- With Ted Thompson stepping aside, the Packers are looking for a new GM—and maybe a new way of operating. It’s all pointed toward getting the most out of Aaron Rodgers in his prime. The pressure is on
You probably don’t know much about Ted Thompson. You certainly haven’t heard much from Ted Thompson. And as coaching carousel news goes, a GM deciding to move to an advisory role two weeks before his 65th birthday, and after years of retirement rumors, may not register much on the radar.
I’m here to tell you it should.
This move is not just about Thompson, who successfully ushered his Packers from the Brett Favre Era to the Aaron Rodgers Era and won a championship on the other side. It’s more about the Packers—where they are now, and where they could be two offseasons from now.
No need to mince words: How this front-office shake-up goes is immensely important to the future of the franchise. And the fragility of the situation was perfectly illustrated on Wednesday with word surfacing that long-time Thompson lieutenant Alonzo Highsmith, a 19-year member of the Green Bay personnel department, was off to join fellow Packers product/new Browns GM John Dorsey in Cleveland.
He may not be the last one to go.
As whispers of Thompson stepping aside percolated over the last two weeks, the name of the leader in the clubhouse to replace him—which we mentioned in my Game Plan column last week—was a little surprising. It wasn’t director of football operations Eliot Wolf or director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst, who interviewed for GM jobs last year, or Highsmith. It was VP of football administration Russ Ball.
The hire of Ball would be a departure from the Packers’ past practices in filling the position, going away from having a scout or coach in it, and could cause an exodus in what’s long been a remarkably deep department. Highsmith saw the writing on the wall and chose to move quickly. If Wolf or Gutekunst see the same, then it’s fair to say they could look at their options too.
That’s not to say Ball’s not the best guy for the job. Clearly there are those in Green Bay who believe he is, and he may well be. It’s just that each move by team president Mark Murphy could have fallout. And that’s before you consider the possibility that Murphy makes a run at Seahawks GM/ex-Packer personnel director/area native John Schneider, or goes elsewhere outside the organization.
Then, there’s the coach. Mike McCarthy’s now signed through 2019, which moves the decision point on whether or not to go forward with him long-term to next offseason, which in turn makes his staff changes now, starting with the hiring of a new defensive coordinator to replace the fired Dom Capers, all the more important. And, of course, the new GM will have to go about the business of extending Aaron Rodgers, also up after 2019.
So yes, this is one to watch. The selection of the next GM could dictate the future of what’s been one of the league’s most stable and reliable scouting departments, and a head coach who’s won six division titles and made the playoffs nine times in his 12 seasons.
The last time there was this kind of seismic change in Green Bay, Rodgers was one of two key figures. Favre was traded, the Packers missed the playoffs in 2008, then won the Super Bowl two years later. Rodgers won his first league MVP the next year for a 15-1 team, and it seemed like the future was without boundaries for the then-28-year-old quarterback and the historic franchise he played for.
The Packers lost to the Giants in the divisional round that year, and haven’t been back to the Super Bowl since. What was hope now becomes pressure—on everyone to get the most out of what’s left of Rodgers’ prime.
And make no mistake about—the next step in doing that is a hugely important one.
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