Packers GM Ted Thompson steps out of comfort zone with older roster
GREEN BAY - The rate at which Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson turns over his roster year to year is remarkably consistent.
Since coach Mike McCarthy took over the team in 2006, the number of returning players on the 53-man roster from the start of one regular-season opener to the next has ranged from 34 to 39 players.
It’s so consistent that three times it was 35 and three times it was 36.
Thompson likely will hit his fourth 35 this year, provided he maintains his current 53 for the season opener against Seattle on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Yet for all the congruity Thompson has managed over the years, he has stepped far out of his comfort zone in assembling team No. 12 for McCarthy.
Barring any changes before Sunday, the Packers will start the season with nine players age 30 or above, which is the most of any Thompson team in the McCarthy era. The average coming into this year was six and the previous high was seven (four times).
The average years of experience going into Seattle is 4.25 years. Only once – in 2010, the year the Packers won Super Bowl XLV — has it been over 4.0 (4.06). Thompson’s roster consistently has ranked in the bottom 10 in years of experience.
This change in form is a result of Thompson removing the handcuffs on his personnel department and letting them identify some tread-worn free agents who could fill important roles on the team. Unlike previous years, the annual roster turnover wasn’t limited to rookies and practice-squad players replacing veterans.
Since March 10, Thompson has added these veterans to his roster:
TE Martellus Bennett, age 30, 10th season
TE Lance Kendricks, age 27, seventh season
DE Ricky Jean Francois, age 30, ninth season
CB Davon House, age 28, seventh season
G Jahri Evans, age 34, 12th season
LS Brett Goode, age 32, 10th season
OLB Ahmad Brooks, age 33, 11th season
DL Quinton Dials, age 27, fifth season
The Packers’ average age is still a modest 25.8, but that’s mostly because the bulk of Thompson’s starters are still young — only Aaron Rodgers (33), Jordy Nelson (32), Clay Matthews (31), Bennett and Evans are 30 or older. The average age of the 17 other starters is 25.3 years and 10 of those players still are on their first contract.
Thompson kept nine rookies and two first-year players with no NFL experience and several of them will play this season. Second-round picks Kevin King and Josh Jones will see time in the secondary. Third-round pick Montravius Adams will be an inside rusher as soon as he’s fully recovered from foot surgery.
But instead of relying on just rookies to replace departed veterans such as Sam Shields, Julius Peppers, T.J. Lang, Jared Cook, Letroy Guion and Datone Jones, as often has been the case with Thompson, he has replaced them all with veterans. This group has NFL-ready options behind the majority of its starters.
“Regardless of age, the rhyme or reason, that’s not really for me to decide or me to care about,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said of the veteran additions. “The one thing I mainly care about is football first, that he can play some ball.
“Bring in guys who are able bring it and play some ball.”
The Packers think they have. How well those veterans perform could be the difference in finally getting over that Super Bowl hurdle.
There is a question of whether the additions are a good fit in the locker room. It’s one thing to add an established veteran like Peppers, but it’s another to add a half dozen guys who are used to doing things a different way. Either they’re going to fit into the culture or they’re going to change it.
“It's different,” Rodgers said. “We lose veterans who are leaders and you replace them with guys who haven't been in the system, so it's a matter of getting those guys comfortable in the locker room, in the system, in the playbook and then allowing their personalities to come out and see how much leadership they're willing to offer.”
Based on training camp performances, it’s pretty clear the Packers made good investments with Bennett, Kendricks and Jean Francois. Bennett alone could transform the offense into something special if he plays the way he did for New England last year.
But Kendricks, Jean Francois and Dial may have an impact, too. The drop-off in play from Bennett to Kendricks shouldn’t be as big as it was from Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers to Justin Perillo or from Mike Daniels to Christian Ringo or from Guion and Kenny Clark to Mike Pennel.
The Packers still need more information on House, Evans and Brooks, mostly whether they can sustain a starter’s level of play and good health all season. In each case, there are young players behind them that aren’t proven, so the Packers could wind up with some familiar growing pains anyway.
But as kicker Mason Crosby noted, starting out with veterans in key starting or backup roles means practice and play standards are set right away and it will be up to the younger players to meet them.
“To have experience in this room is always a positive,” said Crosby, who is 33 and in his 11th season. “You saw what happened with having (Julius) Peppers around the last few years. Just that experience helps those young guys to move a little quicker into what is expected, what does it take to be a professional.
“It provides a little guidance into how is that done. All those variables are going to help. The more experience you have in this room, for sure, it’s never a bad thing.”
To Thompson's and his staff’s credit, they chose carefully which veteran players they brought in. Bennett is a free spirit and is on his fifth team for a reason, but Kendricks is the consummate pro and sets an example even for Bennett when it comes to effort.
The rest have paid their dues and aren’t bigger-than-life personalities that might affect locker room chemistry.
“It is about culture and everybody has a place and how,” McCarthy said. “The transition is important to get guys acclimated and I feel good about it. I don’t know ‘em very well. I haven’t really worked with them.
“So, we’ll see how it goes. But they’re obviously here for a reason and I’m glad they’re here.”
PACKERS DEPTH CHART
WR – Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Jeff Janis
LT – David Bakhtiari, Jason Spriggs
LG – Lane Taylor, Lucas Patrick
C – Corey Linsley, Justin McCray, Lucas Patrick
RG – Jahri Evans, Justin McCray
RT – Bryan Bulaga, Kyle Murphy
TE –Martelllus Bennett, Lance Kendricks, Richard Rodgers
WR – Randall Cobb, Trevor Davis
QB – Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley
RB – Ty Montgomery, Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays
FB – Aaron Ripkowski
DE – Dean Lowry, Ricky Jean Francois
NT – Kenny Clark, Quinton Dial
DE – Mike Daniels, Montravius Adams
LOLB – Clay Matthews, Ahmad Brooks
ILB – Jake Ryan, Joe Thomas
ILB – Blake Martinez, Joe Thomas
ROLB – Nick Perry, Kyler Fackrell, Chris Odom
LCB – Davon House, Quinten Rollins, LaDarius Gunter, Lenzy Pipkins
RCB – Damarious Randall, Kevin King, Josh Hawkins
SS – Morgan Burnett, Josh Jones, Marwin Evans
FS – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Kentrell Brice
K – Mason Crosby
P – Justin Vogel
LS – Brett Goode