Green Bay Packers Offseason: A Position-by-Position Analysis
Unfortunately, close wasn't quite good enough, as their offense still had a hard time finding answers against a stout San Francisco defense, and their defense failed to make plays at key points in the game.
The Packers are still among the top 10 teams in the league, but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of work to do in the offseason. In the slides ahead, I will explore each position, and what the Packers can do in the offseason to improve on each position.
A year ago, the Packers' quarterback position was thought to be in perfectly good condition with star quarterback Aaron Rodgers at the helm.
However, on a Monday night game against Chicago midway through the 2013 season, they would find that while a healthy Rodgers makes their quarterback situation one of the best in the league, they need to have a good backup situation in case Rodgers gets injured.
The Packers went 2-5-1 without Rodgers, but the good thing is that the backup quarterback situation looked better at the end of the season than it did when Rodgers first went down with a collarbone injury.
Third string quarterback Scott Tolzien showed promise, though he certainly needs more time in the offseason to become a more polished and reliable backup.
Luckily, the Packers resigned Matt Flynn near the end of the season, which gave the Packers another viable option if something were to happen to Rodgers.
Although the Packers would be in good shape with just Flynn as their backup, keeping Tolzien on the roster would be a wise move, as he could become a more long-term solution at backup, and perhaps even show enough promise to be a starter on another team someday.
However, for that to happen, he likely needs to stay in Green Bay and let McCarthy and a very capable Packers coaching staff develop him.
Moves that need to be made in the offseason: Keep Flynn and Tolzien.
A couple years ago, the Packers' running game was a point of weakness on their offense. Now, with the addition of Eddie Lacy, the Packers' running attack looks much better.
Not only do the Packers have the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year in their backfield, but they also have Johnathan Franklin, James Starks and DuJuan Harris, all young backs that have shown flashes of potential.
The Packers' running backs might be the most solid group on the team. They face a decision on whether or not to re-sign James Starks, but even if Starks were to move on to another team, the Packers would have plenty of options at the running back position.
Moves that need to be made in the offseason: None.
The Packers receivers have been one of the best wide receiving corps in the league. Even after losing Greg Jennings and Donald Driver in 2012, they still have Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones, all three of whom could be starting receivers on other teams. They also have a promising young receiver in Jarrett Boykin.
The big decision the Packers will have to make is re-signing James Jones.
Jones has proven to be a very reliable target for Rodgers, and it would be a tough loss for the team if he went to another team. If Jones does move on, however, Ted Thompson has done a fine job acquiring receiving targets for Rodgers, so Jones may be able to be replaced.
Moves that need to be made in the offseason: Re-sign Jones or draft a receiver in the mid-to-late rounds.
The tight end position is a big question mark for Green Bay, as it all depends on what Jermichael Finley's medical status is. If he is cleared to return, then the Packers will not need to do much in the offseason to improve the position—Finley has shown to be an improving player with plenty of upside and potential.
However, it is also very likely that Finley will not return to the Packers, given the ugly injury he sustained against the Browns. If that is the case, the Packers will likely need to spend a draft pick on a new tight end to develop, as it is unlikely that current backups Brandon Bostick and Andrew Quarless will be consistent receiving targets for Aaron Rodgers.
Moves that need to be made in the offseason: If Finley doesn't return, draft a tight end in the third or fourth round of the draft.
The Packers offensive line looks much better than it has in recent years, and this is likely because of the addition of David Bakhtiari in the 2013 draft, who had a very solid rookie year, and the potential return of right tackle Bryan Bulaga.
The line also includes proven guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang on the inside, and Evan Dietrich-Smith under center. Although this starting lineup looks solid, there are some minor concerns that could prove to be a roadblock.
The first is injuries. If injuries hit, the Packers may not have enough depth on the line to bring in guys to protect the franchise quarterback.
The second concern is free agent Evan Dietrich-Smith. If Dietrich-Smith goes to another team, the Packers will have to start looking for their new center.
Moves that need to be made in the offseason: Draft an offensive lineman in the mid-rounds for depth, possibly a center in the early rounds if Dietrich-Smith doesn't return in 2014.
The Packers defensive line is riddled with questions.
Young rookies Datone Jones and Jerel Worthy were drafted in hopes of replacing Cullen Jenkins and aging veteran Ryan Pickett. Unfortunately, neither of these players have lived up to expectations. In addition, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji are free agents and may not return next year.
These questions could lead to an overhaul at defensive line, which can't completely be solved through the draft—the Packers will likely have to solve their defensive line problem through free agency, unless they have confidence that their young players can step up and play better in 2014.
Moves that need to be made in the offseason: Bring in at least one defensive lineman through either free agency or in the first two rounds of the draft.
The Packers linebacking corps is anchored by star outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Of course, Matthews can't do everything by himself, especially if he continues to have injury issues that he has had in the past two years.
The Packers have had difficulty finding someone opposite of Clay Matthews who can serve as a threat to rush the passer. First-round pick Nick Perry has shown glimpses of potential, but not nearly enough to prove himself as Matthews' counterpart.
On the inside, veteran linebacker A.J. Hawk is solid, but not spectacular, and his counterpart Brad Jones has not lived up to the contract Thompson gave him in the previous offseason.
The Packers need to find more playmakers at the linebacker position. While there are some young players with potential, it would likely be wise to bring in a veteran free agent who can provide the Packers with a spark, and open up Clay Matthews more opportunities to do what he does best.
Moves that need to be made in the offseason: Bring in a veteran linebacker and draft a linebacker in the early-to-mid rounds.
The Packers may have plenty of options at cornerback, but perhaps the most glaring need on the entire team is at the safety position.
The Packers have an abundance of promising cornerbacks, from Tramon Williams to Sam Shields to Casey Hayward to Micah Hyde. Even Davon House has shown some potential at times.
And while Sam Shields may not return to Green Bay next year, they still may be able to get by without him. However, Shields' talent makes him worth the Packers re-signing him in free agency; and if they do, their secondary could be one of the best in the league if they can bring in a good safety.
In contrast, the safety position is a mess for the Packers.
Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian did not have good years in 2013, and none of them instilled confidence that they could be a starting safety in the NFL. However, the Packers have shown belief in Burnett, and have invested in him, so he will likely return as the starter in Green Bay next year.
Burnett starting may be acceptable, but the Packers need to bring in a safety, either in the first round of the draft, or free agency.
Safeties Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix could be great options if available; and as for free agency, the Packers could take a look at veteran safeties like Jairus Byrd, Jim Leonhard, Antoine Bethea and Louis Delmas.
The Packers certainly have options to explore this year at safety, but they need to fill this hole quickly, because it may be the most glaring hole on their team.
Moves that need to be made in the offseason: Re-sign Sam Shields, draft a safety in the first round or pick up a veteran free agent.
For all of the questions surrounding Mason Crosby at the beginning of the season, he certainly answered them in 2013. As long as he continues the success he has had through most of his career in Green Bay, he should stick around in Green Bay, as should punter Tim Masthay, who seems to be getting better year by year.
Moves that need to be made in the offseason: None.
In summation, the Packers should spend early draft picks predominately on defense, including defensive line, safety and linebacker.
However, if they are able to fill some of those needs in free agency, they should look at improving their depth at offensive line or finding a replacement for tight end Jermichael Finley, if necessary.
In later rounds, the Packers should try to improve the depth on both their offensive line and receiving corps.
The Packers have some work to do in the offseason to improve their team, and they may need to dip a little more into free agency this year than they have in the past, particularly on defense.
With the talent that Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy have been able to put together for the past eight years, they certainly have proven their ability to fix problems and better their football team.