Thompson pushing to get Packers over the top

Thompson pushing to get Packers over the top

Published Aug. 14, 2012 4:34 p.m. ET

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The first seven years of Ted Thompson's career as general manager of the Green Bay Packers were relatively predictable. After getting hired in 2005, Thompson consistently added as many draft picks as he could, selecting 34 players in his first three years. With the exception of signing cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, Thompson rarely acquired veteran players and opted instead to adhere to his "draft and develop" philosophy.

But since his 15-1 Packers team from the 2011 season was soundly defeated in the divisional round of the playoffs at home, Thompson has almost completely changed his approach.

"I don't know if there's really any cosmic change in the way we like to do business," Thompson said Tuesday.

The collection of moves Thompson has made over the past four months, however, suggest otherwise.

It started during the 2012 draft when Thompson, who had traded up only three times in his first seven years, moved up three times this year alone. Rather than waiting to see which players were available at Green Bay's originally scheduled spots, Thompson surrendered a total of seven picks for the right to draft defensive lineman Jerel Worthy and cornerback Casey Hayward in the second round and inside linebacker Terrell Manning in the fifth round.

"It's horrible," Thompson said immediately following the draft. "I felt ashamed. I'm not my father's son anymore because my father's very frugal. It's pathetic. But in this case, I felt like it was appropriate. I felt like we had a good, solid team, and I felt like if we knew we were getting quality, we should try to do it. So we made three trades up."

Thompson is as guarded with his public comments as any executive in professional sports. For him to be that bold in his post-draft statements explains just how rare this behavior was.

But it didn't stop there.

A year ago, Thompson let 30-year-old defensive end Cullen Jenkins — who was coming off a seven-sack season for the Super Bowl-winning Packers — leave in free agency without making an offer in order to give opportunities to younger, less expensive players. That move backfired as Green Bay's defense, which finished second in the NFL in sacks in 2010, fell to 27th in 2011.

So what did Thompson do this offseason? He added multiple veteran free agents, including 37-year-old center Jeff Saturday and two defensive linemen, Anthony Hargrove and Daniel Muir, who will both be 29 years old when this season begins. Thompson also re-signed 37-year-old wide receiver Donald Driver in a move that was surprising because of Driver's age and because of the up-and-coming young players who are ready to take on bigger roles at that position.

Once the preseason began, Thompson continued to patch holes, signing 31-year-old offensive lineman Reggie Wells and 29-year-old running back Cedric Benson. In the past, Thompson would have counted on young players to fill the roles he's assigning to free agents these days.

Even MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers has started to wonder what is going on with Thompson.

"That is a little atypical of Ted and his career but, hey, he likes to bring in who he deems is the guy that can help us the most and the quickest," Rodgers said this week. "We need some help at some of those positions, so we like it."

Proven starters like Benson and Saturday will boost Green Bay's chances of winning a second Super Bowl in three seasons, but these weren't the type of moves Thompson was making until now.

"I think we're all continuing to evolve and trying to get better at our craft," Thompson said Tuesday. "What you do roster-wise with a team depends on where that team is. So we try to apply that to the now and not what I would have done in 2006 or 2007."

Thompson was far from the most popular man in the state of Wisconsin prior to the Packers' winning Super Bowl XLV. Aside from his decision to end Brett Favre's 16-year tenure in Green Bay, Thompson also was met with skepticism from Packers fans when he remained steadfast about not making big, splashy trades. His refusal to sign off on a trade for emerging star running back Marshawn Lynch in 2010 seemed to indicate that the then-57-year-old general manager was stuck in his ways and unwilling to adapt to circumstances.

But with all of the recent moves by Thompson, that is certainly not the case anymore.

"A team is ever evolving, and I just think that we just felt like those were good moves at this particular time," Thompson said Tuesday during the news conference. "We were very, very young at a couple positions, like in the case with Reggie Wells, we're very young in the backup roles, and we felt like adding a guy with experience, we could take a look at him and see how he fits in and if it's a good fit."

This is a new Ted Thompson. He might think it's "horrible" and "pathetic," and he might feel "ashamed" about it, but these appear to be the right moves on paper. If they translate to another Super Bowl, this might be the Ted Thompson who's here to stay.

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