INDIANAPOLIS – If you are holding out hope that the Green Bay Packers will divulge their plans for the NFL Draft, free agency or what Ted Thompson ate for breakfast on Friday morning at the NFL Scouting Combine, you are sure to be disappointed.
The Packers close-to-the-vest general manager has never been one to share any proprietary information, or even answer the basic questions asked of just about every other NFL executive at Lucas Oil Stadium each year. Thompson not only won’t say which areas of his roster he is looking to upgrade, he won’t even assess various positions in the draft and say where there’s talent and depth or where there isn’t.
At least last year, he was amusing about it.
“In settings like this, I try to be informative. But I’m honest when I say I’m not going to tell any trade secrets up here while I’m here,” Thompson during his turn at the lectern last year. “It’s just not going to happen. I’m not going to lie.
“I guess you could go the route and be like ‘Opposite George’ on Seinfeld. You know, say whatever’s the opposite. I like to try to be honest with you, but at the same time, I’m not going to give away any information that I think could be used against us. I don’t think that makes a lot of sense. This is a very small fraternity in the National Football League, and once you get to Indianapolis with everybody here, it’s even smaller. I tell our scouts to listen and don’t talk.”
And so, as the annual event kicked off Thursday, even with their share of questions on their roster, there was little reason to expect Thompson or coach Mike McCarthy, who’ll take their turns at the podium on Friday, to give much insight into their team’s needs and wants. But that’s how it is with Thompson.
“That’s him. That’s the person. He’s a very humble, quiet person,” said Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider, the former Packers director of football operations who considers both Thompson and retired Packers GM Ron Wolf his mentors. ““Ted’s a great person, he’s a great teacher, great leader, extremely even-keeled. I think he’s taught a lot of us how to be even-keeled and humble.”
But Thompson is also acutely aware of what he believes he can and cannot share with the public, Schneider said. Schneider is considerably more outgoing with the media and isn’t afraid to give out information – on Thursday, for example, he told a group of reporters after his podium time that the Seahawks were unlikely to use their franchise tag, something Thompson probably would not have said. Schneider said that “to a certain extent” Thompson discouraged his staffers from sharing too much information with reporters during his time in Green Bay.
“I think he’s very smart, very calculating. He knows what he wants to give and what he doesn’t want to give,” Schneider said. “I’m sure that he’s just not a guy who’s going to (say much).
“Believe it or not, he’s very fun to hang out with. I’ve seen him on TV. I think he’s way better at it (now). He’s gotten much better and much more comfortable. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do. But it’s part of the job.”
When the league year begins on March 12, the Packers will have five unrestricted free agents (wide receiver Greg Jennings, inside linebacker Brad Jones, outside linebacker Erik Walden and running backs Cedric Benson and Ryan Grant) and five restricted free agents (cornerback Sam Shields, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, tight end Tom Crabtree, outside linebacker Frank Zombo and inside linebacker Robert Francois. The Packers also released veteran defensive back Charles Woodson, saw veteran wide receiver Donald Driver retire and released veteran center Jeff Saturday so he could retire as a member of the Indianapolis Colts.
With Woodson having been released and the team never having adequately replaced three-time Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins, the Packers could decide to draft a safety early. With Jennings expected to leave and Driver retired, the Packers figure to be in the market for a wide receiver. And if the team decides to part ways with tight end Jermichael Finley or inside linebacker A.J. Hawk for cost-cutting reasons, the Packers could be in the market for players at both those positions as well.
Plus, in the wake of the team’s defensive meltdown in its 45-31 NFC Divisional Playoff loss to San Francisco, other defensive positions – such as defensive line, where veterans Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji are entering the final year of their contracts and 2012 second-round pick Jerel Worthy suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in the regular-season finale – could be needs as well. Outside linebacker Nick Perry, the team’s first-round pick a year ago, also missed most of the season with a wrist injury that required surgery, and Walden and Zombo may not return.
One thing is clear: After years of taking the proverbial “best player available,” Thompson showed last year that he’s not afraid to target specific needs. He used his first six draft picks last April on defensive players, trading up three times to get players he wanted.
On Thursday, the NFL announced the full draft order – with the annual compensatory selections yet to be announced – and the Packers are set to pick at No. 26 overall in the first round, at No. 55 overall in the second round and at No. 88 overall in the third round. Their fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round picks will be set after those compensatory selections are announced at the NFL Meetings in Arizona next month. The Packers figure to get a mid-round pick after losing backup quarterback Matt Flynn and Pro Bowl center Scott Wells while signing Saturday.
“We’re a draft-and-develop football team, just the way we always teach and program everything to the youngest guy to make sure everyone’s given an opportunity to make our 53,” McCarthy said in his end-of-the-season press conference last month. “I’m thinking we’ll definitely be in that position again.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.