The NFC North championship game between the Bears and Packers has been analyzed from every angle possible over the last week. Most Chicago sports fans agree this is one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) sporting events in Chicago history. And though most analysts have picked Green Bay to win the game, many expect a competitive game and agree the teams match up well. These teams do match up well but were constructed in different ways by two very different general managers.
Jerry Angelo’s resume includes scouting for the Giants and Cowboys in the 1980s followed by 14 years in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scouting department. In 2001 he became the Bears general manager capitalizing on the Bucs success in the late 90s. With the Bears, Angelo has been criticized as a poor talent evaluator, especially on offense. He has had some late round success but has missed far too often in the early rounds. In recent years, Angelo has been allowed by ownership to cover up his drafting mistakes by spending lavishly in free agency. This off-season alone he signed 3 players (Peppers, Manumaleuna, Taylor) to contracts totaling over $115 million. Peppers has proven to be worth every dollar but the other two haven’t panned out as well. Angelo also gave away multiple early round draft picks in a blockbuster trade for Jay Cutler because he was unable to draft a star at the position. In his 10 years as GM, Jerry’s record is average as best. If this was his final year on the job (as some speculate) he would be remembered as an average talent evaluator who pulled off a blockbuster trade for a talented but moody quarterback.
Ted Thompson had a 10 year playing career with the Houston Oilers before entering the NFL front office. Before becoming GM of the Packers in 2005 Thompson spent much of the 90s in the Packer’s pro personnel department and then served as the Vice President of Football Operations for the Seattle Seahawks. With Seattle and the Packers, Thompson has been known as a knowledgeable talent evaluator who builds a team through the draft, avoiding pricey free agents. In his first draft he selected Aaron Rogers. This pick would eventually result in a smooth transition from one star quarterback to another in 2008. His drafts over the past 6 years have resulted in a young, star-studded team on both offense and defense. This includes changing defensive draft strategy to transition the defense from a 4-3 base to a 3-4 base that is now top 5 in the league. While the Bears are having immediate success with a veteran team, the Packers seem built for years of success. Thompson has also shown a willingness to make tough decisions. In 2008 he famously stood off against Favre when Brett unretired. Along with head coach Mike McCarthy, Thompson refused to bring Favre back to the team and would eventually trade him to the Jets. In 6 years as the Packers general manager Ted Thompson has built a team that should compete for years to come without breaking the bank.
Despite the outcome of the NFC Championship, Ted Thompson and Jerry Angelo both built teams that had great success in the 2010 season and 2011 playoffs. Of the two, only Thompson appears able to build such a team without leaning on a large free agent budget. The Bears are achieving short-term success under Angelo but the front office will eventually need reorganizing before they will have a more stable, bright future.