To Fix the Packers Defense, Is It Time For Ted Thompson To Tread Into The Free Agency Waters?
Sometimes, desperate times call for drastic action and the situation with the Green Bay Packers defense is starting to border on desperate after the unit was shredded in the 37-20 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the NFC playoffs.
Packers GM Ted Thompson knows he needs to fix his defense and fast. He has legend in the making under center in Aaron Rodgers and an offense on the whole that other head coaches would run over their own mothers to get. The Packers have an open multiple year window to win more Lombardi Trophies to go with the one they won last year in Super Bowl XLV.
That said, until some of the issues are resolved with the defense, it’s going to be difficult to get back to the big game. You can’t win a championship outscoring you opponent 45-41 every game. The law of averages will catch up with you as they did with the Packers this season.
So, in order to make the move back to the top of the NFL mountain in 2012, Thompson may have to do something incredibly unorthodox for him.
He may have to make a move (or even more) in free agency.
As my colleague Zach Kruse recently wrote, the obvious move for Thompson would be to perhaps trade up to get a pass rusher that can contribute immediately. As Zach notes, Thompson did that in 2009 and got Clay Matthews after already selecting BJ Raji in the first round. It was a move that took both Packer Nation and NFL pundits by complete surprise as such aggressiveness was unusual for Thompson.
Perhaps even more unusual would be treading into free agency to get another defensive end or a linebacker to bring in some relief for Matthews. This isn’t to say Thompson must go after the biggest name available. Even though he hit the jackpot when he signed Charles Woodson, making big splashes in free agency are in no way a guarantee of success. Ask the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins.
Someone the Packers might look to bring on would be Jarrett Johnson from the Baltimore Ravens. Overshadowed by Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs in the linebacking corps, Johnson has been part of a defense that has been one of the best in league every year regardless of who their defensive coordinator is. He’s 31 years old however, and one has to wonder if Thompson won’t pass on him solely based on that. Still, he’d be a good addition for the next 3-4 years.
Another possibility would be David Hawthorne from the Seahawks. He’s younger than Johnson (27) and the Seahawks seemingly are not making re-signing him a top priority as the offseason gets underway. He’s made seven interceptions in a four year career, showing he can play coverage as the Packers do in Dom Capers’ scheme, and has a knack for forcing fumbles. His sack totals are not as high, but bringing him in could take some weight off Matthews and allow the Claymaker to hunt.
Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals would be another nice addition although all signs out of Arizona suggest the Cardinals won’t let him get away and are prepared to use the franchise tag on him. If the stars should align a certain way and the Packers can grab him, he’d be a fantastic addition to the defensive line. He would allow Raji to move back to nose tackle while opening things up along the line for Matthews and the linebackers to rush the quarterback.
These are just a few possibilities Thompson could target. There’s always a diamond in the rough or two in every free agent class and the Packers very well could find it. Free agency is more of a crapshoot than the draft which is one big reason why Thompson doesn’t tread into the waters too often.
However, there are enough decent pass rushers available that Thompson would be wise to at least bring a few people in to talk. That alone would be a change from the Packers’ usual way of bypassing free agency altogether. Thompson’s “draft and develop” practice has paid dividends for the Packers so far and there is little reason to veer too far off course from that.
One or two quick strikes in free agency can still make a big difference to the defense. With a pass rush that was practically non-existent in 2011, the Packers need help quickly if they want to win another Super Bowl. Sitting around and waiting for a draft pick to develop isn’t ideal when you may not have the core of your team together for the long term. The Packers are too deep in too many positions to hang onto everyone forever, so Thompson should make a move now.
Of course, I’m no NFL GM. As Packer fans have been saying for a while now, “In TT We Trust.” Despite some misses like every NFL GM has, Thompson has been money in the moves that count. The fan base trusts him and he won’t make any moves without thoroughly weighing the risks versus the rewards.
It’s anyone’s guess as to what Thompson will do. We can all speculate and say what WE would do if we were running the show but in the end only one person’s opinion matters and that’s Ted Thompson’s.
It’s your time of year, Ted. Time to do what you do best.——————
Kris Burke is a freelance sports writer currently residing in Wisconsin. His work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke