Bill Belichick has won three Super Bowls and is a certain future Hall of Famer, but New England’s head coach hasn’t been all that Cantonish for the past half-decade or so. Since 2006, the man in the hoodie has been heavily penalized for cheating, has lost two Super Bowls as a solid favorite and has drafted like Mike Sherman. But there is one thing Belichick has done well in recent years – he’s been able to find bargains galore in free agency. And that’s why, along with having the great Tom Brady at quarterback, the Patriots have been able to keep winning games and division titles.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson needs to be more like Belichick. No, I don’t want him to videotape other teams during games or lose Super Bowls or selecting players like Laurence Maroney, David Thomas, Brandon Meriweather, Chad Jackson, Ron Brace, Terrence Wheatley, Darius Butler, Tyrone McKenzie, Shawn Crable and Brandon Tate in the first three rounds of the draft, but I do want him to use free agency to strengthen the roster.
Look at some of the bargain free agents Belichick has signed in just the past seven months. In dire need of pass rushers prior to the start of last season (sound familair), veterans Andre Carter and Mark Anderson were brought in for a combined $3 million. The return on that modest investment was 21 sacks. Without the contributions of those two players, the Patriots brutal secondary might have given up 500 yards a game. Longtime Chiefs guard Brian Waters was signed to a $3.5 million contract to fill a gaping hole on the offensive line. His presence helped keep Brady upright, and in turn, helped lead the moderately talented Pats back to the Super Bowl. And Belichick is at it again this offseason. He’s already added Brandon Lloyd to give the offense a much-needed deep threat at wide receiver, Robert Gallery to bulk up the offensive line, Trevor Scott and Jonathan Fanene to bolster the defensive line rotation and safety Steve Gregory to add depth to a secondary that was as thin as Kate Moss by the end of last year.
The irony in Thompson’s reluctance to use free agency is that Ron Wolf, his mentor, was the Belichick of the 90s. Green Bay’s former general manager plugged hole after hole with older veterans. Remember receiver Don Beebe, left tackle Bruce Wilkerson, linebacker Fred Strickland, safety Mike Prior and returner Desmond Howard? Those are just a few of the many modestly priced veteran free agents that played key roles in the Packers’ return to prominence.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to be overly critical of Thompson. After all, the Packers have been to the playoffs four times and won a Super Bowl under his watch. But with reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, a single Lombardi Trophy isn’t enough. Last year’s team had the potential to win another title, but it fell short. I’m afraid those last four words could be a common refrain if Thompson continues to rely solely on the draft to build his roster. He doesn’t need to make splashy signings in the spring, but like Wolf then and Belichick now, he does need to use free agency to fill gaping holes. He can start by adding a center and either a defensive end or linebacker ASAP.