A sure bet: Packers GM confident in roster as is
Despite coming off a 6-10 season and being in the midst of a major schematic change on defense, the Packers are not a team with a lot of glaring needs, Thompson said. If there’s an absence of conviction in Thompson’s eyes that his current roster is capable of big things, you’d be hard pressed to detect it.
“I am confident in our team,” Thompson said during a break at the NFL owners meetings at the St. Regis Hotel. “I think we have a fair group of players that now can play the game and play it well. I don’t think we played as well as we should have last year. Notwithstanding, I think we have a good group of players who make up our team.”
Thompson’s commitment to building through the draft might be the strongest of any general manager’s in the National Football League, and since he’s holding nine picks this year, including the ninth pick overall and four in the top 83, it would be logical to think he’s expecting a couple of starters out of this class. But he’s not even certain he needs to do that.
“I don’t know that’s a particular goal,” Thompson said. “It would be nice. It kind of depends on what’s there when it’s our turn to pick. We’re pretty solid in our starting lineup.”
That kind of confidence about a team that went 6-10 last season might surprise a lot of people, especially when you consider he has a roster that features more unproven young players than it does high-performing veterans. Still, the Packers lost a total of seven games by four points or less last season, including a pair in overtime, and lost seven different starters for three games or more to injury.
Thompson’s confidence in his roster would imply to some that he thinks the failures of the defensive coaching and strength and conditioning staffs played a role in the 6-10 season, and changes coach Mike McCarthy made in both areas will allow the talent he has accumulated to blossom on the field.
He denies that’s the case.
“That’s in Mike’s bailiwick and I’ll let him address anything like that,” Thompson said of the coaching changes. “That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying the 6-10 thing is my responsibility. At the same time, I think our players would say this, I think our coaches would say this, we felt like we should have been better.”
Thompson’s personnel assistants, John Schneider and Reggie McKenzie, have been keeping in touch with free agents, but without Thompson providing financial backing the only player the team has signed is former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Anthony Smith, to whom the Steelers chose not to offer a contract after his third season.
The only free agents the Packers are known to have had visit are Smith, Cleveland safety Mike Adams and Buffalo offensive lineman Duke Preston. The only free agents the Packers have signed are their own: restricted defensive back Jarrett Bush and unrestricted defensive end Mike Montgomery.
They are one of four teams that have not signed an unrestricted free agent from another team. All three of the others—Pittsburgh, Carolina and Indianapolis—won 12 games last season.
“It’s not that we didn’t investigate some things, we did,” Thompson said. “And a couple of things got out of hand (with the price) and went away. We’re in a stage with our team that we’re not going to have the luxury of having tons of room under the cap. We’re at a stage where we have to start bringing our contracts up for some of the guys who are going to be ’graduating.’ ”
Thompson predicted that before the year was over, the Packers would have spent all $29 million of their available salary cap room. He said negotiations with players whose contracts are up next year had gone nowhere, but added that was not surprising because this isn’t the time of year when most long-term extensions are done.
The group of players who are scheduled to become free agents next year, provided there is a salary cap, include end Aaron Kampman, receiver Greg Jennings, guards Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz, safeties Nick Collins and Atari Bigby, nose tackle Ryan Pickett and returner Will Blackmon.
Rather than prepare for those loses by signing free agents, Thompson will utilize the draft to continue building with younger players. Over the last four years, he has signed just two players over the age of 28, mostly because, he said, younger players are more durable and less injury-prone.
His feeling is that after five years his team is maturing. But when asked if he felt tremendous pressure to hit it big in the draft given that has been the only tool he has used of late to stock the roster, he said no.
“I think the draft is very important, obviously,” Thompson said. “And you have a bad year, that’s going to hurt you at some point, whether right away or down the road. I think our team is built as such we don’t, in my opinion, have some glaring needs.”