GM Ted Thompson sticks to blueprint in building Packers’ roster
By Robert McGinn, Journal-Sentinel
~GREEN BAY — As the years go by, the Green Bay Packers grow ever more removed from player procurement avenues that are in common practice across the National Football League.
They almost never trade for players.
They almost never claim players on waivers.
They almost never sign unrestricted free agents.
It isn’t close to “The Packer Way,” the title of a book authored by former general manager Ron Wolf in 1998.
Wolf was a wheeler-dealer, a man who delighted in tinkering with the bottom third of the team’s roster with players gathered liberally from trades, waivers, free agency and every professional league under the sun.
Ted Thompson, his protégé, was twice named NFL executive of the year by Sporting News. He has built a formidable franchise that has won 47 of 64 regular-season games and one Super Bowl in the past four years by doing it his way.
The longer Thompson sits in the general manager’s chair, the more he believes in the ability of his personnel people to find players in and shortly after the draft plus the ability of Mike McCarthy and his assistant coaches to make the draft-and-develop mantra work.
“You have to,” Thompson said Wednesday. “If you don’t, you’re just spinning your wheels.”
Look at the 53-man roster that the Packers will take to San Francisco for their season opener Sunday.
For the seventh straight year, Thompson has overseen a process that resulted in about 25% turnover from a year ago. There are 14 players on the roster who weren’t on the Packers’ 53 or reserve lists a year ago, up slightly from the Packers’ average of 12.3 since McCarthy’s second season.
Of the 14 newcomers, 11 are rookies, one came off suspension, one came off the practice squad and one, Seneca Wallace, came off the street.
Safety Chris Banjo attended the Pittsburgh Steelers’ post-draft minicamp in May 2012 on a tryout basis but wasn’t signed. In April, Jacksonville signed Banjo for four months before cutting him July 26, and three days later he became the 90th man in Green Bay.
Banjo is one of 12 players on the 53 that signed a contract with another NFL team. Wallace is one of only four that has actually made a foreign 53-man roster.
Thompson’s cheerful rejoinder is that the Packers usually have more than four, and they did have seven each of the past three years.
“Part of that is a credit to our coaching staff,” he said. “They take guys and they can coach ’em up so you don’t have to keep looking quite as hard.”
The way Thompson is going, the home-grown flavor of the Packers’ roster might become even more entrenched.
When was the last time the Packers traded for a player?
Thompson had no idea, nor probably would anybody else.
It was safety Anthony Smith, who arrived from Jacksonville in October 2010 one day before the trading deadline.
“Well, we do (trade) sometimes,” deadpanned Thompson. “It just didn’t come up this time around.
“I’m not bashful about making trades, either. But I’m not one of those that wants to just go do it just so we can say we did something.”
A heavy trader on draft day, Thompson hasn’t been involved in any of the 78 trades involving players since the Smith deal. Every team in the NFL except Green Bay has acquired a player by trade in that span, and 101 players in all have switched clubs.
The Packers’ five other trade acquisitions during the Thompson administration were linebacker Robert Thomas in 2005, wide receiver Carlton Brewster and running back Vernand Morency in ’06, running back Ryan Grant in ’07 and safety Derrick Martin in ’09.
Most trades turn out to be insignificant. Not this year in San Francisco, however, where the 49ers would be dead at wide receiver if they hadn’t acquired Baltimore’s Anquan Boldin on March 11 for a sixth-round pick.
Few waiver claims
Thompson has been even less active, if that’s possible, when it comes to the waiver wire.
In 2006, his second year at the helm, the Packers were awarded six players on waivers; four — cornerback Jarrett Bush, safety Charlie Peprah, kicker Dave Rayner and guard Tony Palmer — made the team
A year later, fullback John Kuhn arrived off Steelers’ waivers and has been here since.
In five of the last six years, and that is including the entire league year, the Packers incredibly haven’t been awarded a player. In 2012, they did pick up safety Micah Pellerin and wide receiver Andy Brewer on waivers.
“Oh, we’ve claimed people before,” Thompson said with a chuckle. “Not this year we didn’t.”
On Saturday night Thompson and his people pored over the names of approximately 600 players just released. They had until 10 a.m. Sunday to enter a claim.
“There were several young guys that were kind of interesting and would add some value to us over time, but there were a lot of unknowns,” said Thompson. “The guys we had on our team were at least known, you know?
“When you feel like it’s bitterly hard to get down to 53 with your present roster, it’s hard to feel overly excited about claiming somebody. Because if you get him then you have to go back to the well and find somebody to release.”
Forty-five players — about twice as many as most years — were awarded to 19 teams Sunday morning.
Five of those players — Alex Green, Patrick Lewis, Terrell Manning, Dezman Moses and D.J. Williams — had been Packers. Matthew Mulligan, a vested veteran not subject to waivers, signed Tuesday with New England.
Thompson was asked if it was flattering that the Packers had more players claimed than any other team.
“No, I don’t think it has anything to do with me or us,” he replied. “People do what they do. They’re out there scoutin’ and they see somebody they think can help their team.”
From Saturday to Tuesday, six teams were able to trade a player for a draft choice whereas the Packers got nothing from building a top-notch roster.
Do the Packers miss the contacts and phone expertise of John Schneider and John Dorsey, the departed personnel directors well known for their people skills?
“No, I don’t think that’s the case,” said Thompson. “We’ve got good communicators here in the office.
“I do miss those guys. They’re good friends and good at their craft. I’m not trying to be nonchalant, but life goes on and next man up.”
Teams that participate in unrestricted free agency also open up their roster to outsiders. Since signing five in ’06, Thompson has added just two (Jeff Saturday, Anthony Hargrove) in the last four years.
That door is all shut in Green Bay. Ryan Pickett is the lone unrestricted free agent on the 53.
“Been a good one, though, huh?” Thompson said, referring to team’s starting nose tackle for eight years.
Once again, the Packers’ unwitting pursuit of youth was evident. According to STATS, the Packers own the seventh-youngest 53-man roster.
Five of the six teams younger than Green Bay — Kansas City, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Cleveland and St. Louis — are coming off losing seasons. Seattle, the one good team younger than the Packers, has one of Thompson’s protégés, Schneider, as its general manager.
The Packers currently average 25.66 years, a figure in amazing lock step with their first-game averages of 25.57 in 2006, 25.74 in ’07, 25.57 in ’08, 25.70 in ’09, 25.91 in ’10, 25.70 in ’11 and 25.70 in ’12.
“In some cases, you give some of the younger guys a little bit the benefit of the doubt,” said Thompson. “But you do have a pretty good body of work when you count May and June and, of course, training camp.”
Detroit, the oldest team in the league based on STATS numbers, has an average age of 27.04.
Thompson did depart from stuffing the practice squad with ex-Packers. This year the eight-man unit includes four cut by other clubs.
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