Packers’ Thompson building his legacy : Packers Insider

Packers’ Thompson building his legacy

August 5, 2012 by  
Filed under News

From the Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay – Ted Thompson, a spare part for a decade as a player with the Houston Oilers, has become one of the most successful team-building executives in the National Football League.

Since returning to the Green Bay Packers as general manager in January 2005, Thompson has outlasted all but seven of his peers who had comparable job titles and responsibilities at the time.

He ranks with the New York Giants’ Jerry Reese, Baltimore’s Ozzie Newsome, Pittsburgh’s Kevin Colbert and San Diego’s A.J. Smith among the leading GMs in the NFL. 

GM Ted Thompson has assembled the best roster in the National Football League. The Packers are, again, the Vegas betting-line favorites to win the Super Bowl this season.

In Thompson’s first four seasons, the Packers had just one winning season, one playoff appearance and a losing record (32-34).

As his tenure has lengthened, so, too, has Thompson’s impact on the roster and the entire football operation. In the last three years, the Packers have won at least 11 games three times, reached the playoff three times and captured one Super Bowl title.

Green Bay and New Orleans share the NFL’s best record of 40-14 since 2009.

In an interview Friday with the Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn, the ever-reticent Thompson discussed the season ahead and many players, including Donald Driver, A.J. Hawk and Scott Wells.

Q. This team is coming off a 15-1 season and its quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, might be the best player in the league. Do you expect the Packers to be in contention this season and, if it falls right, win it all?

A. Well, every year is a new year. We look at it that way. I do expect us to have a good team. If we play well we’ll have a chance to win games.

Q. Given the 28-year-old Rodgers, the relative youth of so many star players and the overall strength of the Packers’ roster and systems, should the Packers be in the hunt for championships for years to come?

A. We kind of look at this in a smaller, simpler way. We’re looking at San Francisco (Sept. 9). That’s where we’re focused. To look out beyond that, the NFL’s too hard. This is a hard, hard business. As soon as you think you’re a little something then you’re going to get killed. I think our team understands that. Our team’s confident in what we can do. I don’t think you look at something like that until 20 years, when you look back and add it up, you know? I don’t have the luxury of looking that far out.

Q. At the stockholders meeting last month, a good share of the 12,500 attendees stood and cheered after you were introduced. For the guy who was widely vilified for a certain trade in 2008, it was pretty impressive. In all seriousness, did that mean anything to you? If not, what does?

A. I think it’s appreciated. I think anybody in their jobs likes people to think you’re doing a good job. Certainly in this unique situation here with the Packers, there’s shareholders, these are owners of the team. You would want that group to have confidence in you. We try to do things that instill confidence in the people out there. But at the end of the day it still doesn’t matter. You still have to try to win games. It’s like the old saying, ‘I’m with you, win or tie.’ It was very nice. The shareholders have always been pretty gracious. They know I’m not going to talk about accounting or something.

Q. People wouldn’t be supporting Ted Thompson if they haven’t come to the conclusion that he knows more and works harder at team building than many of his competitors. It might be called giving you the benefit of the doubt. Do you deserve it?

A. I don’t know that I have that. I don’t feel that I have that. We don’t do our jobs thinking, ‘OK, we’ve got people that think we’re really good. So we must be really good.’ We take for granted we’re in one of the toughest businesses you can be in. You can’t take anything for granted. You can’t stop trying. You can’t stop getting better. We talk to our scouts that way, our players, myself, everybody. It’s nice that people say good things about you but it doesn’t really mean anything in this business.

Q. If the Packers keep winning and establish a dynasty, accolades will continue to come your way. It’s Hall of Fame weekend. Has Ted Thompson ever thought about one day being enshrined in Canton?

A. No. I’ve never, never, ever thought of that. I don’t think I’ll have to worry about that.

Q. Before Canton calls, you would have to work at least several more years. You’ll turn 60 three days before the NFC Championship Game in January. How’s your energy level these days? When would you like to retire from this job?

A. I feel good. I like our group. I like the people I work with. I haven’t really thought about retirement. That question comes up every year (here), by the way. That’s probably the only time I ever think about it. Everything’s good. Nothing lasts forever.

Q. What is it like as a GM to watch Rodgers directing your team every Sunday?

A. It’s very nice. He’s very skilled at his position. He’s a very good teammate. He’s very well-regarded by most of his peers in the locker room. I think that says a lot. Because NFL players don’t give that sort of respect out easily. He’s also a heck of a player.

Q. Rodgers has three years remaining on the deal that he signed in November 2008. It averaged $12.7 million. How will you go about ensuring that he finishes his career in Green Bay? Have you decided when would be the best time to extend his contract?

A. Well, the short answer to that is we never discuss specifics or specific players of what we may or may not do. Needless to say, what we try to do as an organization is try to stay ahead of the curve and make sure we’ve got guys secured for the long term. Those things will be addressed at the proper time.

Q. Do you share the coaches’ confidence in Graham Harrell’s ability to perform well and win as the No. 2 quarterback?

A. Yeah, I think Graham does a nice job. He’s very confident as a quarterback. He carries himself like one. You can tell. He takes charge of the huddle. He’s very smart. He hasn’t played a lot in the NFL.

Q. Three of Rodgers’ favorite targets – Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb – were drafted during your tenure, all in the second round. There were concerns about Jennings’ size and speed, Nelson was labeled a luxury by some and Cobb was viewed more as a return specialist. What are your thoughts about their development, and is it gratifying to know the role you played in getting them here?

A. We think all three of them are very good players. They certainly add a lot of spark to our offense. When they do good, then people clap for me when I come out in front of the shareholders. If they weren’t doing good then they wouldn’t clap for me.

Q. Did you or Russ Ball in so many words inform the agent for Donald Driver that he needed to take a substantial pay cut to be back in the plan for this season?

A. We would never discuss what we may or may not have talked about with an agent or any of our players. We’ve never discussed the business side of things.

Q. Not only did Driver accept about a 50% reduction, he became a national celebrity of sorts by winning “Dancing with the Stars.” It looks like he can still play. Is he in danger of being cut? Is it smart football to have a 37-year-old backup on the roster?

A. Well, we’re just getting started in training camp. Donald Driver has proven his worth over his career. I think Donald will do his thing and we’ll be fine. We hope it’s smart. I don’t think he’s a normal 37-year-old player.

Q. Your record drafting offensive linemen was hit or miss early. Now the Packers are starting Bryan Bulaga, Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang and Marshall Newhouse from the 2008-’10 drafts, and an excellent foundation looks to be in place for years to come. How did you do it? How good is the group?

A. Drafting never will be an exact science. What we, along with everybody else in the NFL, covet are offensive linemen. Defensive linemen as well. They’ve done a good job developing themselves. Our coaching and strength and conditioning staff have done a good job with them. We think they give us a little bit of a push.

Q. Have you second-guessed yourself on only going so far in negotiations with Scott Wells before he left for St. Louis?

A. You always go back and you see what you did and what you didn’t do, and maybe you could have done this a little bit better. We certainly made a pretty concerted effort to keep him. For whatever reason, it’s free agency and he chose to do something else.

Q. For 15 years or more the majority of players seem to have liked playing in Green Bay. Wells took a hard line and never forgot being benched early in 2009. Could things have been handled differently to keep a top player like that on the roster?

A. Those are the kinds of things we have philosophical discussions about. You don’t have the benefit of hindsight at the time. He was a guy we wanted to keep and we weren’t able to do it.

Q. With half a dozen or more veteran starting centers available, the Packers waited a week after losing Wells before selecting Jeff Saturday as his replacement. What was it about Saturday that you found attractive? After seeing him for a week, how much does he have left?

A. I think Jeff’s still got a lot of football player in him. Obviously, he’s extraordinarily smart, especially his wisdom of the game and how to play that position, the little nuances. You see that in practice. They’re subtle, they’re hard to pick up. It gives him an advantage. I think he’ll fit in really well. We do a lot of two-minute stuff, a lot of shotgun stuff. We had our rankings in free agency just like we do in the draft. When you look at his track record, he’s kind of an unusual older fella, too. He hardly ever misses a game or a practice. That’s just been his modus operandi.

Q. Why did the Packers release Chad Clifton three days before the draft? You didn’t add a tackle of consequence, and Derek Sherrod isn’t practicing. And, has Clifton told the Packers he’s retired?

A. We released Chad just because we felt it was close to the end of the line. He’s had a lot of injury things. He had the thing (back) that bugged him late in the season last year. Those are hard things to get over. We just felt like it was the prudent thing to do at the time. I haven’t heard anything (about retirement).

Q. You said goodbye to Ryan Grant and are trying at running back with some young players. Are you good enough at the position?

A. I think we’ve got a chance to be pretty good. We have a body of work. We liked everything we’ve seen out of James (Starks). The whole key with him is keeping him out there. He’s fresh and having a good camp. The other guys, we liked what we saw when we put them in games last year.

Q. How far away are you from fielding a better defense, one to rival those in 1996 and 2010, when the Packers last won the Super Bowl?

A. Well, we’re hopeful. It’s an offensive-driven league and it’s not the easiest thing in the world to play defense even though it sounds easy. We’ve got a good group of players. It will take a number of players, not just 11. It’s going to take all different kind of packages and options. Our hope was to get Dom (Capers) some more options for him to do his stuff. We’ll see. So far, so good.

Q. In your postseason studies, were you more down about the Packers’ inability to play the pass better or the run better?

A. You can watch last year’s defense and we can be pretty good at times and force turnovers. It’s remarkable how good we are offensively when our defense gets a turnover. We almost always score. The difference in doing that or getting off the field on third down sometimes results in 75 yards of offense. We gave up some big plays. Probably didn’t get as much consistent pass rush as we’d like. But I will kind of stick up for them. Our guys played hard, they got a lot of turnovers and they helped our team.

Q. You’ve now seen Jerel Worthy rushing against NFL linemen. To what degree do you think he can contribute to the nickel rush as a rookie?

A. He is a youngster and is learning as he goes along. But he’s got a lot of energy.

"He's god some God-given talent."

Looks like he’s got some God-given ability to play.

Q. At least Worthy is playing the same position in nickel that he did in college. Nick Perry is in the throes of a major conversion from USC. Do you think he can allay some coaches’ concerns in coverage and recognition in time to be a major contributor this season?

A. I think he’s got a chance. We’re going to ask Nick to step in and help us out. So far, he’s done fine.

Q. Do you think another rookie from the Big Ten, Mike Daniels, might wind up reinforcing the pass rush as much if not more than Worthy?

A. We’ll see. He’s been dinged up after missing some of the off-season because of an existing condition (shoulder). He plays with a tremendous amount of energy. It’s what we saw at Iowa. He’s got a chance to give us a little spark.

Q. Three players on defense – Anthony Hargrove, Mike Neal and Erik Walden – face suspensions of one to eight games for far different reasons, and all three remain on the roster. As the organization’s point man on football, do you think this tends to tarnish the Packers’ image?

A. I hope not. I can’t really speak directly to any of these things. But that’s not our normal way of doing things. We certainly are not proud of that.

Q. Johnny Jolly is 29, a convicted felon and hasn’t played football in more than 2½ years. Now that he has applied for reinstatement, would you take a chance on Jolly if he is reinstated or fear that he might relapse and bring shame to the organization?

A. I wouldn’t try to get ahead of the curve and make any sort of comment on that. I don’t think it’d be appropriate. It’s a hypothetical.

Q. Are you pleased with the five-year, $33.75 million contract that the Packers extended A.J. Hawk on the eve of the lockout last year?

A. I never discuss business publicly.

Q. Hawk and unsung D.J. Smith appear to be competing for a job in both the base and nickel defenses. Would you support or even encourage a scenario in which Smith played over Hawk even though Hawk’s salary is the sixth highest on the team?

A. Yeah, we’re just getting started. We try to make football decisions and not focus too much on the money thing. So we’ll see how that works out.

Q. Some cornerbacks have been able to make a productive move to safety late in their career and others have failed. In your discussions with the coaches, what was your viewpoint on Charles Woodson being able to handle it in base?

A. Charles can play a lot of different spots. I think a lot is being made of it. The fact of the matter is there’s not going to be all that much difference from the way he played in the past and the way we’re going to play him in the future. Charles Woodson is a football player.

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