Gregg Rosenthal

Offseason Low Down

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The new Packer Way

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Free Agents

The beating heart of the 2010 Packers comes from their draft picks, but a pair of strategic free agent signings early in Thompson's tenure helped build the team's underrated defense.

Thompson gave cornerback Charles Woodson a sizable deal at a time when Woodson's stock was low.

"It was kind of decided for me," Woodson said of his choice to join the Packers. "Nobody wanted me coming out of Oakland. I tried to go to a few other places and tried calling … Some teams returned calls, some didn't."

The contract proved to be a bargain; Woodson was one of the best signings in NFL free agency history. When you consider his five years of service in Green Bay, Woodson has nearly made the same impact as Reggie White with the organization. (Heresy, but it's true.)

Thompson also signed defensive tackle Ryan Pickett to a low-cost deal back in 2006. Like Woodson, Pickett did such a good job that he got another long-term contract in 2010. I can't overstate how rare it is for a veteran to sign two long-term deals with their second team.

While the Packers don't make a habit of pricey free agent signings, Thompson makes his deals count.

The Replacements

Thompson has a gift for beating the bushes for talent that other teams gave up on. He was asked Tuesday if his NFL career as a player who struggled for survival helps him to find diamonds in the rough.

"Who says I struggled," Thompson said to laughter. "You're right. I was a borderline player. I was a special teams player. I was the one of the last people on the 40-man roster. I don't know if that gives you any special insight. I think I have an appreciation for guys that come up the hard way . . . but I like our first-round players too."

Cornerback Tramon Williams is one of those players that came up the hard way. Once cut by the Texans, Williams is now a Pro Bowler that has terrorized opposing quarterbacks in the playoffs. Thompson says an "extraordinary" workout convinced him to sign Williams off the street.

"They just know talent," Williams said Tuesday. "With all the guys they have brought in, I can't see how they didn't make it on other teams."

Thompson and his staff knows what McCarthy's staff is looking for and they find it. With injuries testing the team's depth this year, midseason pickups like defensive tackle Howard Green and Erik Walden have seamlessly joined the team's playoff run.

Walden was cut by the Dolphins in September. Green was cut by the Jets in October. Now should both be starting in the Super Bowl.

The Drafts

Ted Thompson's long-term vision was realized with the 2010 Packers. With six years of Thompson drafts on the books, they have premier talent at all the right positions. They have continuity, versatility, and intelligence. They have the depth to withstand 15 players on injured reserve, including six starters. noted that only 13% of Green Bay's playoff roster was drafted by another team. That was easily the lowest percentage of the four Conference Championship teams. (For reference, 32% of the Bears roster was drafted elsewhere.)

Thompson has endured plenty of busts over the years, like every talent evaluator. Some of them didn't work because of injuries (Justin Harrell, Terrence Murphy). Some were just duds (Brian Brohm, Abdul Hodge.)

The overall track record, however, is outstanding. Thompson finds quality role players in the middle rounds like receivers James Jones and Jordy Nelson. A relative "miss" at the top of the draft like linebacker A.J. Hawk still contributes plenty.

Then there are the hits: Defensive tackle B.J. Raji, linebacker Clay Matthews, tight end Jermichael Finley, wide receiver Greg Jennings, guard Josh Sitton, safety Nick Collins, tackle Bryan Bulaga, running back James Starks, and of course Aaron Rodgers.

That nucleus, replenished each April, helps explain why so many NFL talent evaluators believe the Packers are the most talented team in the NFL. They could stay that way for a while.

A Green and Gold Future

"Ted built this house. He is responsible for everything that goes on. He is our leader, and he is our point man," coach McCarthy said after the NFC title game win. "He's why this team is in the shape that it's in and why the future looks so bright."

Uncomfortable with the media, Thompson is not a guy that wants to reflect on his success. Or reflect on much of anything. Heck, he's only watched two Super Bowls in a life built around striving to reach the big game as a player, scout, and personnel man.

Super Bowl Sunday isn't here, and Thompson can't help but think about what comes next. Preparations for the NFL Scouting Combine begin two days after the Super Bowl.

"There's a lot of different times you go through and you just kind of try to make honest decisions and look forward to the next stage. Because there's always a next stage," Thompson said Tuesday.

The next stage for the Packers, built from Thompson's vision, may be defending a world championship.

Gregg Rosenthal has directed Rotoworld's football content since 2003. He co-hosts the NBC Fantasy Fix and covers the NFL for and Catch him on Twitter.
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