This post was written by Ray Rivard of Lombardi Ave.
Ted Thompson, the Green Bay Packers general manager, focused solely (well, almost) on the defensive side of the ball in drafting a slew of defenders in 2012 – and for good reason – the Packers finished dead last in 2011 in defense. That’s right, dead last.
Thompson’s work didn’t go for naught. The Packers improved drastically overall during their 11-5 2012 campaign, but there was still something missing. Yes, Charles Woodson, rookie Nick Perry, and Clay Matthews missed significant time with injuries and the Packers had to rely heavily on their other younger players, but when the Packers gave up 579 yards to the 49ers in their NFC Divisional Playoff loss, it raised many red flags.
Not only did the defense have a so-so season last year, but the offense wasn’t as prolific as in the past couple of years. Maybe opposing defenses are catching up to the Packers’ scheme, but the biggest problem was the sacks. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down more times than any during his five years as a starter – 51 times. That’s inexcusable and there need to be changes.
So, will the focus once more be on defense when the Packers enter free agency this month and the draft this April? Well, defense will be on Thompson’s mind, but so will the offense. The Packers aren’t expected to be losing much through free agency this year, though their number one wide receiver Greg Jennings is most likely gone and inside linebacker Brad Jones may also attract some interest.
With that said, most likely the Packers will not be very busy this month. Thompson isn’t a big player. He’s a draft and develop guy. Most of the attention will be focused on the draft in April.
But that doesn’t mean he won’t look at all the options.
That said, I’ve put together a complete team need list that may or may not be addressed through free agency. Most of it will be through the draft, but there are a few things that will need fixing and fixing fast – the addition of at least one solid offensive lineman and one impact defensive player – either a lineman or inside linebacker.
So, here’s how I see the Packers’ needs this offseason:
1. Defensive lineman and/or inside linebacker – Depending on whether the Packers enter the free agency race will determine their first round selection in the draft. There are many who feel the Packers may land an impact defensive lineman in free agency – the names of Chris Canty, former Packer Cullen Jenkins, and former Atlanta Falcon John Abraham have been booted about. If the Packers do sign a lineman, they may look to shore up the inside linebacking position with an early draft pick. The position was decimated by injury last year and with Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith coming back from serious injuries, it’s unclear if they will have the needed depth by the start of training camp. Brad Jones, who eventually gained the starting position and played admirably, is a free agent and it’s unclear whether he will be back. If the Packers do draft at the position, A.J. Hawk may be released.
2. Offensive lineman – I don’t see Thompson addressing this need through free agency. Center Jeff Saturday was less than a single season stopgap fill-in who failed. When he was benched, Evan Dietrich-Smith was adequate at the position, but not outstanding. He is a restricted free agent who will probably be re-signed by the Packers. The Packers were also hurt last year when right tackle Bryan Bulaga went down with a season-ending injury. Shuffling the line certainly contributed to the high number of sacks and the inability to run the ball. However, when the Packers did have all their starters playing early in the season, the line didn’t perform very well. Yes, the addition of an offensive lineman or two or three would be a good move by the Packers. Many feel Thompson will draft Alabama’s Barrett Jones with his first pick, but there has also been some who feel that Johnathan Cooper out of North Carolina might be a better move. Cooper played guard in college, but many feel he could make the transition to center. With this being such a huge year for quality offensive linemen, the Packers can’t go wrong and Thompson may also target the position with later round picks.
3. Running back – the Packers will not address this situation through free agency, though there has been some talk that Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Turner may be a good fits with the team. I don’t expect any movement, however, by the Packers. They will sit tight and address their needs through the draft. Again injury and inconsistency plagued the Packers’ running game. They thought they might have the real deal by signing Cedric Benson late summer last year and he was indeed just starting to play like the runner they thought he would be when he went down with the dreaded foot injury. He was lost for the season. They tried second-year runner Alex Green, but he was coming off his own knee injury suffered in 2011 and just didn’t have the explosiveness and cutting ability the Packers needed in the game. James Starks played a couple of games after coming back from injury and did quite well, but then went down with another knee injury and wasn’t heard from again. DuJuan Harris, a street free agent, burst onto the scene and played very well down the stretch and could catch on permanently with the team this fall, but he’s not an every down back. The Packers need a back who can run between the tackles, has the burst to catch the corner, has the hands to catch the ball out of the backfield and the ability to handle the blocking assignments – where that perfect back comes from, I’m not sure, but the name of Wisconsin’s Montee Ball has come up. One thing is for sure, the Packers’ running game needs a boost and they need to take it seriously.
4. Wide receiver and/or tight end – wide receiver Greg Jennings is gone through free agency and Donald Driver retired. The Packers will have to find a way to replenish a position where they had such depth last year. Maybe Thompson leaves it as is and goes with the guys in-house, but an injury here or there will affect this pass-happy team. A mid-round pick will probably be considered. As for tight end, it’s unclear whether starter Jermichael Finley will be brought back. He may be a cap victim because he only has one year left on an $8 million-plus contract. The Packers may release him or try to trade him. Behind him in the depth chart are Tom Crabtree, Andrew Quarless, D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor. Maybe the Packers stay with Finley as a rent-a-player for the year … not sure on this one.
5. Place kicker – Yes, Mason Crosby is signed, but he had his worst year in 2012. In fact, it was simply pathetic. Though he seemed to have regained his mojo by the end of the season, making his final four kicks, this year is problematic. The Packers may consider bringing in some competition for Crosby. Whether it’s through the draft or free agency, it doesn’t matter. Crosby needs to earn his position on the team.