next week with a 48-hour window where teams can meet with players, before the signing period starts March 9.
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Thompson said that signing period is “artificial” when it comes to re-signing his own players. A year ago, the Packers re-signed defensive tackle Letroy Guion on Feb. 12. They also re-signed kicker Mason Crosby before he reached the open market.
"Once you get to this particular point," Thompson said, "there’s very little risk of the player getting injured. So there’s not a push on the side of the player to hurry up and get a deal done. But at the same time, sometimes they prefer to stay and deals get done earlier than we think. It’s worked both ways, as you guys know. You guys have watched the guys we’ve signed.
"Over the years, we’ve probably signed several right at the start of free agency. My guess is that’s what’s going to happen."
While Thompson’s focus on re-signing his own players has earned the reputation for being passive in free agency, he said the approach has gained respect from players inside his locker room.
“I think in our case,” Thompson said, “with the players knowing that there’s a good chance they could have a home going forward in free agency instead of going and signing with someone else, I don’t know if that’s a thing or not. But I think our players over the course of the years — and now we’re talking about players who’ve retired and moved onto other things in life — I think our players appreciate the fact that the organization tried its best to keep their own players.”
Here are more highlights from Thompson’s comments behind the podium at the combine.
*Thompson called new scout Matt Malaspina a “good investment” for his franchise. Malaspina was announced Friday as a college scout with the Packers. Thompson said he built a relationship with Malaspina in Seattle, where Thompson was vice president of football operations and Malaspina spent five years as a scout.
*Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst were popular personnel targets for GM vacancies during the offseason. Thompson had high praise for both. "Those guys are excellent evaluators, excellent personnel people, and excellent people just in general."
*Thompson went to bat for the NFC North. He said the Packers' division, which they have won five times in the past six years, “is extraordinarily competitive, extraordinarily difficult. I don’t think it’s appreciated enough.”
*The NFL combine was pushed back a week this year, causing a busy intersection on the NFL calendar. Thompson said the Packers have been working simultaneously on draft and free-agency preparation, with free agency opening next week. Usually, teams have a week before the combine and free agency. “We’ve done a lot of our hard work,” Thompson said.