Ted Thompson relinquishing his role as Packers' general manager
GREEN BAY – For the first time in 13 years, Ted Thompson will not be in command of the Green Bay Packers' football operation.
Two sources confirmed that Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy has reached an agreement with Thompson to step down and relinquish his position as the team's general manager.
The Packers did not release any information on the decision, but a source said it was Murphy’s decision to start the transition from the 64-year-old Thompson to new front-office leadership.
Thompson, whose contract is set to expire after this season, will move to an advisory position within the personnel department.
NFL Network first reported that Thompson no longer would be the general manager and a replacement would be sought. Other reports suggested the Packers would establish new roles for existing members of the department in a job-sharing arrangement, but the source said that was inaccurate.
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The Packers will conduct a full search for a new general manager.
The search will not be limited to just in-house candidates, of whom there are several, including director of football operations Eliot Wolf, director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst, senior personnel advistor Alonzo Highsmith and vice president of football administration/player finance Russ Ball.
Murphy could seek the advice of Thompson to select candidates from around the NFL, but Thompson might be loyal to his own people and want to promote them.
In that case, Murphy could employ a headhunter such as Jed Hughes of Korn Ferry, the same man who led the search for the Packers when Murphy was selected to replace Bob Harlan.
This will be by far the biggest decision Murphy will make since becoming president on Dec. 3, 2007.
And it could be a very tricky one.
If Murphy decides to go outside the organization to hire a general manager, he risks losing Wolf, Gutekunst and Highsmith to other teams. All three consider themselves future general manager candidates. Wolf and Gutekunst have interviewed for GM jobs and probably will be candidates every year until they land a job.
Even if they don’t receive offers to be GMs elsewhere, they could ask to be let out of their contracts and choose to work for new Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey or former colleagues John Schneider (Seattle Seahawks) and Reggie McKenzie (Oakland Raiders), who also are general managers.
Dorsey, Schneider and McKenzie, as well as all three Packers personnel men, are disciples of former Packers general manager Ron Wolf, Eliot’s father. Wolf developed a scouting system and style of management to which all of them adhere.
Only Thompson, who was hired by Wolf in 1992, has deviated from the former general manager’s aggressive style of team building
Schneider, a Green Bay native, long has been thought of as a possible successor to Thompson, but he is under contract with the Seahawks through the 2021 season. He said at the time he signed a five-year extension in 2016 that he does not have an “out” clause that would allow him to leave for the Packers job.
The Seahawks would have to be willing to let him out of his contract or the Packers would have to argue to the league that Schneider shares power with coach Pete Carroll and would be eligible to leave because the Packers job would be a promotion.
If Murphy chooses Wolf, Gutekunst or Highsmith to be general manager, he’s less likely to lose the other two, since they have grown up together in the organization and believe in the Wolf-style of team building. They have had to suppress their aggressive nature to fit in with Thompson’s conservative style.
Their respect for Thompson’s talent-evaluation skills and leadership kept them from leaving the Packers for lateral positions.
If Murphy chooses Ball, whose primary duties are negotiating contracts but who has been studying personnel evaluation under Thompson, he almost certainly would lose all three personnel men, a source familiar with the Packers' front office said.
His hiring would signal to them that they had no chance of becoming general manager in Green Bay and would be better off elsewhere.
Another possibility would be to hire someone from outside. Among the hottest candidates for general manager positions are Minnesota Vikings assistant general manager George Paton, Baltimore Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta and Philadelphia Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas.
Complicating matters is that coach Mike McCarthy is entering the final year of his contract. Murphy must decide whether to extend McCarthy’s contract regardless of the new GM hire. Thompson was fully behind McCarthy, but a new GM might not feel the same way.
Whatever the case, Murphy is going to have a hard time finding someone with the level of success Thompson has had. For as much criticism as he has endured from Packers fans, he’s the one who drafted Aaron Rodgers despite having Brett Favre on his roster.
He is regarded around the NFL as a brilliant judge of talent and has been particularly good at picking wide receivers and offensive linemen in the draft. His weakness has been defensive linemen and tight ends.
When Murphy joined the Packers, Thompson already was in place as general manager and McCarthy as head coach.
The three men led the Packers through an unprecedented organizational run of eight straight playoff appearances, including a Super Bowl XLV title during the 2010 season. The Packers have played in three NFC Championship games, won six NFC North titles and won 10 postseason games since Thompson hired McCarthy in ’06.
The Packers have a 131-78-1 record since McCarthy took over (including playoff games), which is the third-best winning percentage in the NFL over that span behind only New England and Pittsburgh.
The 2017 season, however, saw the Packers lose Rodgers for seven games due to a broken right collarbone and finish the season 7-9, its first losing record since going 6-10 in 2008. The Packers floundered under backup quarterback Brett Hundley and lost their last two games, both against NFC North foes, by a combined score of 51-11.
The Packers were decimated by injury, starting 10 different offensive line combinations and losing key members of their secondary as the season wore on. The loss of Rodgers exposed the lack of impact players and veteran depth the Packers had and made Thompson appear as though he had failed in stocking the team with talent.
Murphy’s decision to end Thompson’s reign probably wasn’t as simple as having a lousy season. He had to assess Thompson’s ability to manage the entire football operation, including McCarthy, as well as maintain a hectic fall schedule scouting college players.
Thompson, a deeply private man, insisted on having complete control of the operation and keeping many decisions to himself. He relied on talent evaluators such as Wolf, Gutekunst and Highsmith, as well as all his college and pro scouts, to advise him.
But Thompson chose to disregard their recommendations for acquiring free-agent talent and relied almost exclusively on the draft. Thompson’s “draft-and-develop” philosophy went so deep that he went from 2013-’16 without signing a single unrestricted free agent.
Last year, he made two critical mistakes in the offseason: Instead of re-signing free-agent tight end Jared Cook, he signed New England free agent Martellus Bennett, and he allowed defensive back Micah Hyde to leave in free agency.
Bennett opted to have surgery on his shoulder after Rodgers got hurt even though he had not missed any practices or games and Thompson wound up cutting him. The Packers have a pending grievance against him to recoup $4.2 million of his signing bonus for allegedly failing to disclose a previous injury.
Hyde, who signed with Buffalo, ranked tied for fifth in the NFL with five interceptions and was elected to the Pro Bowl. Another free agent Thompson let walk after the 2015 season, cornerback Casey Hayward, was elected to the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons.
Thompson was the league's fourth-longest-tenured GM (not counting the two owners who serve as GMs: Dallas’ Jerry Jones and Cincinnati’s Mike Brown). He had given no indication he was planning on retiring. And Murphy essentially had said that the job was Thompson's as long as he wanted it.
Murphy is expected to speak to the media about the GM position Tuesday.
Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette contributed to this story.
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TED THOMPSON BY THE NUMBERS
13 Years as Packers' general manager.
135 Total victories.
90 Total losses.
9 Playoff appearances.
1 Super Bowl victory.
4 NFC Championship Games.
10 Postseason victories.
8 Postseason losses.
4 Fewest wins in a season (2005).
15 Most wins in a season (2011).