Historically, the Green Bay Packers have not been very active in the free agency under the leadership of general manager Ted Thompson, as the former NFL veteran and scout, has built the Packers through a draft and develop philosophy.
For the most part, Thompson’s strategy is simple. Draft players, develop them and then sign them to long-term deals before they hit free agency. After all, if you are good at developing, cultivating and keeping your own talent, why would you need to sign away someone else’s?
However, as we are now just a week away from the start of the 2014 NFL League year and the beginning of unrestricted free agency, the Packers are at a crossroads.
After winning the Super Bowl in 2010, the Packers were poised to make a run in the NFL and seemed to have a great chance to win multiple Super Bowls within a short period — oh, how long ago that seems.
Now the Packers find themselves stuck squarely behind the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks and arch-nemesis San Francisco among the NFC’s elite.
Armed with around $35 million in cap space, this offseason provides the Packers with a perfect opportunity to change their ways and get more aggressive in the free agent market as they attempt to close the gap between themselves and the two NFC west powerhouses.
Yet, at this point, the Packers free agency strategy has not come into focus and outside of some discussions with Sam Shields and Jordy Nelson about long-term extensions, it appears the Packers are content to play the waiting game.
Part of the reason why the Packers have so much cap space is that they have a ton of free agents. On offense, Jermichael Finley, James Jones, Evan Dietrich-Smith and John Kuhn are all starting caliber players headed free agency. Things aren’t much better on defense with Sam Shields, B.J. Raji, Mike Neal, Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly and C.J. Wilson all set to be free agents as well.
That equates to eight players considered to be starters, who could be leaving the team within a week unless Thompson steps up to the plate and starts getting deals done.
I completely understand the philosophy of waiting and letting the market set the price for most of these players. After all, I would expect this to be another buyer’s market, particularly after the initial wave of free agency hits. However, I still don’t understand why the Packers continue to take the same wait-and-see approach.
Sam Shields is a perfect example.
Shields, an undrafted free agent out of Miami in 2010, is set to become a free agent and at just 26 years old is just entering his prime. This past season was his finest as a Packer with 14 starts, 51 tackles, four interceptions and 17 passes defensed.
The speedy cornerback was one of the Packers few playmakers on defense and now he appears set to leave via free agency after he and the Packers have failed to reach a long-term agreement.
Sure, it takes two to reach a deal and I am not advocating that the Packers overpay for Shields but at some point, don’t have you to get a little more aggressive in your personnel approach?
As it stands, my prediction now is that Shields will hit the free agent market and some other team will swoop in and steal him away with a big money deal before the Packers even know what hit them.
The same goes for B.J. Raji, who the Packers seem to care little about retaining.
It’s fine if you decided to move on from a player as Thompson and the Packers appear set to do with Raji, James Jones and possibly even Dietrich-Smith. Nevertheless, when you are a draft and develop team, you can’t let all the players you develop into starters, subsequently leave in free agency then try to fill their roles through draft picks.
It hasn’t worked for the past three years and it will not work in 2014. Mark my words. Unless the Packers get more aggressive in free agency this offseason, they will find themselves coming up short of the Super Bowl once again.
At this point, it’s hard to judge the Packers too harshly because most of the league is taking the same tactic, waiting for the market to define itself.
However, if Thompson and the Packers allow as many as eight starters to leave via free agency and plan to replace them all with nothing but draft picks, then there will be serious questions that need answering.
I believe in the draft and develop philosophy but it doesn’t work if you don’t keep the players you have developed. Unfortunately, you can’t keep everyone. It’s just a reality in today’s NFL but the Packers have more than enough money to re-sign Shields, Finley, Dietrich-Smith, Pickett and Neal, while also adding a legitimate safety in Jarius Byrd or T.J Ward.
There has been rumors of the Packers being more aggressive in free agency this offseason but right now, it doesn’t appear to me that Thompson has changed at all and it would not surprise me to see all the players mentioned above playing elsewhere in 2014.
As long as Thompson is the general manager in Green Bay, the Packers will live by the draft and die by the draft — I only hoped he would alter his philosophy with the team so close to another Super Bowl and at the end of the day maybe he will, I just know with what I’ve seen so far this offseason, I for one am not holding my breath.