The Green Bay Packers should boast one of the better teams in the NFL next season. That's due in large part to the ability of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy deserve plenty of credit.
The key word in that first sentence is the word should. There is one scenario that could play out in the next few days where the Packers could absolutely ruin their chances in the upcoming season. As crazy as that sounds, it's absolutely true.
The way this could happen is if the Packers completely fail during free agency. This simply doesn't mean the free agents that Green Bay brings in during free agency, but also its own players that need to be re-signed. By failing to bring in the right free agents or re-signing the wrong ones, the Packers could doom their upcoming season before we even get to training camp.
Of course, this would take a handful of terrible moves from the front office, but let's break down how the Packers' 2014 season could be lost in free agency.
Failing to Get a Defensive Playmaker
This has to be the No. 1 priority for the Packers heading into free agency. Sure, it's possible that they could add a defensive playmaker via the draft, but there's also a chance that they completely whiff on a prospect.
For example, take last year's first-round pick, defensive end Datone Jones. He was expected to be the savior of the defensive line. In fact, Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller called it one of the best picks:
Best picks: Tavon Austin to Rams. Kenny Vaccaro to Saints. Star Lotulelei to Panthers. Datone Jones to Packers. Jarvis Jones to Steelers— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 26, 2013
Unfortunately, Jones failed to make much of an impact at all during his rookie season. He was only on the field for 276 snaps last year and finished with a grade of negative 7.6 according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Now, it's certainly possible that Jones makes huge strides during this upcoming offseason and turns into a terror at defensive end. However, the Packers can't wait a year or two years for defensive players to develop.
What they need is an established defensive playmaker. They need someone who can step in from day one, create turnovers and make positive plays on the defensive side of the field.
Failing to do so in free agency won't improve the defense at all, and failing to improve the defense would have extremely negative ramifications for the 2014 season.
Re-Signing the Wrong Players
Green Bay has a total of 19 of their own free agents that they could potentially re-sign this offseason. Of that group, only a handful deserves to be pursued by the Packers. Those players include cornerback Sam Shields and center Evan Dietrich-Smith.
One player who falls into the category of "doesn't need to be signed" is defensive end B.J. Raji. Unfortunately, the Packers have already offered him a one-year deal according to ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Packers and B.J. Raji are close to completing a 1-year deal that will keep the DT in Green Bay and off the free-agent market, per sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 6, 2014
Thankfully, all signs point to Raji not signing that deal per Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. However, it's those types of moves that will ultimately kill the Packers. They don't need a non-impact player like Raji, who finished last year as the third-worst 3-4 defensive end in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
By re-signing players like Raji and others who the Packers simply don't need, they are keeping money away from players who could actually improve their roster.
Losing Sam Shields
How big of an impact would losing Sam Shields have in 2014?
There's absolutely no scenario where losing Shields would be a good thing for the Packers. The reason for this is because Green Bay doesn't have a player who could come anywhere close to replacing what Shields did for this team last year.
Shields proved he can be a legitimate shutdown defender last year by slowing down elite wide receivers like A.J. Green and Josh Gordon. He's the closest thing to an elite cornerback that the Packers have.
Without Shields, the Packers would be relying on cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward to shut down opposing defenses. The problem with that is Williams is now a shell of his former self and Hayward is better suited as a nickel cornerback.
Losing Shields would make the secondary even weaker than it was last year, which was pretty awful at times.
If the Packers fail to do all three of the things mentioned above, the 2014 season will be all but lost before it even begins.