Monday, March 8, 2010
Close To The Vest Approach The Wisest Move This Offseason
Thus far, Ted Thompson has utilized a series of tenders to keep many of his restricted free agents in the fold, re-signed Chad Clifton for another three years, and generally avoided free agency like the plague. Any other year, I would be grumbling about his reticence to make any type of splash to bring in some talent from the outside, instead of waiting for his draft picks to eventually (and hopefully) develop.
But this year, the rules have changed, and with the prospects of an uncapped year and the uncertainty of the collective bargaining agreement, teams are able to spend without a ceiling or a floor...at least until terms are reached. If the Packers had a free-wheeling GM at the helm who felt shackled by the cap all these years, this would be a very dangerous time for a small-market team.
We don't like to compare ourselves to teams like the Cowboys or the Redskins that doesn't present the Packers in the best light, but the facts are facts; the Packers may be the best small-market team built to survive, but in the end, they are still revenue-limited when matched up against the teams from D.C., Dallas, New York, or Boston.
So, while I've gone from complaining to accepting-the-inevitable every year for the last five offseasons (as Thompson's fiscal responsibility would reach exasperating levels), this year is different. In 2006, when Thompson talked about building for the long haul and keeping the team competitive year-in and year-out, it frustrated those fans who wanted to see the string of NFC North championships continue. But in 2010, that long haul has a different connotation: the "long haul" means through what may end up becoming an assortment of revenue, contract, and sharing changes that do not favor the Packers or other small-market teams.
It's not a plan that is designed to bring a championship to Green Bay next year. But, it is a wise decision that keeps the team competitive on the field and on the ledger.
I've been calling for a safety upgrade for years, and yet, the Packers placed a 1st/3rd tender on Nick Collins (good move) and a 2nd rounder on Atari Bigby. Many of us have been ready to write Bigby off, scouring the free agent market and the 2010 draft class for potential replacements. Now, he has 1.7 million reasons to continue to start opposite Collins this upcoming year.
The oft-maligned offensive line also appears ready to remain the same. Second-round tenders on both Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz, darlings of Thompson's second draft class, will keep them in the fold and in the starting lineup. Colledge came under increased criticism this past season, leading many to believe the Packers would look to upgrade.
Perhaps the most eye-raising move was the $20 million dollars given to aging tackle Chad Clifton, with $7.5M guaranteed. It's a thin free agent market when both Clifton and Tauscher top the list of the best tackles available, despite the belief no less than a year ago that both players would have been replaced by this time. Without parting with some serious talent in trade, trading up every draft pick we have to get a top prospect, or breaking the bank for another mixed-bag of free agent talent, the Packers decided that keeping Clifton in-house was the best move.
I'm not criticizing the moves...in fact, I am acknowledging that they were wise ones in the face of the today's uncertain future. While many of us no more than a couple of months ago were scheming up ways to replace Clifton, Bigby, and Colledge in the lineup, Thompson decided that the status quo was the way to go.
I would guess that Thompson will continue this approach through the offseason and the draft, eschewing all but the most bargain-basement of free agents and likely returning to his preference of trading back in the draft. One might even guess that his out-of-character trade-up for Clay Matthews in the 2009 draft may have been not only for CM3's talent, but because he could see the storm on the horizon and knew that might be the last draft that he could risk that many picks for one player, at least for the foreseeable future.
I don't begrudge Thompson for his approach, but there has to be a general disappointment in the timing of the expiring of the CBA. The Packers finished 11-5 and had perhaps their most dramatic season in years. One could look at both sides of the ball in 2009 and feel like both squads were just a player or two away from dominance.
I could see the optimism rising for some bold moves (perhaps bolstered by Thompson's already-bold statement in trading up for Matthews), that the time had finally arrived for the Packers to sign some crusty, savvy old veterans to come in and fill in at safety, along the offensive line, outside linebacker, and along the defensive line. Was it time for our Sean Jones, Eugene Robinson, and Keith Jackson to not only complete the roster, but bring a level of maturity to this "forever young" team?
No, Thompson's moves are not designed to take this team over the hump and make us instant Super Bowl contenders, but he doesn't make the rules he has to play by. I would be far more critical of Thompson's approach if he were idiotically signing free agents left and right, not unlike a certain team south of the Wisconsin-Illinois border. Another year, under the old rules? Sure. But not this year.
Maybe I am wrong, and Thompson is just waiting to unload a barrage of trades and signings in the next few weeks. But I have a feeling we have Conservative Ted back in the captain's chair, ready to sign a couple of no-name free agents, trade back to select lesser-known players from smaller colleges, and to build from within, for better or worse.
Any other year I'd probably be complaining. This year, while it may not be the moves that make the Packers a winner, it's still the winning move.
Restricted Free Agent Tender graphic courtesy of JSOnline