GREEN BAY – If Ted Thompson is planning on vastly altering his draft-and-develop roster-building philosophy this offseason, the Green Bay Packers general manager certainly wasn’t saying so at the annual Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Thompson, appearing with Vic Carucci and Adam Caplan on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday evening, didn’t go out of his way to say that the team intends to dip into unrestricted free agency this offseason. Instead, when asked by Caplan about his philosophy to build through the draft and basically ignore free agency, Thompson spoke of his approach the way he always does.
“We just think it’s a good model to use under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement and that sort of thing,” Thompson said. “We just feel like it’s … your best policy is to try the best you can – and it doesn’t always work out because sometimes you have to do different things – but you draft good people, you develop them, you get a good coaching staff who coaches them up, [and try to make sure] they like it there.”
Thompson hasn’t signed a significant unrestricted free agent since adding ex-Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson and ex-St. Louis defensive tackle Ryan Pickett in 2006. He signed ex-St. Louis linebacker Brandon Chillar in 2008. Last offseason, the Packers signed ex-St. Louis tight end Matthew Mulligan but cut him at the end of training camp. He wound up with the New England Patriots.
It’s been suggested that Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy need to dip into free agency to fill holes on his roster, but that could prove tricky since the team has 17 unrestricted free agents of its own to consider. Among those free agents are cornerback Sam Shields, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, defensive tackle B.J. Raji, wide receiver James Jones and injured tight end Jermichael Finley.
“You try to retain your own players as much as you can. And you don’t. We lose players just like everybody else,” Thompson said. “If we can, we like to keep our own and continue adding guys through the draft and through free agency.”
Thompson and his scouting staff are at the Senior Bowl in the early stages of their evaluation process in advance of the NFL Draft. The NFL Scouting Combine is next month in Indianapolis, followed by on-campus pro day workouts leading up to the NFL Draft in May.
“I think it’s extremely important,” Thompson said of the Senior Bowl. “All the all-star games are helpful because you finally get to see all the players at the same level of competition going at it. Sometimes they’re small school guys, sometimes they’re major college guys. But I think it’s huge.
“Just the ability to walk up to a guy and say hello and ask about their family, just to start the process of trying to get to know them [is valuable]. We’re not psychologists, we can’t figure all the stuff out that’s going on in people’s heads, but I do think it’s helpful to say hello and see what kind of guy they are.”
Asked about the influx of underclassmen into the draft, Thompson said it’s a challenge to evaluate those players since scouts don’t focus on them when they make their on-campus visits in the fall.
“It takes a lot of work. We’ve had our guys are doing double duty this week as we speak. We’re trying to scout the Senior Bowl; they’re also doing work on their iPads evaluating the juniors that have declared and officially been entered into the draft,” Thompson said. “So it’s a lot of work, because I think it was over 100 players that we have to do some stuff on.
“That’s the catch right there, is, do you have all the information? Sometimes there are underclassmen, even as far out as the draft, you get into April and you still don’t know, because you don’t go into a school in the fall and ask about their juniors. It’s against the rules of the National Football League, and quite frankly it’s poor etiquette. So we don’t do that, nor do the other teams. So you have to kind of learn these guys on the fly, and if you’re not careful, you can make more mistakes that way.”
Meanwhile, Thompson acknowledged what a trying season 2012 was for the Packers, who played essentially eight games without star quarterback Aaron Rodgers while also losing Finley, wide receiver Randall Cobb, starting left tackle Bryan Bulaga, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and other key contributors for extended stretches.
“It’s fairly trying. I was very very, proud of our team though – and I think it shows some of the culture that coach McCarthy and his staff have brought into it because they never quit playing, never quit trying,” Thompson said. “But it was an awful tough year. It was that.”
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