Tuesday, March 10, 2009

GBP: Ted Thompson's impact and outlandish fan expectations?

Ted Thompson is the general manager of the Green Bay Packers. He has served in this role for four full seasons and is heading into his fifth year. It would be fair to say that he is not well loved by many in the Packers fan base, due largely to his introversion and aversion to public attention and highly patient (some would say neglectful) approach to building a championship calibre team.

The Packers are now notorious for letting the frenzy that is opening weekend of free agency go by without wasting much time or effort to attract the most prized (and extremely pricey) free agents. Only twice has Ted Thompson (TT to the Packer faithful) made significant splashes in free agency to sign players of note: defensive tackle Ryan Pickett and cornerback Charles Woodson.

With the Packers transitioning to a 3-4 defensive alignment in their defense this offseason with the whacking of Bob Sanders et. al. and subsequent hiring of Dom Capers (noted architect of the Steelers "Blitzburgh" defense of the early 90's which leveraged the zone blitz to unprecedented effectiveness), many fans believed that signing some big name free agents was imperative to ease the pain that many teams experience when switching a defensive scheme.

When TT did not comply with the wishes of many fans this past week, his approval rating took a nosedive highly reminiscent of GW's partway through his second term as president, and now there are desperate calls for his removal and accusations that TT has failed to put any stamp on the team.

While I'm all for spirited debate, I also believe in examining and weighing the facts when deciding what side of the fire/keep TT issue, and the clamor for regime change at our GM spot would need to be founded on some pretty damning evidence for me to join in. So I did some homework about what, if any, impact TT has had on the current Packer roster. This is what I learned.

Check out http://www.packers.com/team/how_built/


WR Donald Driver (drafted Packers, 7th round - not TT)
TE Donald Lee (signed, FA, Dolphins, TT)
LT Chad Clifton (drafted, Packers, 2nd round- not TT)
LG Darryn Collegde (drafted, Packers, 2nd Round, TT)
C Scott Wells (drafted, Packers, 7th round I think, not TT)
RG Jason Spitz (drafted, Packers, 3rd round, TT)
RT Mark Tauscher (drafted, 7th round, not TT)
WR Greg Jennings (drafted, 2nd round, TT)
QB Aaron Rodgers (drafted, 1st round, TT)
FB Korey Hall (drafted, 6th round, TT)
RB Ryan Grant (trade, TT)

Of the 4 players on offense not drafted by TT, he extended Driver and Wells.

Defense (some of this is guesswork, as we don't know precisely who is starting in the 3-4 this season)

CB Al Harris (trade, not TT)
SS Atari Bigby (FA, TT)
FS Nick Collins (draft, 2nd round, TT)
CB Charles Woodson, (FA, TT)
OLB Aaron Kampman (drafted, 5th round, not TT)
MLB Nick Barnett (drafted, 2nd round, not TT)
MLB AJ Hawk (drafted, 1st round, TT)
OLB Brandon Chillar (FA, TT), Jason Hunter (FA, TT), Brady Poppinga (drafted, 4th round, TT)
DE Johnny Jolly (drafted, 6th round, TT)
NT Ryan Pickett (FA, TT)
DE Cullen Jenkins (FA, not TT)

Kampman, Harris, Jenkins and Barnett were all extended by TT.

TT has played a primary role with over 85% of our starters in either drafting, signing or extending them.

The notion that TT's FA signings stop at the bargain bin with players like Marquand Manual and Frank Walker might be accurate in the sense that he doesn't often use FA, but it also ignores that two of our most consistent starters on defense came via big money FA signings in Pickett and Woodson.

I am still waiting for a comprehensive list of FA's that we refused to overpay for that have outperformed the deals we didn't feel they were worth signing. If anyone would like to provide me with an itemized list of names, positions, contract length and values and their production after signing, we would have grounds for a discussion, but people don't want debate- they want a lynching on purely opinionated or emotional bases.

Whether we have pro bowlers at every position drafted by TT (which seems to be the standard being applied to our team but no one else's), the roster was remade. Over 65% of our roster has TT's handprints on it, and we remain in good position going forward to make a variety of moves.

I am firmly in the camp that if we're not positioned for an extended run of contention at the end of this year that TT will not have done the job that was expected when he landed on the ground four years ago, and that we need someone to come in and add some extra punch to the sound approach taken to date.

I am also firmly in the camp that says that there's enough evidence that good things can come from this roster in the coming season that abandoning ship and whacking the GM and HC is a foolhardy thing to do given the development of players on the roster.

Which brings me to my second issue for this post: what criteria are the fans calling for Thompson's ouster using as their measuring stick, and can it be legitimately applied to rosters of teams considered to be yearly contenders?

Some have suggested that just because a player starts for the Packers doesn't necessarily make them a good or impact player in the NFL. I think if we're going to use this as a measure of quality players, I'm OK with that so long as the same measure is applied to other teams' rosters too.

There are plenty of players on playoff teams' rosters that are starting that don't necessarily translate to impact for their own team OR to being an immediate impact for other teams either.

Take the Steelers. Ryan Clark is a starter at safety for them, but he's not an impact player, and even though he may start for another team, he's not necessarily going to have greater impact on another roster either, because that's not his skill set- he's a steady, consistent player who allows other players for the Steelers to play to their strengths because they don't have to worry about him doing his job.

You can apply that same criteria to either of Pittsburgh's DE's, their entire OL, their fullback, and any of their WR's not named Holmes or Ward.

They have solid cornerbacks, but not lockdown guys. Polamalu is one of the top defenders in the league, Harrison is a passrushing force, Woodley is a fine compliment on the other side, and Farrior is steady in the middle. Hampton is a rock.

The rest of their guys are good players, not great ones.

One example I can think of right off the top of my head that is loaded with "impact" talent was last year's Cowboys. They had two safeties that have all pro talent (though neither of them ever played like it once last season), one of the most physically gifted corners in the league (Pacman), Ware on one edge killing teams, Greg Ellis posting career highs on the other edge. Ferguson is a rock in the middle.

But how many of those guys are impact players outside of that team? Maybe Ware. Ellis is effective because opposing offences can't double him AND Ware.

I guess part of my frustration with the current debate about our roster is that people seem to think that we should have a team with pro bowl candidates at every position, and there isn't a team in the league with talent like that (or, in the case of the Cowboys, it's a noncohesive unit that doesn't live up to the sum of its gifts).

I think that this team isn't dramatically flawed. I think that we need to make sure that our trenches are the strength of this team, because a lot of the other issues we have would take care of themselves if the lines were dictating the play on the field.

If our Oline is consistent and efficient, keeping Rodgers off his back and giving Ryan Grant and company a chance on most downs to make that one cut and hit it, we're a team that rushes in the top 10, even top 5. We just can't afford waiting until week 7 to get it together and deliver that kind of play.

If our Dline can gum up the opposing Oline and let out guys get one on one, I think we have personnel that can produce consistent pressure on the QB and keep Woodson and Collins near the top of the INT leaderboard.

My biggest concern isn't that we didn't pay a FOOLISH amount of money to bring in Chris Canty, because he's just one piece, and there are players than can deliver quality consistency at DE for a far more affordable price that lets us make moves in trades and resign key guys.

My biggest concern is that we use the full range of avenues available this offseason to strengthen those units and get these players ready to execute and win from week one onward. I happen to be fine with TT taking until training camp to make moves that brings in players to accomplish these goals.

It just seems like there are a ton of people who feel like it should all have been addressed in the first 72 hours of free agency, and that even if TT drafted pro bowl picks to fill three more spots on each side of the ball, many would still be complaining about the starters that WEREN'T pro bowl worthy.

In either case, I continue to watch the offseason unfold with great interest. Some teams improve dramatically through bold moves. Others improve because they leverage the talent already on their rosters through consistency with schemes and superb coaching. Here's hoping that the latter is very much the case for the Pack, and that we're treated to a couple of bold moves through the draft and trades that help vault the defense forward into the top 10.

Until next time, make mine with sauerkraut and beer mustard (my brat, that is)...

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