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By CHRIS HAVEL
Criticism of Packers’ GM Thompson understandable but overstated
The prevailing presumption is that the Packers will be better this season than last.
That is based on Green Bay’s stellar record under GM Ted Thompson, who has presided over one of the NFL’s most consistent, successful teams for more than a decade. Fans don’t merely hope their Packers will be in the postseason. They have come to expect it.
That is a testament to the Packers’ sustained excellence. It also is one of the primary reasons fans feel so disappointed if and when their team doesn’t meet such lofty expectations. Some fans accept a post-season berth with a shrug. Others act as if winning the NFC North title is merely business as usual.
It is understandable, but is it realistic? Frankly, it is what it is.
Fans want Thompson to be active in free agency. They see other teams apparently improving while the Packers stand pat.
The fact is most teams who play heavily in free agency do so because their roster is so utterly devoid talent. New England may be the exception, although the Patriots’ use of free agency as a tool to improve is overstated. New England relies on free agency to fill holes from one season to the next. It uses the draft to maintain the foundation.
The Packers rely on the draft – and subsequently signing undrafted free agents – as their best path to a Super Bowl.
So are the Packers and Thompson, as some detractors suggest, wasting quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ best years by not surrounding him with the necessary talent? Should they be bringing in a veteran or two in free agency to shore up glaring deficiencies while the younger players continue to grow and improve?
Clearly, one could make an argument in favor of being more active in free agency. The argument would be the Packers’ “close but no cigar” exits in recent post-season play. But would an addition in free agency have saved the day? These are questions that pop up in March like spring flowers.
While I understand the fans’ frustrations, I can’t ignore the Packers’ win-loss record going all the way back to Brett Favre’s days at quarterback. Thompson is doing a lot right to keep Green Bay relevant.
Last year, it would’ve been impossible to replace Jordy Nelson adequately given the timing of his season-ending injury. The draft and free agency were afterthoughts, trades are nearly dead and the only reasonable option was the one the Packers took: They signed veteran receiver James Jones. It was enough to get them into the playoffs, but not enough to get them past Arizona, much less Carolina.
That was bad luck. The year before the Packers had the Seahawks down and almost out before the final five minutes of the 2014 NFC Championship. Did the Packers’ meltdown stem from the team’s unwillingness to sign free agents?
No. It was because Seattle out-coached and out-played the Packers with the game in the balance. Furthermore, several veteran players contributed to the disastrous finish and overtime loss.
So what’s the solution? Fans need to be patient. It isn’t easy, but it’s a lot better than rooting for a team that routinely drafts in the top half of the first round but finishes in the bottom half of the standings.
Fortunately, fans have two things to hang their helmets on:
Free agency isn’t finished. In fact, Thompson suggested the Packers still might “surprise” their fans in free agency. Maybe tight end Jared Cook will still be signed. If the Packers do, consider it a pleasant surprise. If they don’t, consider it business as usual.
Super Bowls aren’t won in March and free agency isn’t the “be all, end all” for NFL teams.The Packers have plenty of time to take their talent level, and their game, to championship caliber. What matters is that they have most of the key pieces in place.
Which NFL team would Packers fans trade for? Aside from the Patriots it’s an extremely short list.
A lot of NFL fans would easily trade splashy free agent signings for post-season victories. Packers’ fans would be wise to accept the free agency frustration as part of what comes with the territory.
In the words of Rodgers, wouldn’t it be easier to just R-E-L-A-X and enjoy the ride?
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.