If you have been following Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson's tenure closely you may not recognize some the moves he has made this offseason. Even Thompson himself, who seldom gives much insight on personnel decisions, admitted to reporters during his weekly Tuesday PC that he has changed things in the off season.
"I think you have to be willing to (evolve), yeah," Thompson said. "I think we're all continuing to evolve and trying to get better at our craft. What you do roster-wise with a team depends on where that team is. So we try to apply that to now and not what I have done in 2006 or 2007."
The Packers are a Super Bowl ready team this year and Thompson has done a great job of recognizing that. The Packers no longer need to rebuilt with young talent like when Thompson took over, but they need to fill some holes with veterans to give them the best chance to win. He has done a great job of filling holes without giving out big money to free agents, but rather by signing a bunch of cost friendly players and hoping some stick.
Thompson started changing his approach in the 2012 NFL Draft when he uncharacteristically traded up in second round twice for defensive lineman Jerel Worthy and cornerback Casey Hayward. He also traded up for linebacker Terrell Manning in the fifth round. The three times that Thompson traded up in this years draft are the same amount of times that Thompson has traded up during his first seven drafts as Packers general manager. He recognized that the Packers' 32nd ranked defense needed major help, and he not only traded up for three players, but he spend his first six draft picks on defensive players. He was always known for drafting the best player of available of need, so this was a big change for him.
Thompson continued his more aggressive approach after the draft and into free agency. He was never known to get involved in free agency, as his only two major free agent acquisitions during his tenure have been cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett. Thomspon did not make any big money signings like those guys, but he did sign more cost friendly guys than he has in the past.
Thompson's biggest move was signing long time Colts center Jeff Saturday to a two-year contract to replace Scott Wells. The Packers could not afford to start an inexperienced player at center in their complex offense, so signing Saturday was a big move. Thompson also added to the defensive line depth by signing Anthony Hargrove, Daniel Muir and Phillip Merling.
Thompson was not done adding veterans once training camp began. The Packers' offensive line depth started to become and has continued to be a big problem. Derek Sherrod is still on the PUP list recovering from a broken leg and once Marshall Newhouse was out with a concussion it became clear the Herb Taylor could not be counted on as the number three left tackle. Normally he would just sign a young player but instead he signed a proven veteran in Reggie Wells. Wells has started 91 games at three different spots across the offensive line (79 at left guard, 10 at right tackle and two at left guard).
Running back was also a major concern coming into the season and even more so as training camp went on. Alex Green is still on a snap count coming off his torn ACL, Brandon Saine has been out with a hamstring injury and James Starks had an awful game in San Diego while suffering a turf toe injury in the process. Thompson responded by signing former Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson. Benson is an older running back at 29 years old and has a history of off the field problems, so this move went way against what he used to do as well. Thompson made it clear on Tuesday as well that Benson was not just brought in on a trial basis despite his minimum salary.
"We needed another guy to add to the group for the season," Thompson said. I'm not talking about a training camp body."
Benson is a definite talent upgrade over what the Packers had at the position previously. Benson has ran for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons for Cincinnati. He also brings 1,529 carries worth of experience with him, while the current running backs on the roster outside of Starks have only 21. With opposing defenses geared up to stop the Packers' lethal pass offense, Benson should be able to find running lanes in Green Bay that he never found in Cincinnati.
Thompson has set the Packers up with yet another championship caliber team. After last season's home playoff flop against the Giants nothing short of a championship will be considered a success for the Packers this season. Thompson has done a great job of putting the Packers in a position to meet those lofty expectations and is still filling holes as they pop up in training camp.