This time of year, he can sympathize with Ted Thompson. Bill Polian's been there, heard that.

When Polian called the shots with the Indianapolis Colts, the pressure to sign free agents ran high each spring. From fans. From the media. From people in house. Rather than cave, he remained steadfast. The NFL draft. His franchise quarterback. That was the emphasis.

So to those around here irritated that the Packers general manager Ted Thompson has done zilch through free agency, Polian chuckles.

"Fans in Green Bay should not go crazy," Polian said. "They should applaud Ted."

Polian might be right. He says Thompson is doing the right thing by emphasizing extensions to Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji above signing any player from any other team. A rewind look at last year's free-agent class supports Thompson's propensity to tiptoe through March.

Too often, spending backfires - particularly lately.

While some of last year's free agents shouldn't completely be written off quite yet, 2012 exposed more panic signings, more regrets and more disappointments at each position.

This, of course, came one year after the Philadelphia Eagles' unmitigated "Dream Team" disaster.

No, Thompson shouldn't completely be off the hook from critics. One or two cost-efficient signings - a Chris Canty, a Cullen Jenkins, a short-term fix at a position of need - might certainly help. But as far as spending big in general goes, Thompson's restraint keeps the Packers out of trouble. Over a six-year study, Polian determined that 50% of free-agent signings panned out. Or, as he put it, the same rate as (much) cheaper, smart NFL draft picks.

Last year was full of mistakes and growing regrets in the NFL.

"Without question they were mistakes," Polian said. "And no one recognizes that now as we in the media recklessly report all of these free-agent signings. All of which are, of course, going to change the fortunes of the downtrodden 180 degrees. We even go as far -as stupidly - as to pick off-season winners. That's an oxymoron. That's shame on us. Shame on fans for buying into it."

Begin in the trenches.

San Diego signed Jared Gaither to a four-year, $24.6 million deal (13.5 million guaranteed), and the offensive tackle reportedly milked injuries before landing on injured reserve. One veteran told the San Diego Union-Tribune, "I can't even look him in the eye" after Gaither sat out with a back issue." Gaither made $2.25 million for each game he played in last season. No decision has been made on him yet this off-season. As much as the Chargers might want to release Gaither, it'd also be a $6 million hit. This month, new general manager Tom Telesco said no decision has been made.

Right tackle Eric Winston, who signed a four-year, $22 million deal with Kansas City, was released. Steve Hutchinson signed a three-year, $16 million deal ($6 million guaranteed) with the Tennessee Titans, regressed sharply at 35 years old and retired. One year later, the Titans paid $46.8 million/six years for Andy Levitre. Tampa Bay's Carl Nicks might be a long-term answer, but the 2011 all-pro landed on injured reserve with a toe injury. St. Louis Rams center Scott Wells also finished on IR. After signing at four years, $24 million ($13 million guaranteed), Wells has undergone three surgeries in seven months.

The Packers missed Wells in 2012. And he very well could rebound in 2013, but the injuries are troublesome for a 32-year-old center.

Then, there's the defensive line. At six years, $96 million ($50 million guaranteed), if Mario Williams is anything short of a combination between Reggie White and Deacon Jones, it's probably a letdown for Buffalo. To his credit, Williams rebounded from a sloppy start to finish with 10.5 sacks. Still, 14 players had more sacks than him. Williams was brought in to trigger cosmic change, to have a White-like influence on other free agents. One year in, the Bills' defense allowed 146 rushing yards per game, 31st in the NFL.

Green Bay expressed some early interest in Kendall Langford but wouldn't play ball. If Thompson deserves some flak, it should be at defensive end where he's been reluctant to spend. The four-year, $24 million deal Langford signed with St. Louis is the going rate for such a 6-foot-6, 295-pound anchor of a 3-4 DE.

Then again, Thompson deserves props for not biting on pass rushers. A disruptive 3-4 outside linebacker was the team's No. 1 need last off-season, but the GM didn't get into any foolish bidding wars. Kamerion Wimbley, a 3-4 OLB his whole career, signed with the Tennessee Titans at $35 million over five years ($13.5 million guaranteed). And at defensive end, he struggled.

The Titans swung, missed on Williams and reached for Wimbley. In 2012, the 6-foot-4, 255-pounder had 30 tackles and six sacks.

This is the nature of free agency. Teams overspend on second-tier players. Players like Wimbley, who averaged seven sacks per season, can be overvalued. That's why it was always easy for Polian to stay on the sideline.