After a devastating 37-20 loss to the Giants at home this past Sunday, many Packers fans are wondering, "What happened?" I know I found myself pondering that same question after Green Bay got blown out of their stadium in the playoffs.
Despite the fact that the Packers had some apparent holes throughout the course of the season, I truly believed that this veteran team with a history of winning would at least patch things up during the playoffs. However, instead of fixing things, they combined uncharacteristic mistakes with the problems they have been having all year.
It's time for this team to regroup after a disappointing season, and make some changes to their team this offseason. The Packers have a great core of players as is, but in order to become the dynasty so many people believed they would be, they need to add talent through the draft and free agency to fill holes across the team.
These are the cuts, signings and draft picks that should be made in order to get back on track next season.
2012 Projected Salary (based on similar players at his position): $5.5 Million Average Salary
Injuries were a theme throughout the entire season for Green Bay, but Scott Wells was able to stay healthy and had himself the best season of his career. Pressure up the middle was rare against the Packers this season, as Wells was named to his first career Pro Bowl.
He was the glue that kept a banged up offensive line together the entire season, and despite being 31 years old, Scott has earned himself a solid deal from the Packers.
Wells shouldn't come at an overwhelmingly high price for Green Bay given his age, so the Packers should without doubt retain him, considering how valuable he is to this young line.
After such solid play the last few years, Wells should be the Packers' first free agent priority.
Projected Franchise Tag for TEs: $5.8 Million
There's no debate that Finley has been frustrating this season. Dropping passes has been a common theme since early on, which makes Jermichael's situation even more annoying because of how good he could be in this league.
Before his knee injury last season, Finley was on the fast track to being the best tight end in the NFL. He was virtually unstoppable at the end of 2009 and the start of 2010, but he seemed to have taken a step back this year.
Whether it was confidence or just plain rust holding him back this season, there is no denying the possibility of Jermichael bouncing back and having a monster year next year.
That's why the Packers should hold off on a long-term contract this year and wait and see how Jermichael responds in 2012.
If he plays up to his potential, then he should get a big contract. If he has another 10-plus-drop season, Green Bay could consider going a different direction.
Projected 2012 Salary (based on other similar players at his position): $1.6 million
Bush has received a lot of criticism in the past for blown coverages and poor play on defense. While that's largely right, Bush was actually a pretty solid player for us last year.
Heck, in the divisional round playoff game against the Giants, Bush played better and with more intensity than any other defensive back on the field.
It's obvious Bush has limitations as a defensive player, but that's not why the Packers would want this guy back. Not only does Jarrett have a great work ethic and come to play every day, but he has been one of our best special teams players over the last two years.
Bush will be cheap to resign and will be worth every penny if he can continue to play well on special teams like he has recently.
2011 Season Salary: $4 million
Despite a solid late surge by Ryan Grant to salvage his season, I think his time is just about up in Green Bay.
At 29, Grant's best days are behind him as a runner. He will give a team some decent play at the running back position for a year or two, but that team won't be the Packers.
There's no way Green Bay should put their money into a running back like Grant with James Starks and Alex Green at the helm already. Unless he comes at a cheap price, the Packers will look elsewhere for running back help.
2011 Salary: $442,250
Flynn played one of the best games the Packers have had from a quarterback in their franchise history. For most teams, this would warrant a starting spot. With number 12 ahead of Flynn on the depth chart, however, he will have to settle for a starting job and big bucks with another team.
There is no way the Packers could or should pay Flynn the amount of money he will get in free agency, and franchising and trading seems too risky and irrational.
No matter how much Green Bay would love to keep an outstanding quarterback like Flynn, it's almost a guarantee that he'll leave and the Packers will get a high supplementary pick in 2013 in return.
2011 Salary: $424,000 (Erik Walden)
2011 Salary: $636,000 (Pat Lee)
2011 Salary: $700,000 (Howard Green)
I figured I wouldn't waste my time making individual slides for all of these players, because honestly, it would be a waste of the Packers' time to even consider bringing back any of these clowns.
After being drafted in the second round in 2008, Lee has been a huge bust both on special teams and defense. He was dumb enough to come out of the end zone with the ball, re-enter the endzone, and take a knee which resulted in a safety with Randall Cobb out in week 17 against the Lions. Not to mention, chills go down my spine every time he enters the game at corner.
Erik Walden was a big contributor down the stretch for the Packers, as he had great games against the Bears in Week 17 and the playoffs. Outside of that, he's been atrocious. He contributed nothing to the Packers defense and was a big reason why they couldn't get to the quarterback all season (three sacks). He was benched at the end of the year and shouldn't be brought back next year.
Another big factor for the Packers in the 2010 playoffs, Howard Green has fallen off a lot this season. He made a few big plays in the Super Bowl and was a solid rotational player, but he made absolutely no impact this season with less than 15 total tackles.
2012 Salary: $5.7 Million
Don't get me wrong: I love Chad Clifton. He's been my favorite Packer for a long time, but his time in Green Bay is just about over.
At 36, Clifton is the oldest offensive tackle in the league and dealt with injuries throughout the entire 2011 season. When he came back to play at the end of the season, Chad just didn't look the same as he had during his outstanding 2010 playoff run.
Clif had a great career and has been a Pro Bowler for the Packers in the past, but his salary is way too high to keep him around. I wish Chad nothing but the best in retirement, but as a declining and overpaid player, he can't be kept around.
2012 Salary: $5.6 Million
This was tough for me to write, as Driver has been a class act for the Packers ever since he entered the league. Aside from being a great football player, Driver has been an outstanding member of the Green Bay community and has been the face that represents what the Packers are all about for 13 years.
However, at age 36, Donald is a shell of the player he used to be. While he can still contribute with veteran leadership and clutch catches, you can't tell me Driver is worth the 5.6 million dollars he's due next year.
Unless Driver agrees to slash his salary down to a fifth of what it is now, the Packers won't be able to keep the old man next season. I want nothing more than for Double D to retire a Packer, but as of now, I just can't see it.
2012 Salary: $5.5 Million
2012 Salary with Pay Cut: $3 Million
This 340-pound defensive tackle has one goal when put into the game: stop the run. While teams need a player like this and Pickett does that job well, it doesn't warrant him being the 13th-highest-paid interior lineman in the league.
Pickett still has a lot of value with the Packers, as their run defense improves greatly with him in the lineup. At 32, however, Ryan is passing his prime and has become more of a rotational player than he has been in the past.
I definitely think Green Bay should retain Pickett, but at a lower cost considering his limitations rushing the passer. He is making the money of an every-down defensive lineman, and he simply isn't that kind of player any more.
2012 Salary: $6.4 Million
Williams was one of the MVPs for the Packers during their Super Bowl run. He was given a large contract and seemed to consistently come up with big plays down the stretch in games for Green Bay.
I have no idea where that great play went in 2011.
Williams struggled the entire season for the Packers and never seemed to be the same player who picked off nine passes last year during the regular season and playoffs.
Capping off his below-average season, Tramon allowed Calvin Johnson to pile up a ridiculous 11 catches for 244 yards and a TD. The playoffs weren't much better, as he gave up a 66-yard touchdown to Hakeem Nicks.
There's no doubt that Williams can bounce back in the future, but at this point, I think it would be wise for the Packers to get rid of Tramon and open up cap space for free agents and draft picks.
This is a talented kid who has showed a lot of ability in the past, but I wouldn't mind seeing him leave for cap space and a draft pick.
Projected 2012 Salary (based on other similar players at his position): $12 Million
I would love to see Mario pound Jay Cutler like this in a Packers uniform, but then again, what Packers fan wouldn't?
At 6'6'' and 285 pounds, Williams is a freak pass rusher who has been one of the best in the league at defensive end for the Texans.
Some people questioned whether he could play outside linebacker with such a large frame, but Mario was able to excel with six sacks before his torn pectoral injury.
The Packers finished the 2011 season with only 29 sacks, and it proved to be an Achilles heel the entire season. With Williams in the mix, however, he and Clay Matthews would form one of the dual pass rushing threat in the NFL.
It would cost the Packers a good amount of money, but adding a pass rusher like Mario could transform this shaky Green Bay defense.
Projected Salary: $1.7 Million
I have no idea how much faith Ted Thompson has in James Starks and Alex Green to carry the load if Grant leaves via free agency, but Tim Hightower would be an interesting option if he has doubts.
Hightower got off to a solid start last season, with 321 yards in his first five games with the Redskins. His season ended the next week with a torn ACL, but Tim has been a great complementary back his entire career and showed he can carry the ball well too when needed.
I think Hightower would be a great complement to Starks and the Packers offense because of his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Combine that with the fact that he will probably be a cheap commodity because of a major injury last season, and Hightower looks like he could be a steal for Green Bay.
If Teddy doesn't believe Starks and Green can do the job alone, Hightower would add cheap and quality depth to the Packers running back group.
Since the Packers were unable to fill this need through free agency, Green Bay will have to find a pass rushing defensive end who can play five technique in this 3-4 defense.
Thompson fits the bill at 6'2'' and 310 pounds. He has the size to play on the inside of a defense and is explosive enough to wreak havoc in opposing teams backfield. Combine Thompson with BJ Raji, Mathews and Mario Williams, and this Packers pass rush is suddenly looking scary.
If Thompson is able to fill the hole that Cullen Jenkins left behind, Green Bay's defense will improve greatly next season.
Replacing Tramon Williams will also be a key for the Packers in this fantasy scenario. In the second round, Green Bay will be looking for a physical corner that can cover bigger receivers.
At 6'2'' and 205 pounds, Johnson has the perfect size to match up with the powerful receivers that killed the Packers all year. Not to mention, Trumaine has speed in the 4.4's, which is pretty solid for a guy his size.
Ted Thompson finds small school guys in the draft or free agency who come in and make an impact. Nick Collins, Tramon Williams, Cullen Jenkins are all examples of this, and in last year's draft, Thompson drafted D.J. Smith from Appalachian State in the sixth round who had a solid season.
This year, Trumaine Johnson will be that impact player who replaces Williams at the second cornerback position.
Even if Nick Collins returns from his injury, it would be wise for the Packers to add some quality depth at that position in case another injury occurs. Charlie Peprah proved this year that he's nothing more than a stop gap solution. Since both Nick Collins and Morgan Burnett have had injury histories, Martin would be a valuable addition to this Packers secondary.
Markelle is a physical player who can makes big tackles and hits in the back of a defense. He has a lot of talent and would be a great value pick in the early third round.
If he can improve his fundamental game, Martin could be a great player for Green Bay in the future.
Since the Packers don't have a legitimate backup center at the moment, picking one up in the draft for interior line depth would be wise. Not to mention Scott Wells is the Packers' oldest offensive lineman at age 31, so Jones makes a lot of sense late in the third round.
During his tenure at Georgia, Jones had to block some of the best defensive lineman in the country on teams like LSU and Alabama. He has had to block NFL talent his entire college career and more than held his own.
Considering he's only an average athlete, Jones's stock will most likely fall during the combine. However, this would be a quality pick to ensure the Packers offensive line never stumbles, even in a case of injury.
The Packers will take Jones and put him in the bank and develop him for later years.
After the Ben Jones pick in the third round, the Packers should spend another pick adding depth to their offensive line by grabbing Markus Zusevics.
Most people know Zusevics' book end, Riley Rieff, who is supposed to be a top 15 pick. While Rieff is certainly a great player, Markus had a solid career at Iowa as well. He projects to be a right tackle in the NFL, and with Chad Clifton unlikely to return next season, Zusevics will add much needed depth to the tackle position of the Packers.
Just another pick to ensure Aaron Rodgers' safety in both the present and future.
Charles Woodson's now 35, and eventually the wily veteran will have to slow down and call it quits. When that day comes, the Packers will need to be ready. The loss of Tramon Williams only exacerbates the need for young defensive backs, which should push the Packers to go after a couple in this draft.
The most recent is Robert Blanton out of Notre Dame, another physical corner who has starting potential in the NFL. Blanton has long arms at 6'1'' and can really bother receivers at the line.
While his game is far from polished, Robert has the tools to be a quality outside cornerback in the future. He's more of a developmental player, but Green Bay should be able to enjoy his talents later on in his career when they need him the most.
Howard put up pretty good numbers for a defensive tackle in college with 65 tackles and 5.5 sacks, and while he's not the most physically gifted player (clocked at a 5.1 40), Jaye could be a quality rotational defensive lineman for the Packers in the future.
Green Bay's thin at defensive end currently, so Howard might get time even in his rookie season. He has the size to play on the line, and could be used as a situational pass rusher.
This is a good value pick late in the sixth round, as Howard looks like a guy who can make an impact early in his career.
With the departure of Matt Flynn, Green Bay should be looking for another developmental quarterback behind Graham Harrell. The Packers go in-state in this case and grab Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson.
Wilson proved to be a huge asset for the Badgers this year, as his great quarterback play led them to a Big Ten conference championship and a Rose Bowl appearance.
With 33 touchdowns and only four interceptions, Russell played nearly mistake-free football the entire season. Despite his deficiencies in a few measures such as height and hand size, Wilson should make a good developmental quarterback for the Packers.
He can both run and throw when behind center and has been a winner his entire life no matter what he does.
Wilson is a class act, and the Packers would be wise to snag him and develop him as a future backup.
In case you haven't heard, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin has left the Packers to become the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Philbin has quietly coached one of the best offenses in the league for the last few years, and it will be a difficult task replacing him.
Ted Thompson always likes to promote guys in-house, and I believe that will be the right thing to do in this case.
Tom Clements, who has been interviewed for head coaching jobs and offensive coordinator jobs, should get the nod to be the Packers' OC.
This current QB coach has been applauded for developing quarterbacks in the past (Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, etc.), and I think he's earned the right to a promotion.
He won't be calling plays, but expect Clements to be leading the offense next year for the Packers.