GREEN BAY, Wis. — Surprise, surprise. One week into NFL free agency and the Green Bay Packers have done nothing.
It hasn’t been for a lack of talented, game-changing players available in the free-agent market. Several teams across the NFL have improved drastically in recent days by signing notable players such as safety Dashon Goldson (Tampa Bay), wide receiver Mike Wallace (Miami) and defensive end Cliff Avril (Seattle), to name a few.
This is not the time of year in which Packers general manager Ted Thompson has made a name for himself. Since taking over the franchise in 2005, Thompson’s legacy has been defined by his ability to draft well and trust the coaching staff to develop those players into difference-makers.
It infuriates some Packers fans that the team they love stands idly by while the competition seems to get better. When offseason grades are handed out and Green Bay once again receives an ‘Incomplete,’ it’s just another example of Thompson steadfastly sticking to his team-building philosophy.
However, there is still plenty of time for Thompson to deviate from the usual course. During the 2012 draft, he displayed un-Thompson-like characteristics by trading up as many times (three) as he did in his first seven years combined. That was a sign Thompson is willing to be flexible and waver from his typical strategy if the opportunity presents itself. If he were willing to do so in last year’s draft, perhaps it could happen in free agency this year.
Many teams have already spent big money on the top-tier free agents. The Seattle Seahawks, for example, can’t continue paying top dollar forever. Teams like that, who were very active in the first week of free agency, have likely acquired their last impact player. This isn’t Major League Baseball. There is a salary cap.
So this is where the Packers could benefit if Thompson wants to get involved in free agency. The remaining free agents need to find work somewhere and are more willing to sign a smaller contract now than they were a week ago. The desperation level for those players will kick up yet another notch next week. As that happens, a team like the Packers gains leverage.
At running back, former New York Giant Ahmad Bradshaw is still available. Green Bay has reportedly expressed interest in Bradshaw, but nothing would likely happen until the asking price for the 27-year-old reaches a low enough number where it becomes a no-brainer for the Packers. When healthy, Bradshaw is arguably the best running back in this entire free-agent class.
It’s somewhat unlikely that Green Bay would pursue an offensive tackle, but Sebastian Vollmer, 28, and Andre Smith, 26, are both available and would become instant starters for the Packers.
At linebacker, re-signing Brad Jones may be Green Bay’s best option, but recently released Karlos Dansby — at age 31 — could come cheap and would be effective. Former Packer Nick Barnett, also 31, is looking for a team after being released earlier this offseason by the Buffalo Bills.
This year’s draft class is deep and talented at safety, but adding a veteran at that position could be an option for Green Bay. Kerry Rhodes, 30, was released last week by the Arizona Cardinals despite a very good 2012 season. The same happened with Quintin Mikell, 32, cut recently by the St. Louis Rams after a quality season. Those two players don’t have the name recognition of Charles Woodson, who was released by the Packers this offseason, but Rhodes and Mikell are both superior players right now compared to Woodson. Bernard Pollard, 28, and Ed Reed, 34, both of whom won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens the last time they stepped on a field, are also looking for contracts.
The free-agent frenzy may have given way to March Madness in the headlines, but there is still a nice collection of players to be had if the Packers want to make a move.
Under Thompson’s leadership, the Packers aren’t going to outbid other teams for players. That was proven already this offseason when running back Steven Jackson signed with the Atlanta Falcons rather than with Green Bay and when Greg Jennings got a bigger offer from the Minnesota Vikings and hopped across state lines. Thompson was conservative, stood pat and moved on.
In the past three seasons, the Packers have won a Super Bowl and two consecutive NFC North championships, all without signing one big-name free agent. Though it may not seem like it now for some disgruntled Packers fans, Thompson’s patience could pay off and eventually serve as a reminder why “In Ted We Trust” has become more than just a catchy slogan.