Packers General Manager Ted Thompson has a formula for building his team, and he’s sticking with it.
Thompson believes in building through the draft, not free agency, and that includes acquiring more draft picks by declining to sign unrestricted free agents. In the NFL, teams that lose more in free agency than they acquire get compensatory picks, and the Packers’ moves in free agency this year indicate that they’re already thinking about acquiring compensatory picks for next year. The NFL doesn’t public the precise formula used to determine compensatory picks, but the simple version is that if the unrestricted free agents you lose are better, higher-paid players than the unrestricted free agents you sign, then the NFL will compensate you the following year with compensatory picks.
As the Green Bay Press-Gazette points out, even the one big name the Packers have signed this offseason, Julius Peppers, was a free agent because he was released by the Bears, not because his previous contract expired. That means he won’t count as an unrestricted free agent addition for the Packers for the purpose of determining their compensatory picks next year.
Last year the Packers lost two key players, receiver Greg Jennings and linebacker Erik Walden, as unrestricted free agents. And the Packers didn’t sign any unrestricted free agents last year. As a result, this year they’re getting an extra third-round pick and an extra fifth-round pick as compensatory selections.
This year the Packers have again not signed away any players whose previous contract expired, but they have lost four players, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, receiver James Jones, defensive lineman C.J. Wilson and offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse. That means the Packers will almost certainly do well when the compensatory picks are passed out a year from now.
Building through the draft and declining to overspend in free agency would be a smart strategy even if the NFL didn’t have a compensatory pick system to reward frugal teams. But when compensatory picks are added to the equation, it’s easy to see why Thompson declines to go after free agents. The Packers have been successful this way. It’s surprising more teams haven’t copied them.