When the Packers decided not to out-bid the Lions for veteran guard T.J. Lang last month, it was business as usual: The Packers don’t overspend in free agency, and when a soon-to-be 30-year-old guard with a hip injury hits free agency, that’s the type of player you’d expect to leave in Green Bay.
Nonetheless, it apparently didn’t sit well with Green Bay’s coaching staff.
According to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Packers’ coaches were incensed that G.M. Ted Thompson let Lang get away in free agency. McGinn suggests that longtime Packers offensive line coach James Campen was working hard to keep Lang and was particularly upset when the Packers didn’t keep him.
If that’s true, it’s not unusual: Coaches are loyal to the guys who have worked hard for them. Lang has worked hard for Campen for eight years. They had a good relationship. No coach wants to see a favorite player leave.
McGinn, however, drops that nugget into a larger piece suggesting the Packers are cheap, and Thompson’s frugal approach is hurting the team on the field. McGinn notes that the Packers carried over nearly $8 million in cap space from 2016 to 2017 as apparent evidence of Thompson’s excessive frugality, but in reality that’s nothing out of the ordinary. According to NFLPA records, the Packers carried over $7.98 million in cap space, while the average NFL team carried over $9.18 million in cap space. In other words, not only was Thompson overly frugal in his handling of the salary cap last year, but he was actually less frugal than average.
McGinn also notes that over the last six years, the Packers have always ranked somewhere between seventh and 18th in the NFL in the amount of cap space they carried over from one year to the next. So the Packers are actually closer to the middle of the league in terms of carrying over cap space than they are extremely frugal.
And, of course, the Packers have made the playoffs eight years in a row. Thompson’s cautious approach to cap management is designed to keep the team in contention year after year, rather than having some boom years when they spend big on free agency, followed by some bust years when they have to cut key players just to get under the cap. It’s hard to deny that it’s working as planned.
It’s possible that Lang will play great for the Lions, that the Packers’ offensive line will decline without him, and that a year from now we’ll all be saying that Thompson made a mistake not spending the money it would have taken to keep Lang. But even if it turns out that the coaches are right to be incensed about Lang, that doesn’t mean Thompson’s thinking was flawed.