From draft-and-develop to all-in: Packers reload for another title chase

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Who are you and what have you done with Ted Thompson?

That might be the line of questioning if the Green Bay Packers general manager were still holding the weekly media conferences that he did in training camp. But Thompson, like he does every year, goes radio silent after the preseason, so all that’s left to do is speculate on why he seemingly has made such a significant shift in philosophy when it comes to adding players to his roster.

What once was almost strictly a draft-and-develop philosophy -- it wasn’t that long ago when 51 of the Packers’ 53 players were homegrown talent -- has taken a dramatic turn. Thompson used free agency copiously both in the offseason and even after most teams had their rosters set. From tight end Martellus Bennett on March 10 to defensive tackle Quinton Dial on Sept. 5, Thompson signed seven veterans who played last season for other teams. Last year’s opening-day 53-man roster contained just one: tight end Jared Cook.

“It’s the realization that they needed to get better,” a longtime NFL executive familiar with Thompson said when asked about his philosophical shift.

When asked whether Thompson believed the Packers were close and needed a final few pieces or if they were far away and needed a big change, the source said it was the former.

It also begged the question of whether Thompson has loosened his grip on the decision-making. At age 64, he has admitted to cutting back his scouting schedule on the road, but there were indications during the draft that he allowed his top personnel men -- director of football operations Eliot Wolf, director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst and senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith -- to have more input.

“He’s listening to Alonzo, Brian and Eliot,” the NFL executive said.

And maybe he listened to his quarterback too.

Aaron Rodgers’ remarks after the NFC Championship Game loss at Atlanta -- when he said: “We've just got to make sure we're going all-in every year to win, and I think we can take a big step this offseason" -- sounded like a plea for Thompson to be more proactive, even if the general manager said he did not take it that way.

To this day, Rodgers, who also said after the NFC title game loss that “I don’t think we need to rebuild; we need to reload,” has never clarified the exact meaning of his remarks but when asked this week whether he thought the Packers did go “all-in,” he chose his words carefully.

“Tough question,” Rodgers said. “I’m not sure yet. We added some guys to the mix, we lost some guys. We lost a lot of leadership last offseason. I’m not sure yet. It’s a work in progress this year. I like our team, but again today we lost a couple more guys. It’s a process. I don’t have to make those decisions, I just have to go out there and play quarterback.”

The team Thompson fields Sunday night in Atlanta should look different than the one that was blown out there eight months ago. Six of his seven veteran free-agent signings still are on the roster; only defensive end Ricky Jean Francois, released earlier this week, is gone. Bennett, tight end Lance Kendricks, guard Jahri Evans, outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, cornerback Davon House and Dial remain. That septet of free agents cost the Packers $10.55 million in signing bonus money.

“Quality players, too,” Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels said as he looked around the locker room and counted the new additions. “Three of them Pro Bowlers.”

Still, Daniels didn’t know what to make of the uncharacteristic moves.

“All I know is I like it,” he said. “I like bringing all these new guys. We do such a great job farming our own land, but when you bring in guys from the outside, there’s two things you always hear. When guys leave, they always say, ‘If you can stay in Green Bay your whole career, stay’ and then you heard guys when they come in from other places, ‘They all say you don’t know how good you’ve got it starting your career in Green Bay.’ It’s always good to get that outside perspective because just about the whole locker room here have been guys that had never been anywhere else. When this is all you know, you know how it is, you want to hear what other guys think of things.”

To be sure, the Packers lost perhaps more than usual last offseason, when Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang, running back Eddie Lacy, center J.C. Tretter, safety Micah Hyde and Cook all signed elsewhere.

“I’m not calling the shots, but you’ve seen new guys and guys that will be able to contribute and help,” said outside linebacker Nick Perry, who returned on a five-year, $60 million contract in March. “I think that’s all that everybody wants, is for everybody to do a great job -- not just a good job. The guys they’ve brought in here, it’s going to truly help this team in the long run. I have no complaints about what those guys are doing up there. I think the decisions are good. Hopefully, things pan out.”

For once, the Packers aren’t counting on their draft picks to contribute immediately. In last Sunday’s season-opening victory, their draft class played a total of 12 snaps from scrimmage -- six by top pick Kevin King on defense, six by fourth-rounder Jamaal Williams on offense.

“The more the merrier,” Rodgers said of adding veterans. “It’s nice having those guys. There’s a feel, there’s different conversations. Just now talking with Marty [Bennett] about route concepts and different things that we’ve been working on, it’s a different conversation with a guy like that compared to a guy who’s younger and just out of college.”