-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson and quarterback Aaron Rodgers are forever linked in NFL history. And Thompson is just fine with that.
The journey for the current most important Packer employees came to a head during the summer of 2008, when Thompson had to make the toughest decision in his career as an NFL player, VP of Football Operations and General Manager.
A native of Atlanta, Texas, Thompson was an undrafted free agent linebacker by the Houston Oilers out of SMU. He made only eight career starts in 10 seasons but played on special teams in 146 of his possible 147 games – a testament to his gritty, hard-nosed mentality.
His first big mark on the front office of an NFL franchise was his performance as the VP of Football Operations in Seattle. Along with Mike Holmgren, Thompson helped rebuild the Seahawks organization, before taking his current GM position in Green Bay. Thompson proved to be the architect of the only Seahawks team to ever make it to the big game, when Seattle made it to the Super Bowl the year following Thompson’s departure to Lambeau Field.
In 2005, he began his tenure with a bang by releasing two fan favorites – longtime Pro Bowl safety Darron Sharper and starting guard Mark Wahle. Thompson then entered his first draft with the team, netting Aaron Rodgers, safety Nick Collins and linebacker Brady Poppinga (currently on IR).
In 2006, he made his second key move by firing head coach Mike Sherman and hiring familiar Packer face Mike McCarthy – who served as O.C. and quarterbacks coach in Green Bay previously. The move was met with mixed reviews, as McCarthy was a relatively unknown head-coaching candidate at the time.
A.J. Hawk, Thompson’s second first-round pick, has not lived up to the hype, Hawk did have his most productive year in 2010 filling in for injured starters Brad Jones, Brandon Chillar and Brady Poppinga. But in the middle rounds, Thompson found gem Greg Jennings and contributors Johnny Jolly and offensive linemen Daryn Colledge, Tony Moll and Jason Spitz.
By 2007, the will-he-or-won’t-he saga of No. 4 began in earnest. Much to the chagrin of Brett Favre, Thompson refused to give in to internal (and external) pressure to trade for head case Randy Moss. However, he did pull the trigger to trade for running back Ryan Grant from the New York Giants for a sixth-round pick. The 2007 NFL Draft netted running back Brandon Jackson, linebacker Desmond Bishop, wideout James Jones, kicker Mason Crosby and fullback Korey Hall. Thompson’s bunch finished with a 13-3 record and hosted the NFC Championship Game.
The first few years of Thompson’s tenure were filled with unpopular moves. He let well-liked veterans walk in free agency. He did very little during the off-season, implementing a stingy spending philosophy – the Packers had a league-low team salary in ’06 and ’07. Despite his shrewd roster maneuvers - how about signing undrafted free agent Tramon Williams in November of his first season even though he had never played a down? – smooth was not a word that came to mind when describing Thompson’s leadership in Green Bay.