The Packers fell just short of the mark again this season, but they continue to be in the conversation every year for a run at the Super Bowl.
They've got the overall talent, but they'll have to spend this offseason determining what parts need to be added to put them over the top again.
Where are their biggest holes? Which free agents should they bring back, if any? Where should they focus their attention in the upcoming 2013 NFL draft?
We'll take a look at all those questions this offseason, and to get us started, here's your Green Bay Packers' offseason guide for the team needs, their free agents and how they look under the salary cap.
While the Packers seem to be able to hold their offensive line with gum and rope, Aaron Rodgers continues to get sacked far too often. Pro Football Focus ranks Marshall Newhouse as the 54th tackle in the NFL last year, and with the injuries to the line again this season, you can only shuffle the guys you have around so much.
And let's not forget that Jeff Saturday is gone, though we could see that coming when he was replaced in Week 16 by Evan Dietrich-Smith. Dietrich-Smith did alright last season as everything from center to guard, but he's not fantastic.
There will be some good prospects available in free agency, and while the 2013 NFL draft class isn't as top heavy with offensive line talent as it has been in the past few years, there is a lot of depth.
Someone with a nasty streak to counter the tough pass-rushers in the NFC North would be a good way to go.
The Packers have to protect Rodgers better. He's ridiculously proficient as it is—imagine him with more time.
Will Cedric Benson be back? Will James Starks ever become what we all thought he might after his 2010 playoffs? Can DuJuan Harris carry the load? Or Alex Green?
There are a ton of question marks to deal with in the backfield and absolutely no clear answers. Green and Harris are probably your best options as of now, while I believe we've seen all we will from Starks and Ryan Grant and have doubts about Benson coming back and being effective.
The 2013 NFL draft has a lot of solid prospects the Packers can look at, and there will be tremendous value outside of the first two rounds.
Without a doubt, the Packers' run defense needs an upgrade. A.J. Hawk was decent against the run this year but has left far too many plays on the table over his career thus far—including this year.
Now, the team gets Desmond Bishop back after he missed the season on Injured Reserve, but they need someone to help shore the middle of the field up and slow down the bleeding by the run defense.
You don't need to break the bank, but some more talent would be good, especially if Hawk regresses.
Ted Thompson always takes a wide receiver somewhere to keep the meat grinder going for the Mike McCarthy spread offense.
Greg Jennings is in all probability gone, as is Donald Driver, and while you'd think a trio of Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb should be enough, as banged up as the receivers were this year, can you have too many receivers?
They love their fast and shifty wide receivers in Green Bay, and there are a ton of talented choices in this year's draft class. I know Matt Miller likes Quinton Patton out of Louisiana Tech, and I was impressed by Duke's Connor Vernon while at the Senior Bowl in Mobile.
I don't know that Vernon quite has the speed the Packers like, but he has incredible hands and likes to play physical.
Given that Jermichael Finley's next block might be his first, a willing and physical receiver could be very attractive as an alternative to the normal speedy guys the Packers like.
There are a lot of ways to go for the Packers when it comes to their own free agents.
This is what we know: It seems almost certain that Greg Jennings is gone. There are no guarantees in life, but you can be sure that Jennings will want far more money than the Packers are willing to give him. Yes, we were just talking about drafting another receiver, but the cost would be far less.
Given how many big contracts are on the horizon (most notably Clay Matthews and Aaron Rodgers), throwing a large wad of money at a guy at a position the team is deep in makes little sense.
So Jennings is probably 75/25 percent out the door. Never say never, but I wouldn't bet my life on him being in a Packers jersey next season.
Ryan Grant and Donald Driver are also very expendable. Neither was used much this season (or postseason), and their upside is limited.
I might have been intrigued by Erik Walden returning, but his showing against the San Francisco 49ers was beyond bad, and for the most part this season he wasn't that impressive. For a reasonable sum I'd bring him back—and I would imagine he'd be more than happy to get what he could and stay on a contending team.
If I had to choose between Walden and Brad Jones, I'd definitely take Jones. Another guy who shouldn't be looking to break the bank, Jones was rated as a top-10 inside linebacker (subscriber link) by Pro Football Focus, and given how much the team has struggled containing the run, keeping Jones around to try to plug the middle seems a no-brainer.
As for the restricted free agents, I don't think the team will see much competition for Tom Crabtree or Evan Dietrich-Smith—both of whom are better role players than starters. Sam Shields will be back as well, and the Packers may want to consider giving him a longer extension if just to help give the secondary some more stability.
Salary Cap Info
Of course all of the above has to keep one thing in mind: The Packers lack the cap space to do a ton.
According to "Professor" John Clayton of ESPN, Green Bay has $7.1 million in cap space, which might buy you a hot dog in the average NFL stadium.
Figuring out cap space is a tricky proposition, and the numbers will change depending on moves the Packers make this offseason.
No matter how many moves they or their players make (and Jeff Saturday retiring will have an impact), the truth is that they don't have a ton of room to do much more than sign their own players.
This isn't a team that goes for splashy free-agent signings anyway, so it won't change free-agency plans much. It may tie their hands in terms of bringing back talent—another in a long line of reasons Jennings isn't expected back.
This is Ted Thompson, though, and he can make the numbers work as he always does.
Just don't expect any big acquisitions this spring.
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