Leveraging linebacker A.J. Hawk into taking a significant pay cut to stay with the Green Bay Packers was one of general manager Ted Thompson’s best moves so far this year.
Covering the Green Bay Packers beat in the doldrums between the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft is either the easiest or the hardest job in the world, depending on how you want to look at it. Trying to evaluate the offseason moves of a team that doesn’t make many is a real challenge.
General manager Ted Thompson builds slowly, methodically, almost obsessively through the draft. Players who thrive in Green Bay he rewards with lucrative contracts. He is not afraid to make men like kicker Mason Crosby and fullback John Kuhn the highest-paid men at their positions. On the other hand, he’s not afraid to play hardball with players who do not live up to expectations or who are nearly past their peak. He makes them an offer and he doesn’t blink. Players too proud to take his offer usually live to regret it.
Never has Thompson held truer to form than this year. Fortunately, for the purposes of this series, he hasn’t gotten it all right. Now that we have pulled the red pencil from behind our ears and licked the lead, we are ready to dole out the grades.
Linebacker A.J. Hawk, who has been rock-solid reliable but has never lived up to his first-round draft status, realized that he had to take a pay cut or face being waived. He chose the former option, accepting a $7.25 million reduction in salary over the next three years to stay in Green Bay. It was a smart move for both parties. Hawk avoided the unappealing prospect of unemployment or playing for the veteran’s minimum somewhere else. The Packers saved valuable cap space that will give them the flexibility they need as they work to conclude negotiations with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews III.
Prior to the 2012 regular season, wide receiver Greg Jennings turned down Thompson’s offer of $10 million a year. After Jennings misse significant time last year due to injury, Thompson lowered his bid to $8 million. Jennings decided to take his talents elsewhere and ended up signing with the Minnesota Vikings for somewhat less than Thompson had originally offered. In parting ways with Jennings, the Packers not only save money, they also get younger and healthier at the wide receiver position. Although their offensive production will probably take a hit, Green Bay has proven they can win with or without Jennings on the field. Still, the loss of Jennings does leave a void on the roster, so it seems likely that Thompson will draft a young prospect this year.
Many fans would probably say that Thompson’s worst move so far has been his failure to sign running back Steven Jackson, who briefly flirted with the Packers before settling on the Atlanta Falcons instead. However, since there was never any indication that Green Bay was actually Jackson’s first choice, this hardly seems like a failure on Thompson’s part.
Where Thompson did fail was in choosing to bring back tight end Jermichael Finley for another year. By electing to keep Finley on the roster, Green Bay was forced to cough up a $3 million roster bonus last month and will be paying him in excess of $8 million this year.
It’s not clear why Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson chose to bring back tight end Jermichael Finley at such a high salary.
People love to rave about Finley’s potential as a receiving threat, but in no season has he ever remotely lived up to this supposed potential. Despite playing with one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league, he had the third most drops (nine) and merely the 24th-highest catching percentage (71.8%) of tight ends last year. ProFootballTalk gave him below-average grades in every category except pass blocking for a decidedly unimpressive overall grade of -4.0 — ranking him 47th out of 62 tight ends. Compare that to the grades of studs like Rob Gronkowski (+21.2), Dwayne Allen (+19.1) and Jason Witten (+19.0), and it’s almost unfathomable that Finley could be worth almost as much as a starting wide receiver.
The irony, of course, is that Thompson probably felt cornered into this decision by the departures of Jennings and blocking tight end Tom Crabtree. Still, there is no reason to assume that Finley’s mediocre level of production could not be provided by some combination of wide receiver and tight end personnel. Moreover, it sends the wrong message when a drama queen like Finley, who is never willing to take responsibility for his mistakes but insists on blaming his quarterback for everything that goes wrong, manages to make the final roster year after year on the basis of his potential rather than his production.
Look for Finley to be kept on an extremely short leash this year as Thompson casts about for his successor, hopefully in the later rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft.