I am taking a pause in my position analysis series to talk about the Green Bay Packers top three offseason needs. This may tip everyone off about how I might be analyzing other positions, but this seems the right time to address this issue with teams already releasing and franchising players.
I am approaching this from the standpoint of the general manager position. In other words, if I was vice president of player personnel Mark Murphy, what expectations would I tell Ted Thompson I have?
Note: While I would suggest he consider spending money in free agency, I would not demand it. I believe the relationship between a supervisor and his staff should involve trust in their judgment and an allowance to operate as they deem best. All the person pulling the trigger should do, whether it is Murphy to Thompson or Thompson to McCarthy, is make it clear what the expectations are. Namely, we must make the playoffs in 2009.
Before looking at the needs, it is important to examine the depth chart. Before the depth chart can be established, we must look at players eligible for free agency.
Unrestricted Free Agents
- Mark Tauscher, RT. A nine-year veteran out of Wisconsin, he has been a stud on the line and until 2008, played nearly every game. At just 31 years old, he is too young to cut loose; he will be re-signed unless his asking price is ridiculous—Thompson saves his cap room for keeping players rather than bringing in new ones.
- Mike Montgomery, DE. A four-year veteran, he may be too lanky to play DE in the 3-4 system, which requires linemen to be bulkier. On the other hand, he has been a guy getting rotated in and may not command enough on the open market to make him worth not keeping. I would expect him back.
- Colin Cole, DT. Another four-year veteran whose impact has been limited, he possesses the bulk at 6'1" and 330 pounds to be valuable at the NT position in a 3-4; I expect him to come cheap enough to keep, as well, but if not, there would be little loss in letting him go.
Restricted Free Agents
Rather than make a list of this extensive group, I will divide them into the "keep" and "release" categories, with a brief explanation why. The Packers should be able to keep those they want to because they can make qualifying offers that require too much compensation by any other team.
Keep: Atari Bigby (play-making safety), Johnny Jolly (perfect tackle in the 3-4), John Kuhn (economical, solid fullback), and Jason Hunter (DE might be convertible to OLB and should be low cost)
- Release: Ruvell Martin and Shaun Bodiford (four good receivers with a fifth easy to find), Jarrett Bush (cost us the NFC Championship by trying to make the highlights and commits too many penalties), Tory Humphrey (third TE easy to find), Kenny Pettway (who? exactly...he's an OLB, by the way).
From here, let's take a look at the starting players and the first guy off the bench at every position. If we are set that deep, that position is not a need.
QB: Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn or Brian Brohm—while it might be nice to have a veteran backup, it does not make sense to give up on the two young guys yet. Perhaps Flynn (less sought out of college) could be put on the practice squad, but only if Brohm looks better this offseason, in which case a veteran is certainly not a top three need.
RB: Ryan Grant, Brandon Jackson—both looked good when healthy last season, so while this position is not a strength, it is not a need.
FB: John Kuhn (assuming he is re-signed) and Korey Hall—adequate but unspectacular, this is not a priority position on any team, much less one that struggled so on defense.
WR: Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones—one of the best receiving corps in the NFL (two Pro Bowlers!) is certainly not a position of need.
TE: Donald Lee, JerMichael Finley—we have no reason to believe that the rookie Finley won't make even more impact in 2009, and Lee is middle of the pack despite competing for production with exceptional receivers. This position could use an upgrade.
OT: Assuming Tauscher gets re-signed, he and Clifton will be solid bookends again, and Tony Moll is an adequate back-up. Not a strength, but not a position of need.
OG: Jason Spitz, Daryn Colledge, and Allen Barbre or Josh Sitton—Spitz can play center and Colledge tackle, and those two guys are solid if healthy. Things get very dicey if one of them is out or forced to shift, however, and we cannot count on them improving enough to handle expanded roles. Nevertheless, a back-up guard is hardly a priority.
C: Scott Wells, Jason Spitz—either of these guys can handle the starting spot, and Wells is good at directing the line and calling out assignments. As stated above, the need for Spitz to play really only affects guard play significantly, so this is not a position of need.
DT: Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly—now that the line only requires one tackle on the field, a position that was too thin in 2008 has more than enough personnel now. Both of these guys are big and good enough to handle the larger workload, too.
DE: Cullen Jenkins, Mike Montgomery, and Jason Hunter or Jeremy Thompson—with the expected conversion of Pro Bowl DE Aaron Kampman to OLB, this position is suddenly very lacking. Jenkins is big enough to handle the role of the DE in a 3-4, but the others might not be on an every down basis.
OLB: Aaron Kampman, Brady Poppinga, Brandon Chillar—Kampman should thrive as the primary rush OLB, a position he played at Iowa. Poppinga was already playing in a three-point technique on passing downs; he rushes the passer well and is adequate in coverage. Chillar showed promise in coverage, but he and Poppinga are both a little small for this position in a 3-4. This is a position the Packers may want to look to upgrade, but not a top priority.
ILB: A.J. Hawk, Nick Barnett, Desmond Bishop—Hawk and Barnett are two of the four best linebackers in the NFC North and potential Pro Bowlers. Bishop has shown something, but would be a weak link if pressed into regular service. Still, with him alongside either of the others, this position is not a need.
S: Nick Collins, Atari Bigby, Aaron Rouse—any of these guys would start on a majority of NFL teams, and both Collins and Bigby (if healthy) are Pro Bowlers. This is not only a position in which there is no need to upgrade, the Packers may want to consider trading one of these guys to upgrade another position; fourth safety Charlie Pepprah is adequate, too.
CB: Charles Woodson, Al Harris, Tramon Williams—Woodson and Harris are getting up there in years, but still Pro Bowlers. Williams filled in well when Harris was hurt, and Will Blackmon is no whipping boy, either. Mel Kiper, Jr., having the Packers using a first round pick for a CB just reaffirmed by belief he is almost as overrated as John Madden.
K: Mason Crosby is great. Back-ups are rarely needed but can be easily found.
P: Jeremy Kapinos did not play enough to have a complete picture, but while Thompson clearly made a boneheaded decision (much like our last president, I'd just like to hear him admit it once when it is this obvious) in releasing Jon Ryan. Nonetheless, it is not a position of need.
P/KR: The Packers did okay here with Jordy Nelson and Will Blackmon, although we did have the Vikings lousy punt coverage with which to pad our stats. We might want to draft players who can handle these responsibilities in addition to their main positions.
Top three needs:
- Defensive End. We should look to add two players at this position unless we are going to keep Kampman there (in which case our needs at OLB go up considerably), and he might be too small to play DE in the 3-4.
- Offensive Tackle. I put this position down because re-signing Mark Tauscher is no given and getting him or another tackle is an important step in solidifying this team's 2009 success.
- Outside Linebacker. I am not convinced that anyone other than Kampman can be dynamic enough at this position, and this is the position I would like to see the Packers use their top draft pick on—an undersized DE to convert or a big LB who can rush the passer.
Other needs that may be worth addressing, in order: TE, OG, FB, ILB, P, P/KR.