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By CHRIS HAVEL
Packers’ GM Thompson seems OK with team’s current talent level plus whatever comes via draft
On your mark, get set … oh no!
That shot heard ‘round the NFL marked the beginning of the free agent signing period, aka the slow season in Green Bay. The Packers don’t participate in free agency. They observe it. They watch it unfold.
They see teams like Houston overpay quarterbacks like Brock Osweiler and they shake their heads. The draft-and-develop approach never looked better, especially when compared with overpay-and-under perform, which happens in free agency.
You know what else happens in free agency? Teams get better. They improve. They solidify championships.
They add that key veteran leader to fill a critical hole, or they sign that versatile lineman to plug a chronic void there. They use it ahead of the draft to increase their flexibility.
The Packers use free agency to re-sign their own. Mike Daniels, Mason Crosby, Lane Taylor, Nick Perry, Vince Kowalske and Letroy Guion are among those retained.
Casey Hayward left via free agency for San Diego. James Starks has made several visits. Intriguing players such as running back Matt Forte (New York Jets) and tight end Ladarius Green (Pittsburgh) have signed elsewhere.
So now what?
First of all there’s no reason to panic. The New York Giants spent $200 million ($106 million guaranteed) to acquire three players on defense. Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins are fine players, but at the end of the day the Packers are still better than the Giants and Green Bay didn’t spend a penny.
The Packers’ needs remain the same. They are thin at inside linebacker, tight end and running back.
The solution, in my opinion, isn’t currently on the roster.
I would prefer a veteran versus a rookie at tight end. It seems more likely a veteran will be able to come in and get on the same page with Aaron Rodgers much faster than a rookie. Also, the Packers’ offense can’t risk any more question marks. Jordy Nelson’s knee, Ty Montgomery’s ankle and subpar performances by Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and others make an infusion of talent/production imperative.
Perhaps ex-Rams tight end Jared Cook, or the Bears’ Martellus Bennett (if/when Chicago releases him) are still in play. Either would be a significant upgrade to the unit.
Thompson, at the behest of his head coach, also needs to add a speed receiver. That should come in the middle rounds. The Packers’ Mike McCarthy and Rodgers can’t be handcuffed by a lack of weapons for a second straight season.
That leaves inside linebacker, running back and defensive line as areas of need. I wouldn’t be shocked if Thompson sat at No. 27 and selected a defensive lineman if there’s one he covets. It’s also clear a team never has too many pass rushers, and an edge pass rusher would be another real possibility for the Packers. Again, that’s if Thompson can snatch one he truly likes.
If there isn’t such a player available, I wouldn’t be surprised if he traded back providing he could find a willing partner.
Beyond that, Thompson needs to seriously consider drafting not one but two inside linebackers by the fourth round. It’s time to put Clay Matthews on the edge and leave him there. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers should have the luxury of moving Matthews inside when he wants to, not because he has to.
Essentially, the Packers should add a veteran tight end in free agency, a pass rusher or defensive tackle at No. 27, or else trade back and acquire more picks. The Packers need to draft not one but two inside linebackers.
On offense, the championship-winning question to be solved is this: What can the Packers do to make Rodgers’ life easier? McCarthy’s own philosophy centers on doing what it takes to ensure that the quarterback is successful. That means providing a veteran tight end, a third-down back with quickness, shiftiness and the ability to turn a short gain into a big play.
For now, all Packers’ fans can do is sit back, see how Thompson proceeds and hope that he knows best.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.