Take THAT, Ted Thompson Haters
The taverns and sports talk radio airwaves are thick with Green Bay Packers General Managers.
You can't swing a chicken wing without hitting someone who thinks he knows more than the team's brass, who couldn't do a better job than the man who currently has the job, Ted Thompson. This, after all, is the man who, in their eyes, chased Brett Favre out of Tittletown. That beef got diffused as Aaron Rodgers blossomed and totally vanished once the Packers brought home the Lombardi Trophy with #12 at QB.
The one consistent gripe against Thompson has been his alleged reluctance to sign big-name (aka big money) free agents. Never mind that he inked Charles Woodson when the team needed secondary help or that he brought Ryan Pickett to the d-line. That's not enough for the haters, especially when they see how other teams fluff their rosters with someone else's unwanted stars. Never mind the fact that spending doesn't equal winning--the numbers pretty much confirm that. Ask the Dallas Cowboys.
So what did Thompson do Saturday morning? He shocked the world by landing former Chicago Bear Julius Peppers. You could hear the jaws hitting the floor from the Apostle Islands ice caves to the brimming banks of Racine County's Root River.
It's a bold move, to be sure, and it should shut down those who say TT is a free-agent skin-flint, reluctant to pull the trigger while content to draft and develop.
Why this move? Why now?
The reasons are obvious: the Packers sorely need more of a pass rush than that provided by Clay Matthews, the only other defensive player who has that chromosome. Conventional wisdom has it that Dom Capers may move Peppers around on defense, in the 3-4 he loves in situations that best showcase his talents. He can play inside and out. Peppers is one more guy opponents now have to scheme against--they just can't focus on Matthews alone anymore. And, if the playoffs taught us anything, it's that you have to have a fast, versatile defense with a consistent pass rush to succeed.
The big question is which Peppers are the Packers getting? The guy who the numbers say is number two in NFL sacks over the past ten or so seasons (only another free agent, Jared Allen, has more)? The Peppers who terrorized Green Bay in the last five games with 6.5 sacks and a pick (thanks to JS's Tom Silverstein for that stat)? Or, is it the Peppers who analysts often took to task for taking plays off, for disappearing at precisely the wrong time? At 34, what does Peppers have left in the tank? Are his best days gone? Teams would rather let go of a guy a year too early as opposed to a season too late. Did the Bears front office guess wrong? Packers fans can only hope the answer is "yes".
Thompson has had far more hits than misses during his tenure--every GM is going to swing and miss on some draft picks, but even the most hardened TT hater can't dispute the team's success with Thompson calling the shots. Sure, the defense faltered last season but injuries didn't help and the next-man-up credo can only take you as far as the bench is deep. Matthews was hurt, with Johnny Jolly and others gutting it out. If you want to slam Thompson for anything in 2013, it should be for not having a ready backup when Rodgers went down against Chicago.
Thompson opened the wallet and is taking an admitted risk. He takes chances in the draft but picks his spots in free agency. Going all-in on Julius Peppers shows he wants to make the defense better NOW, as that window of opportunity Rodgers spoke of after the playoff loss to the Niners keeps closing with every passing second.
Haters be hatin', and the criticism of Thompson will never stop. It comes with the job. Those who think can do better lose one more of their arguments Saturday morning, though, as Peppers puts pen to paper and dons the green and gold. Thompson finally landed that big-name, big-money free agent so many pined for.
The bar chatter continues, the sports talk airwaves still crackle. What will the haters be saying now?