The Green Bay Packers rarely look to free agency as a way of improving the roster, but when general manager Ted Thompson takes a free agent it's usually a sign that the player will have an immediate impact.
The Packers don't do it too often, but the signings of Charles Woodson in 2006 and Cedric Benson last summer turned out to be great signings by Thompson even though Benson went down for the year last season with a knee injury. Woodson on the other hand has gone on to be one of the best defenders in Packers history and became the locker room leader.
Of course, Thompson has missed on some signings too. Jeff Saturday last year, for example.
That said, the team doesn't wade into the free agency waters too often, but perhaps maybe Thompson will this year to keep the team on the cusp of another Super Bowl title.
Here's a look at the Packers roster heading into free agency next month. Positions are graded on an A to F scale with A being that the position is set and there is no signing needed at all and an F standing for an immediate contributor/starter needing to be signed. B through D meaning that a signing either needs to made for competition, a player needs to be added for the future or a player is signing for depth.
Aaron Rodgers turned 29 in December, so the team has its starter for the foreseeable future.
The backup position on the other hand still remains a bit of a question mark. Graham Harrell saw little action last year and doubts remain on how well he would do leading the Packers in the case of a Rodgers injury.
BJ Coleman remains on the practice squad and is the Packers' current quarterback project, although Harrell may still fall into that position. The Packers will draft a quarterback in the late rounds of the draft if anything, so a free-agent signing is doubtful.
The signing of Benson was looking like a steal for the Packers early last season as he was looking like the first legitimate Packers running back in three years.
Unfortunately, Benson went down for the year with a foot injury and James Starks was largely ineffective before he went down with an injury as well.
Enter DuJuan Harris. The small back gave the Packers a spark on offense, running the ball well and playing decently in the screen game. Harris was another practice squad gem Thompson found and he could be the team's starting running back entering training camp.
Many expect the Packers to add a running back this offseason, but they should see what Harris can do. They still will need a backup at the very least as Benson probably won't be back given his age, and Starks is anything but reliable.
In the past few seasons, wide receiver has been the deepest position on the Packers roster.
With the retirement of Donald Driver and the likely loss of Greg Jennings to free agency, it would appear that the depth takes a bit of a hit. Driver, however, barely contributed last season and Jennings missed significant time with injuries.
Jennings will be the one the Packers need to replace. The emergence of James Jones and Randall Cobb combined with the presence of Jordy Nelson and the still developing Jarrett Boykin gives the Packers enough talent at receiver. However, Jennings' sheer presence was enough to affect how teams attacked the Packers. Is Cobb going to be the same way? He sure looked that way in 2012.
The Packers still will probably add a receiver, but it may not be "name" free agent.
Should he stay or should he go?
That's question not only Packer fans but the Packers front office is asking about enigmatic tight end Jermichael Finley. He's entering the final year of the two-year contract he signed before last season, but many are thinking the Packers won't bring him back.
Finley has developed a reputation for dropping the ball and firing his mouth off when he would be better off keeping it shut. Coach Mike McCarthy, however, seems to still believe in Finley, and the tight end played better down the stretch when he rarely talked about anything but the upcoming game.
Tom Crabtree is a solid blocker behind Finley, but Andrew Quareless has had trouble recovering from a 2011 injury and the team is otherwise thin at the position.
Aaron Rodgers was sacked 51 times last season. That's all you need to know about the status of the Packers offensive line.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga was lost for the season with a hip injury and now-retired center Jeff Saturday benched himself for the final few games of the regular season. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse left a bit to be desired as well. The Packers are set with Josh Sitton and TJ Lang at the guard positions.
Evan Dietrich-Smith will enter camp as the starter at center but he's hardly the team's definitive center of the future. Newhouse looks to be nothing more than a decent backup. Bulaga returning adds needed talent to that side of the line, though it remains to be seen how well he recovers from that injury.
This is an area where the Packers need to get better by any means necessary.
While BJ Raji had his best season since 2010, Ryan Pickett is in the swan song of his career and the rest of the defensive line remains completely unsettled. Last season's second-round pick Jerel Worthy showed promise but he too went down with injury. The oft-injured Mike Neal flashed promise but he still remains far from reliable given his injury history.
Green Bay needs a good defensive end if they want to intimidate opponents on defense and allow Clay Matthews to fully utilize his abilities. How they add that talent remains unclear, but it's a position the team must address this offseason.
This was the position hit hardest by injuries for the Packers in 2012, so the call to infuse talent in the linebacking corps may be a bit overhyped.
The Packers get back Desmond Bishop, who was lost for the year in the team's first preseason game. They also get back DJ Smith who flashed some potential though struggled badly in coverage before he too landed on injured reserved. AJ Hawk had one of his best seasons though the Packers may not bring him back unless he can restructure his deal. First-round pick Nick Perry had been coming around before he joined Bishop and Smith on IR.
Then there's Matthews. He is the difference maker on this defense. Matthews too missed some time due to injury, but when he was on the field his impact was huge. He started the season on fire and appeared to be back in 2010 form after the entire defense struggled to develop any consistent pass rush in 2011.
With the return of the injured players, the Packers appear to be set at linebacker, although depth would not be a bad thing should the injury bug return.
Before last season, if someone told you the Packers would be fine without Charles Woodson you would have called them crazy.
Tell the men in white coats to back off.
The Packers infused the secondary with young talent last year and no brighter star emerged than that of cornerback Casey Hayward. The rookie displayed a nose for the football and was a strong contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He appears to be the new playmaker in the secondary, much like Woodson had been.
Sam Shields improved after a disastrous 2011 but 2013 will be a big year for him to prove he can be the long term answer opposite Hayward.
Woodson figures to either retire or be released, but a return to Green Bay should not totally be ruled out. His move to safety brought mixed reviews, but perhaps his presence for his own "last ride" could spark the Packers on a magical run the Baltimore Ravens just experienced.
Speaking of safety, it should be clear the Packers badly miss Nick Collins. That's the position the Packers need to improve badly as MD Jennings, Sean Richardson and Jerron McMillian showed little to prove they're the future. Same with Morgan Burnett, who has been around for awhile, though he did display some ability to be a hard hitter.
One player and one player alone weighed this unit's grade down: Mason Crosby.
Crosby had a pathetic 2012 and appeared at some points to be a broken man, as some of his kicks were not even close to the uprights. McCarthy stuck with Crosby however and the kicker appeared to work his way out of the slump late in the season.
The Packers still figure to bring in a kicker via either free agency or the draft to (at the very least) compete with Crosby. He didn't lose a game for the Packers per se, but that's a chance the team cannot take in 2013.
Tim Masthay is a good punter and the Packers appear to finally be set at the position.
With Cobb now playing a bigger role on the offense, Jeremy Ross inherited the return role. His botched catch against the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs helped open up the gates for what would become a blowout, but he will more than likely get a second chance though competition would be welcome.