BOCA RATON, Fla. – It’s an annual rite of spring, as routine as bracket-busting upsets in the NCAA tournament: NFL free agency kicks off in early March, and the Green Bay Packers do next to nothing.
Packers fans have come to expect that from general manager Ted Thompson. For them, the offseason excitement revolves around the NFL draft. And it’s now less than 40 days until the annual three-day flesh market set for April 28-30 in Chicago.
The last three drafts have been good to Green Bay. The Packers retain eight players from both their 2014 and 2015 drafts, and seven players from their draft in 2013. Among those 23 players are high-impact performers such as running back Eddie Lacy, tackle David Bakhtiari, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, center Corey Linsley and cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins.
Contrast that with the two drafts preceding those three. In 2011 and ‘12, Thompson swung and missed repeatedly, to the extent that the Packers retain only three players total from their 18 selections in those drafts.
True, a couple of those players (cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Davon House) moved on to find a bigger payday elsewhere via free agency. But by and large, those drafts represent a blight on an otherwise pristine Thompson draft resume.
To what can we attribute the dramatic turnaround in the Packers’ draft fortunes the last three years? Was there some sort of significant philosophical change? Thompson chuckled when that question was put to him Monday at the NFL owners meetings.
“Other than that I was more involved the last three drafts?” Thompson joked. “We did good. Not as involved when we didn’t do so good.
“It’s just the way the thing works. I’d like to think that we haven’t made mistakes, but as you go through life you realize there are things you’d like to do over.”
Thompson didn’t make a mistake when he selected wide receiver Randall Cobb with his second pick in 2011. He struck gold with defensive end Mike Daniels in the fourth round in 2012. But the only other holdover from those two drafts is linebacker Nick Perry, their first-round pick in ’12 who recently re-signed with the team on a one-year, $5 million deal.
In Thompson’s defense, it’s true that the Packers perennially draft near the bottom of the first round, making it all the more difficult to find game-changing talent. But given that reality, shouldn’t the Packers be more active in free agency? Isn’t that why it exists?
“Well, I don’t know if that was the reason free agency was started in the first place,” Thompson said. “Free agency is free agency. We try to acquire players that can help us and we’ve done that with players ... Charles Woodson … we’re not opposed to signing people, we just haven’t found the right niche this year.”
So in the absence of a free-agent pickup, Thompson was asked, where do you think the Packers’ improvement will come from next season?
“We’re always trying to get better,” he said. “Maybe from me, maybe I’ll get better.”
But seriously, folks …
“I’m serious,” Thompson said. “We get better by practicing better and doing better and finding better personnel and doing all the things that we do.”