Aaron over at CHTV breaks the news to Packer fans, and naturally, the reaction is rather indignant from most of the Packer fans in the commentary.
…the Packers are hoping that something good —winning — will be able to mask the ugly task they are in the middle of: rebuilding.
It does seem a bit odd to converge predictions of a division championship along with an prognosis of rebuilding....especially when Ted Thompson was so vigorous in denying the term "rebuilding" back in 2005 when we were starting Taco Wallace and Samkon Gado. Certainly, if that was a "reload", as was the common term used in that horrible 4-12 season, today's playoff team can't be considered anywhere near the days of Wil Whittaker and Adrian Klemm. Right?
I certainly don't think so, but I think if you approach it from the correct perspective, it isn't too hard to see that the Packers are in a sort of rebuilding mode. It's perpetual rebuilding, Ted Thompson style.
You see, when Thompson came in, he didn't completely clean house, a la Ron Wolf. Wolf tabbed Sterling Sharpe and LeRoy Butler to hang around, and essentially declared every other player a liability and set out to replace them. Wolf was a GM in a different era, however, and he made full use of every avenue he could to rebuild that sorry Packer team...trading, free agency, and the draft. In those days, the repercussions of using free agency was something that you wouldn't have to deal with for a long, long time.
Thompson, on the other hand, came in with a different approach. Oh, you can't deny that he definitely came in and cleaned house of the underachieving, the overpaid, and the about-to-be-overpaid (Sharper, Longwell, Rivera, Wahle), but he kept a core of Sherman holdovers to build the team around (Favre, Driver, Clifton, Tauscher, Barnett, Kampman, Harris).
However, since that time, he has only invested in a couple of major free agency moves, bringing in Ryan Pickett and Charles Woodson back in 2006, and relying mostly on the draft and developing and re-signing from within. Oh sure, he traded for Ryan Grant and picked up Brandon Chillar, but the team that Ted Thompson is going to live or die by is going to be the one he's created through the draft.
When you eschew free agency as Thompson has done, you're hoping to hit well enough in the draft to keep your team fully stocked. Now, if you subscribe to my 33-33-33 theory, the stats will tend to shake out that only a third of your draft will live up to their billing each year. At that rate, with seven draft picks per year, you're essentially hoping for five quality starters (or better) every two years.
This means that you would be able to completely turn over your 22 starters every nine years. And, as we know, that would be impossible, given the ability for solid players to move on in free agency and the average career lifespan of an NFL football player.
And, to Thompson's credit, he hasn't relied completely on the draft to fill the holes. Atari Bigby was an undrafted free agent. Ryan Grant cost him a sixth rounder in trade. Brandon Chillar was a middle-tier free agent. But, regardless, every season the Packer have continued to have holes.
A few years ago, we bemoaned our running back situation, as well as our interior offensive line. Since then, the concern has switched out our outside linebackers, our exterior offensive linemen, and our secondary. You can bet that two years from now, we will find "holes" in other positions.
So, Ted's eschewing of free agency places the Packers in a perpetual rebuilding mode, constantly plugging holes with draft picks and other street free agents, trying to develop talent from within.
Now, not much has changed in my impression of how Thompson manages this team over the last six years, though I'm sure I placed it in a far more negative light on it in 2005 and 2006. In those days, I was far from a Thompson fan, and insisted that his "building through the draft" methodology would create a team that would always be a little better than good....never too bad, but also never quite good enough to get over the hump and into a Super Bowl. Quite frankly, I decried Thompson's conservative approach as being a curse of indefinite mediocrity.
Now, has Thompson changed, or have I? My honest guess is that I have changed, since I really don't see a dramatic difference in his approach, his massive trade-up for Clay Matthews in the draft notwithstanding. Have I softened towards Thompson's conservative approach, or have I simply accepted it as a reality that I cannot change? The answer is probably a little of both, understanding the positives that come with avoiding the high-risk moves, while also realizing that Thompson isn't going anywhere any time soon.
I have respect for Thompson sticking to his guns, staying true to his philosophy even when he comes under fire. It doesn't mean I always agree with it, or that I am content seeing holes remain on our roster (knowing there are UFAs out there that could fill them), but I do like the fact that TT doesn't make moves to appease the masses. If he is going to the top of the mountain or over the cliff, it will be on the basis of his consistent approach to building a team.
So, when Barnwell insists that the Packers are in rebuilding mode, the natural reaction from the Packer masses is one of indignation. I don't know if he is looking at the team in the same way that I am, but I do think there's some truth to what he says: Thompson is not rushing out to plug holes at cornerback and outside linebacker with free agency. So, there are holes, and Thompson is continually rebuilding through the draft and trying to develop the Brad Joneses and Pat Lees to fill those spots.
And, the day you stop rebuilding, is the day that you start standing still.