INDIANAPOLIS — Selecting no higher than No. 21 in the past five NFL drafts means the Green Bay Packers have had a lot of consistent success in recent years. It also means Ted Thompson is often left with choosing a player after the top group of prospects are already off the board.
With the Packers picking at No. 30 this year, Thompson will once again have to play the waiting game while rival NFL teams add high-quality talent.
"It’s difficult to sit at 30 or something like that, and watch 29 players come off the board," Thompson said in a smaller group interview following his podium session at the Scouting Combine. "That’s hard to do."
In analyzing Thompson’s past five drafts, he’s had some degree of success with first-round selections despite picking near the back of the line. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at No. 21 in 2014 and Bryan Bulaga at No. 23 in 2010 are the best two of those. However, Green Bay is still waiting on Datone Jones (No. 26, 2013) and Nick Perry (No. 28, 2012) to live up to the first-round billing, while Derek Sherrod (No. 32, 2011) was released this past season.
"You’re behind a lot of people, but you find ways to overcome it," Thompson said. "There are guys — and you can go through our draft, sometimes I might be better off picking all of them in the third and fourth and fifth rounds instead of the first round."
Thompson’s self-deprecating humor aside, he’s somewhat on point with that analysis. The Packers have been great over the past five years in the second round, with Cobb and Eddie Lacy topping that list. But focusing in on Thompson’s third-through-fifth-round comment, Green Bay has added several key starters including left tackle David Bakhtiari, center Corey Linsley and defensive lineman Mike Daniels in the middle rounds.
When Mike McCarthy announced at a Feb. 12 press conference that he was relinquishing his offensive play-calling duties, he made it a point to mention that it was his idea alone.
"Frankly, when I went to Ted Thompson and told him about the change I was going to make, and even in a conversation with Mark Murphy, their first comment was ‘Whoa, you’re really going to give up the play calling?,’" McCarthy said at the time. "So this is something I’ve given a lot of thought, and it’s something that’s a big decision that’s taken years to make."
In between Thompson deflecting specific free-agent and draft questions at the podium Thursday, he commented on McCarthy giving up the play-calling responsibilities.
"Most of that was his own thinking," Thompson said. "We had conversations. I was aware of what he was thinking and that sort of thing."
Most was McCarthy’s own thinking?
Thompson attempted to clarify later when talking with a smaller group of reporters.
"We discuss all sorts of things, but the minute details of the coaching and that sort of thing, I leave that up to Mike," Thompson said. "I think that’s a good decision on my part."
When asked if McCarthy bounced the idea off of him, Thompson said, "Sure. A little bit. To some degree."
Thompson later expounded a bit further.
"We had nice conversations," he said. "He didn’t come to me to be challenged and I didn’t try and challenge him. We just talked it out. Just like any two friends would. It’s an important setup: how the team is treated, how the access is to the head coach, what the different jobs of each one of the coaches is. That’s a big thing to kind of work out. He worked it out, and we’ll see.
"And I think he’ll probably tell you, it’s not anything, a lot of this stuff is not necessarily set in stone. We’ll try something, then if all of a sudden something needs to be tweaked or something, we’ll do that. I’m not suggesting it is, I just don’t think you should get too worked up about what we’re doing."
McCarty promoted Tom Clements from offensive coordinator to associate head coach/offense and gave him the play-calling duties. If that doesn’t go as well as the Packers hope, Thompson seemed to leave the door open for it to revert back to McCarthy.
There are reporters at the combine not familiar with Thompson’s public persona. Thompson isn’t going to give any specifics about Green Bay’s free agents, nor is he going to shed any light on anything about the current crop of draft prospects.
So, when Thompson was asked about prioritizing Cobb as a free agent, the answer came as expected.
"We’d like to re-sign all of our free-agent players," Thompson said, repeating his annual line.
Cobb is less than one month away from entering unrestricted free agency after coming off a career-best season that included 91 receptions, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. But a season earlier, Cobb was limited to just six games with a knee injury.
"Randall is Randall," Thompson said after having finished at the podium. "He’s the same guy all the time. He missed some time in the year before with an injury, but he’s been a pretty good player since the day he showed up."
Cobb is reportedly looking for a contract in the range of $9 million per season, but if multiple teams get in on the bidding his price could rise above $10 million. If that happens, Cobb’s new deal could eclipse the annual average of $9.75 million that Packers receiver Jordy Nelson signed for in July 2014.
"There’s a lot of dynamics to contract negotiations and signing players and that sort of thing," Thompson said. "I’ve never proposed that I’m an expert on that. There are people that are there and we look at things like that. But the fact of the matter is both of those guys are good football players and we’d like to have them on our team."
Thompson said he "wouldn’t speculate" on the possibility of giving the franchise tag to Cobb should the two sides be unable to work out a long-term deal.
Thompson was equally reserved in his comments when it came to right tackle Bryan Bulaga.
"Bryan has always been a good player for us, and yeah, he had a good year," Thompson said. "He’s another player that we’d like to have back."
Letroy Guion’s status
Green Bay was very happy with the season it got out of Letroy Guion in 2014 and was likely going to re-sign him to a new contract this offseason. Then Guion was arrested and charged with two felony counts in Florida.
With that uncertainty hanging over Guion’s head and the Packers’ preference to stay away from players with legal issues, it would seem to cloud the possibility of the two parties continuing their relationship into next season.
"Monitoring; That’s a good word," Thompson said. "There’s a lot of water that will have to go under the bridge before we can figure all that out. We’ll defer that question. That’d be speculation."
Thompson added "I’m sure there has been" some form of communication between a Green Bay staff member and Guion.