Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ted Thompson Earns "Executive of Year" Honors

Well, I guess we can finally bronze that statue of Ted Thompson outside the Atrium.

The Sporting News selected Ted Thompson as its 2007 George Young NFL Executive of the Year, quite an honor for a general manager who still endures catcalls from the media and fan base for his sometimes maddeningly deliberate approach to building a team.

A lot of credit for Thompson's honor goes to the surprise finish the Packers had this season, going 13-3 in a season when few predicted them to have better than a .500 record. The Packers finished only three points away from a Super Bowl appearance, despite gutting a 4-12 team from 2005 down to its most basic players. Keeping Sherman holders Brett Favre, Donald Driver, Chad Clifton, Mark Tauscher, Aaron Kampman, Nick Barnett, and Al Harris, Thompson invested 34 draft picks over his first three seasons, many by virtue of trading down. An amazing 23 players from the last three drafts still remain on the Packer roster.

Furthermore, Thompson has remained out of the free agent cesspool, grabbing lower-profile players such as Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett, and Brandon Chillar for cheaper contracts than some of the huge money thrown at the big names. This practice has resulted in the Packers being nearly $35 million under the salary cap for 2008, once Brett Favre files his retirement papers and makes that cap space official.

Thompson beat out the executive officers of both the Giants and the Patriots in the vote, garnering 19 votes to the 9 votes for New York's Jerry Reese.

Well deserved? Certainly, Ted Thompson has silenced many of his critics this past season (not the least of which was yours truly), and the Packers should celebrate Ted's accomplishments. To his credit, he has stuck to a plan he created back in 2005 and the results of not panicking or giving into the pressures of the media or fans, despite the occasional P.R. negativity, is commendable.

His finest move was the much-decried hire of Mike McCarthy, who came to Green Bay as the offensive coordinator of the 32nd-ranked offense in the NFL the year previous. The McCarthy hire established proper GM/coach relations that had been messed up under Mike Sherman's ill-fated dual role. McCarthy's ability to take the sometimes young and raw talent that Thompson provided and make it work makes his selection a wise one.

The fact that McCarthy was also able to take the last two years of Brett Favre's career, rein him in, and make him into an MVP candidate again is testament to what a coach means to all players, not just the young ones that need to be developed.

Ted Thompson, hopefully, isn't going to spend too much time admiring his new statue: he has a lot of work yet to do. Favre's retirement is a sign that the leftover talent from the previous regime isn't going to last much longer: aging players like Driver, Clifton, Harris, and Woodson may soon require Thompson's draft picks to start playing like solid starters. Despite having 23 draft picks on the roster, only 7 are projected in a starting role in 2008, and some of those, like Daryn Colledge and Brady Poppinga, are expected to have to fight for their job.

Let's hope that the 2007 season is the start of something big for Thompson and the Packers, not the end of a far-too-short era. I have faith that Ted Thompson will stick to his plan, and continue to build for the future. However, the present is also calling, and all eyes will be on him this offseason as the expectations have risen for both the GM of the Year and the team he manages.

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