Although the playoffs have yet to begin and the Packers remain in contention for another Super Bowl ring, I assume general manager Ted Thompson has begun planning his offseason moves.
In the modern NFL, players are constantly moved in the offseason due to the structure of the salary cap. There is much turnover. The Packers will be faced with multiple dilemmas with their own players, then structuring their draft around their needs.
This is a comprehensive mock offseason for the Green Bay Packers, including decisions to be made regarding free agents, player cuts and draft selections.
WR Greg Jennings (franchised) - While I don't expect Thompson to shell out a multi-year deal for Jennings, I think it would be foolish to break up the Packers wide receiver corps. Jennings, although injury prone these past two seasons, is an elite weapon for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay receivers haven't stayed healthy this season, and if Thompson can force Jennings' hand for another season, he should use the franchise tag.
WR Jarrett Boykin (RFA) - Boykin has been mentioned as the heir apparent to Jennings' role on offense, but he's still developing. Due to his undrafted status, Boykin can be retained on a very small contract.
RB DuJuan Harris - Similar to Boykin, Harris would also be brought back for camp due to his small contract. He might be given an opportunity to make the team in training camp and, if he fails, could potentially be brought back to the practice squad.
G/C Evan Dietrich-Smith - Dietrich-Smith has seen extensive time this year due to injuries along the offensive line. Formerly the backup at center and guard, Dietrich-Smith was recently promoted to the starting unit as the team's center after the benching of 37-year old Jeff Saturday. He would probably be handed a 2-3-year contract with a $3 million average salary.
CB Sam Shields (RFA) - The hero of the 2011 playoffs, Shields missed parts of this past year due to injury and has played spotty in coverage. He's liable to give up big plays, yet he is a playmaker himself and always a threat to return a interception for a touchdown. He can be retained on a one-year contract and I would expect him to battle for a starting position in 2013.
TE Tom Crabtree - A career special teamer and occasional passing option, Crabtree would only cost the Packers the veteran's minimum on a short-term deal.
LB Rob Francois (RFA)
LB Frank Zombo
Players leaving in Free Agency:
RB Cedric Benson - Benson was beginning to show life after a slow start, but a foot injury midway through the season sidelined the former Bengal for the rest of the year. The experiment failed to stabilize the Packers' running back stable and his age would be a huge factor in being retained. If the Packers fail to draft a running back or suffer an injury there, I wouldn't be surprised to see Thompson hire Benson if his services are still available.
LB Brad Jones - Jones was forced into heavy action following multiple injuries to the Packers' middle linebackers and performed admirably. However, I believe that, due to his success and the return of several starters at the position, Jones will probably leave for more ample opportunities.
LB Erik Walden - Walden started 10 games for Green Bay in 2012, but only yielded three sacks on the season. The team can add more talent at the position and would look to move on from Walden.
WR Donald Driver (retires) - The All-time leader in most receiving categories for Green Bay, Driver's play has dwindled over the past four seasons. Despite multiple injuries to the receiving corps, Driver only recorded eight receptions on the season. He was not released last offseason due to restructuring his contract, but Driver's time in the Green and Gold appears to have come to an end.
LB Desmond Bishop - Bishop has had an up-and-down career in Green Bay, going from a 6th round selection to a $5-million/year player. He missed all of 2012 with an injury and would only be brought back at a significantly lower price. The Packers have younger, fresher talent on their roster at the position.
TE Jermichael Finley - While Finley has rebounded in the 2nd half of the season, a $7-million salary and character concerns suggest his impending departure from Green Bay. Thompson would look to fill the void left by Finley, who has played a vital role in McCarthy's offense.
C Jeff Saturday - What once looked like a great signing, the former Colts great officially was benched in December, prior to making the Pro Bowl as something of a fan favorite and reputation pick. While his salary is very reasonable, the Packers could use their money elsewhere with a younger talent.
CB/SS Charles Woodson - This is a difficult decision to make, but Woodson's play slipped prior to his injury. Limited to seven games in 2012, Woodson switched to strong safety in an attempt to compensate for his lack of speed and liability in coverage. The former Defensive Player of the Year could be brought back on a smaller contract, but he has to leave decent money on the table to return to Titletown. If he plays extraordinary in the playoffs, perhaps he could be retained.
Free Agency: While there are many names out there that could be of immediate service , I doubt the team would pay for any free agents with so many of their own players to lock up. Thompson uncharacteristically signed a few free agents last offseason, but none of them made a significant impact.
Thompson will turn his focus to retaining his own talent through extensions.
LB Clay Matthews - 2013 will be the final year in Matthews' contract, and the Packers are expected to pay top-dollar for their defensive playmaker. While a hamstring injury limited Matthews' play this year, he still compiled 13 sacks on a shortened season. Only 26, he has compiled 42.5 sacks in just four professional seasons and appears to be getting better.
There are a few other players who's contracts expire in 2014.
Among them is quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Perhaps the most underpaid at his position, given his credentials, Rodgers displayed another MVP-caliber performance in 2012 and can command the biggest quarterback contract in the league.
Given his loyalty to the organization and love for Green Bay, I would expect Rodgers to sign an extension sometime during the 2013 season that leaves some money on the table for a longer term, team-friendly deal.
Nose Tackle BJ Raji is another player who could get consideration for an extension as he's outplayed his deal and could get locked up cheaply before free agency two seasons from now.
For purposes of this mock draft, I will give the Packers their current pick position throughout all seven rounds, as the season were to end today. While it’s possible they can lower their draft position with additional playoff victories, I’ll be politically correct here and keep them at 27.
I’ll also add additional 5th round supplemental selections due to quarterback Matt Flynn's signing with Seattle and center Scott Wells' leaving for St. Louis.
- Offensive Line: especially at center and right tackle. Depth at all positions would be welcomedd.
- Secondary: In the absence of Woodson, young strong safety M.D. Jennings struggled when pressed into play. Additional corner depth is a necessity due to the lack of an emergence of a consistent nickel cornerback.
- Running Back: A dynamic back that not only fit our system and style of play, but can pass block and be an option on third down out of the backfield.
- Tight End: With the loss of Finley, the Packers would need a young, explosive tight end.
Jones has experience and garnered accolades across the Crimson Tide line during his stay in Tuscaloosa. With the release of Saturday and the uncertain long-term ability of entrenched starter Evan Dietrich-Smith, Jones would have an opportunity to start immediately.
At worst, Jones would push Dietrich-Smith while serving as a backup up at the other guard positions. He might have flexibility to play some RT, although his foot speed could be a problem here. Jones would represents great value if he falls to 27 and fill a positional need.
I’ll admit I’m intrigued with the potential development of raw 2012 fourth-round pick Jerron McMillian, but it couldn’t hurt to bring in another prospect to compete for a starting position. Thomas had a breakout campaign, posting eight interceptions and playing well in coverage. The Packers could also look to add another cornerback, as their youthful unit behind Tramon Williams & rookie Casey Hayward needs additional depth.
Long, the youngest son of Howie and brother of the Rams’ defensive end Chris, has had a storied college career.
After playing baseball at Florida State, he has developed as a pass protector and was looking to further improve his draft stock with a sixth collegiate season. The NCAA denied his case, and now he looks like a prime player rising up draft boards.
Long, currently ranked as the 88th best prospect overall by Matt Miller, would be a great fit for Green Bay’s offensive scheme. He would be able to develop under offensive line coach James Campen and contribute in his as early as year two or three with the franchise.
With the potential release of Finley, the Packers should look to add a dynamic tight end to develop under McCarthy.
Gragg missed four games this past year for the Razorbacks, but showed promise in 2011, when he had 41 catches and two touchdowns. The tight end situation would still be chaotic, as there would be a position battle before the preseason. However, Thompson should look to add talent to the position in hopes of finding Finley’s successor.
While the Packers featured a somewhat respectable rushing attack in 2012, no back had over 500 yards for Green Bay. The only back guaranteed to return in 2013 looks like Alex Green, so adding an intriguing prospect like Franklin would be ideal.
Franklin enjoyed a stellar senior campaign for UCLA, when he ran for 1,734 yards with 13 touchdowns. He showed ability in the pass game as he hauled in 32 receptions. Franklin doesn’t look like a potential three-down back, but he could develop into a third-down specialist for Rodgers and co.
Buckner’s not exactly a household name, but this 6’4 receiver enjoyed a great campaign this past season under new head coach Rich Rodriguez. He improved his production despite having a new quarterback and offensive scheme. Buckner showed good hands in 2012 and could be on the Packers' radar.
While White failed to record over five tackles or in a game and was held without a sack in 2012, he’s your classic run-plugger. At 6’2, 320 lbs, White can add size and depth to the Packers 3-4, while providing backup insurance for current starting nose tackle BJ Raji. At this point in the draft, he can be a quality backup in the league.
Despite having a career season with three interceptions and 16 passes defended, the Boilermaker unit struggled collectively, as it was a clear weakness in their defense. Johnson has been a popular player mocked to the Packers in other 2013 drafts, as he could also help on special teams due to his speed.
Although he played in Division II, Webster gained notice due to his 13.5 sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Like a few other players in this mock draft, Webster could easily rise up draft boards before April.
Webster is still very raw, as 2012 was his only year playing college football. He formerly played on Bloomsberg’s basketball team. There’s a lot of room for growth and perhaps he’s someone the Packers could try to stash away and groom on their practice squad.
QB - Aaron Rogers - Graham Harrell
RB - Alex Green - James Starks - Johnathan Franklin - DuJuan Harris
FB - John Kuhn - Ryan Taylor
WR - Greg Jennings - James Jones - Jarrett Boykin
WR - Jordy Nelson - Randall Cobb - Dan Buckner
TE - DJ Williams - Tom Crabtree - Chris Gragg - Andrew Quarless
LT - Marshall Newhouse - Derek Sherrod
LG - TJ Lang - Evan Dietrich-Smith
C - Barrett Jones - Dietrich-Smith
RG - Josh Sitton
RT - Bryan Bulaga - Kyle Long - Don Barclay
K - Mason Crosby
*Italics denote a projected offseason acquisition.
LDE - Ryan Pickett - Jerel Worthy
NT - BJ Raji - Pickett - Anthony Rashad White
RDE - Worthy - CJ Wilson
LOLB - Nick Perry - Frank Zombo
MLB - AJ Hawk - Jamari Lattimore - Robert Francois
MLB - D.J. Smith - Terrell Manning
ROLB - Clay Matthews - Dezman Moses
RCB - Tramon Williams - Davon House
LCB - Casey Hayward - Sam Shields - Josh Johnson
SS - Jerron McMillian - Philip Thomas
FS - Morgan Burnett - Thomas
P - Tim Masthay
*Italics denote a projected offseason acquisition.
While the Packers are still in contention for this year's Super Bowl, they will have many needs to address this offseason.
Cutting veteran players like Charles Woodson may not be popular, but to ensure stable cap space and enough room to lock up homegrown talent, the Packers will be forced to cut ties with several players. However, will a stellar draft that addresses needs and pulls from top talent, the Packers would be in position to remain a force in the heated NFC.
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