INDIANAPOLIS -- Maybe it’s just a bluff, but there’s reason to believe the Green Bay Packers will be bigger players in the free-agent game this offseason.
In fact, the word around the NFL scouting combine from agents and league personnel is that the draft-and-develop Packers intend to pursue more free agents, especially those who have been or will be released by other teams.
“We’ll see how it shakes out,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday during an hourlong interview with reporters who cover his team. “We might shock you this year.”
That said, don’t expect general manager Ted Thompson to instruct chief contract negotiator Russ Ball to blow all of his remaining $20-plus million in salary-cap space on players off other teams.
Thompson’s last significant free-agent signing was pass-rusher Julius Peppers after he was cut by the Chicago Bears in 2014. Peppers is entering the final season of a three-year, $26 million deal that should be deemed a worthwhile move.
Whether McCarthy or Thompson’s scouts have compelled the 63-year-old general manager to take a more active approach to free agency can’t be known, and just because the Packers plan to pursue players doesn’t mean they will actually sign them.
“We value draft and development; we value free agency,” Thompson said at the combine. “We have guys, Julius Peppers, guys who have been free agents. If you can help us win football games and be a good teammate and that sort of thing, you have a place for us. We’re not opposed to doing that. We’ve said all along, in a perfect world you’d be able to draft, develop and keep your own players.”
It’s been five years since the Packers won their only Super Bowl title under McCarthy and Thompson and with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, although they’re on a remarkable string of consecutive playoff appearances (seven).
There’s a case to be made for the notion that another veteran acquisition or two could make the difference between the kind of gut-wrenching overtime playoff losses they’ve experienced the past two seasons (the NFC title game at Seattle following the 2014 season and the divisional-round game at Arizona this past season) and getting back to the Super Bowl.
Adding to that case is Thompson’s own advancing age and the possibility that his two-time NFL MVP quarterback's window of opportunity to win a second title is shrinking.
“We look at free agency,” Thompson insisted. “We’ve been doing it for the last several months about prospective free agency. We’re not going to chase ghosts because we think the clock is ticking.”
If that’s a source of frustration for McCarthy, he wouldn’t say.
Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy told ESPN.com on Thursday that he believes his coach and general manager form a strong partnership.
“I think that’s one of our big advantages,” Murphy said. “They have a great working relationship. Now, there’s natural tension between a GM and a head coach, and they manage that well.”
McCarthy said Thompson promised him when he was hired in 2006 that “he would never force a player on me.”
But what if there was a player McCarthy desperately wanted?
“Being the key decision-maker, whether it’s player acquisition or player instruction, someone has to say no,” McCarthy said. “That’s why they have a chain of command. That’s why you have responsibilities. Someone has to be the bad guy. You guys who have kids, you know what I’m talking about. I’m tired of being the bad guy.”
Don’t expect Murphy to interject, either. Like his predecessor, Bob Harlan, the team president leaves all football decisions to the general manager, and Murphy indicated that he’s pleased with the direction Thompson has taken the Packers.
“At the end of the day, Ted oversees all of football, so he’s got to make decisions that he’s comfortable with,” Murphy said. “Sometimes it does bother me that there’s this perception that all we care about is the draft. Look at Julius Peppers. Look at the difference he’s made, and obviously Charles Woodson. So we’ve done things -- not to the degree other teams have done, but there are a lot of examples across the league where it hasn’t worked out.”