March 29, 2012.
This was the last day that Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson signed an unrestricted free agent. Yet, the Packers have won three NFC North titles and have made the playoffs the past four years, winning three playoff games.
Defensive end Anthony Hargrove was that player signed on March 29, 2012. He was subsequently released on August 24 of that year, never playing a regular season snap with the franchise.
Year after year billions (yes billions with a “b”) of dollars are spent when the NFL’s moratorium on signing free agents is over, yet the Packers typically stay out of it. Thompson’s strategy is clearly defined: draft, develop, and repeat.
There were only four players on last year’s Packers team that had even spent time on another team’s roster (John Kuhn, Julius Peppers, Letroy Guion and James Jones), and the Packers drafted Jones but resigned him last year amid a rash of wide receiver injuries.
Every year Packers fans whine and complain that Thompson should go after a free agent to help put the team over the top. While it is fun to imagine a top free agent pushing the green and gold back to a Super Bowl title like they did in in the 2010 season, signing a major free agent is not in the cards for the Packers.
There are always free agency rumors swirling around the league, it is what makes the NFL relevant 365 days a year. When Thompson and the Packers target someone though, virtually no one sees it coming.
Two years ago, it was signing the 34-year-old veteran linebacker Peppers to a three year $25.5 million dollar contract after he was released by the division rival Chicago Bears (after being released, a player does not count as an unrestricted free agent).
Peppers has started every game the past two years for the Packers and has totaled 18 sacks and 81 tackles in that span.
Thompson also signed the defensive tackle Guion from the NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings (notice a trend) two days later. He had a career high 32 tackles and three and a half sacks before having a smaller role last year.
The times that the Packers dip into free agency recently, they come out with players that help them lock up the NFC North crown and make it back to the playoffs.
That is why Thompson’s latest foray into free agency to sign former St. Louis Ram and Tennessee Titan, tight end Jared Cook, has Packers fans feeling giddy.
Other than now third year tight end Richard Rogers making one of the biggest plays in Packers history with a crazy Hail Mary touchdown catch to win against the Lions last season, he had a largely disappointing season.
This year, the Packers will have a two-headed monster at tight end with Cook and Rodgers to give two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers even more weapons to throw to (it is nearly impossible to go an entire article without mentioning Rodgers when you talk about the Packers).
The NFL Draft, otherwise known as Ted Thompson’s playground, is in a month where he will find the next players to follow his championship-winning model.
Packers fans, be warned. The Packers are not typically going to be big players in free agency, but that is ok. Those NFC North titles and playoff victories speak for themselves. The Packers way works under Ted Thompson.
By: Justin St. Peter