I’ll start this post off by stating my bias – I think Ted Thompson is a poor GM.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at the 2008 season for the Packers, by way of what I judge to be the year's fairly major personnel transactions:
February 5 - Although this isn't a player transaction, it sort of counts because it involves the guy who coaches all the players. Ted and the gang inked head coach Mike McCarthy to a 5-year extension worth a reported $20 million. Showing his sophistication, McCarthy apparently didn't even hire an agent to do his contract because his brother is a lawyer. After a 6-10 campaign where (a) Packers coaching graded out as a D- according to one Journal Sentinel beat writer; (b) McCarthy's team committed the most penalty yards in the league; (c) playcalling was often called into question and (d) his team couldn't even get aligned properly on defense deep into the season, one wonders if McCarthy will have to be bought out of this wonderful contract prior to its completion. Or, if Coach Mike's brother typically handles real estate transactions or estate planning, maybe the Packers slipped in some sweet out clause that a real agent would have picked up on.
March 1 - Corey Williams is traded to Cleveland for a 2nd round pick. This seems like a good return for Corey Williams, unless (a) you use said 2nd round pick on Brian Brohm and (b) you rely on Justin Harrell to step in and replace Williams. Whoops, and whoops. In what is probably an unrelated development, the run defense was abysmal in 2008.
March 24 - In the signature (only) free agent acquisition by Ted, the team signed Brandon Chillar, who became the only LB acquired in the Thompson era who is capable of covering even a moderately gifted TE. This is the 2nd best personnel decision Ted made this year.
April 26-27 NFL Draft - Ted traded out of round 1 because, really, who needs a first round pick? There were many draft choices selected by Ted in 2008 due to lots of his usual trade-down machinations, none of whom were good enough to have any real impact on the roster of a 6-10 NFL team.
August 3 - Ryan Grant signs a 4-year contract worth many millions of dollars. It's a good deal for a guy who goes on to average less than 4 yards a carry for the season. Usually those types of backs don't get enough carries to amass 1,200 yards, but with nobody on the roster good enough to steal carries from even a pedestrian back that's where it ends up. Or maybe it's the offensive line's fault. Oh wait, Ted built the line too.
August 6 - Brett Favre is traded to the Jets for a conditional draft pick. In retrospect, this was Ted's best move of the year judged solely on personnel considerations (which, given his other moves, isn't saying much, but still). Although Rodgers finished 6-10 as a starter and couldn't win close games, he put up fine fantasy football numbers and appears to be a bona fide NFL quarterback based on talent. Favre won more games (9) than Rodgers, but he looked old, injured and ineffective by the end of the year. However, from a PR perspective the organization botched this situation to the point where they had to call in a ringer (Ari Fleischer) to try to clean up the mess. Ted was never able to explain to the fans the football reasons behind making the move, probably on account of the fact that he appears to have media relations and interpersonal skills akin to those of a maladjusted Yeti. All through the drama, both the team and Favre participated in a game of media leaks (the team's through Jay Glazer and local GB media, Favre through his buddies Mort and Peter King) that just made everybody look bad. You could expect this to come from Favre, given that he is an ego-maniacal, hillbilly primadonna (as labeled by many fine Packers fans). But one would think that the organization should be held to a higher standard, and they were right in there with Favre slinging mud. As one non-Packers fan friend of mine said to me in an email, "It's like the Packers are getting advice from someone who wants them to look as bad as possible. And they're listening." This whole situation divided many fans throughout the awful season to come, and Ted was a primary player in it. No doubt it was a tough situation to deal with, but Ted didn't deal with it well.
September 1 - Punter Jon Ryan is cut, and Thompson signs Derrick Frost. Frost is such a disaster that Packers fans began blaming losses on a punter. While this may be an overreaction, he was terrible. Jon Ryan continued to do for Seattle what he did for Green Bay, which was be a perfectly adequate punter, finishing 7th in yards/punt, 16th in net, 18th in punts inside the 20. Ted stuck with Frost long after anyone else would have, finally cutting him December 1.
October 7 - Top special teams player and backup linebacker Tracy White is released and some JAG named Danny Lansanah is signed from the practice squad, because Ted was terrified that the Dolphins were going to sign the guy to their active roster. Coincidentally or not, the special teams coverage began to implode, to the point that Packers fans began blaming losses on kickoff coverage. Lansanah didn't make much of an impact on the club.
October 31 - Aaron Rodgers signs an extension through the 2014 season making him the 4th highest paid QB in the league by one measure (new money/year) according to the Green Bay Press Gazette, behind Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethelisberger.
1 free agent signing. 2 trades of veteran players netting future draft picks. 1 draft filled with players that have no impact on the 2008 team. A couple of moves that weakened the special teams.
We now know that this year's maneuvering, on top of the prior 3 years of building by Ted, brought his 4-year record as GM to 31-33. I would submit that a change in philosophy is needed this offseason if the Packers are going to compete in 2009. It might be helpful if they aren't the youngest team in the league again next year. It might also be helpful for Ted to know that there are good players in the NFL that might fit a team need and who can be acquired through means other than the draft or waivers. It is fine to build through the draft if you know how to draft good players. But if you don't know how to draft good players consistently and don't sign good players that other teams draft, your team won't be good.