Green Bay went 8-7-1 last year, and despite missing star quarterback Aaron Rodgers for much of the second half of the season, the team still managed to sneak into the playoffs.
While the Packers have a strong core of players on both offense and defense, such as Rodgers and outside linebacker Clay Matthews, the franchise must address several areas of need through free agency if they want to contend in 2014.
Bleacher Report's NFC North Lead Writer Zach Kruse talks about where the team's focus should be:
The #Packers are going to need a big assist from the open market to keep several of their in-house free agents.— Zach Kruse (@zachkruse2) March 7, 2014
The franchise has 19 players from last season due to hit free agency in 2014, including cornerback Sam Shields, wide receiver James Jones and fullback John Kuhn, and locking up its own stars will be as important as signing players from other teams.
Check back here for all the latest signings, trade rumors and grades for each move.
|Player||Pos||Status||Where He Signed|
|Sam Shields||S||UFA||Green Bay: 4 years, $39 million|
|Evan Dietrich-Smith||C||UFA||Buccaneers: 4 years, $14.25 million|
|M.D. Jennings||S||RFA||Chicago: One-year deal|
|Michael Neal||DE||UFA||Green Bay: Two-year deal|
|Andrew Quarless||TE||UFA||Green Bay: Two Years, $3 Million|
|B.J. Raji||DE||UFA||Green Bay: One Year, $4 Million|
Sam Shields Re-Signs for Four Years
The Packers made one the first blockbuster moves of the free-agency period by re-signing cornerback Sam Shields to a four-year, $39 million deal, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Packers gave CB Sam Shields a 4-year deal for $39 million, including a signing bonus $12.5 million, per source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 9, 2014
Shields, 26, emerged as one of the better coverage cornerbacks in the league last season, and he was the bright spot in an otherwise lackluster defensive secondary. The franchise needs to add depth and talent to the unit via free agency and the draft, so re-signing Shields was a great start.
Green Bay gets an A grade for not only keeping one of the best defenders from last year on the team, but also locking up a talented player for the next four seasons.
This was a smart, fundamental business decision that will benefit the team's defense overall.
B.J. Raji Returns to Packers
The Packers further bolstered their defense by ensuring that hulking defensive tackle B.J. Raji returned to Green Bay. Ian Rapoport broke down the big man's new deal:
Packers Sign RB Michael Hill
After being signed off the Green Bay Packers practice squad by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, running back will enter his second season of his NFL career back on Green Bay’s roster, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Tampa Bay cut Hill after an arrest in January—he only amassed nine carries for 23 yards in his rookie season—but will fight for a spot on the Packers special teams unit and the right to be the fourth running back on the depth chart.
Packers Re-Sign Mike Neal
Mike Neal has played for the Packers for the first four seasons of his career, and now it looks like he should be back for two more.
The former Purdue Boilermaker made the announcement about his two-year deal over Twitter, although he may be a bit sarcastic about enjoying the winters in Green Bay.
Hi Green Bay!!! I'll enjoy your winters for two more years!!— Michael Neal (@mneal96) March 12, 2014
Neal had some very good games in 2013, but he also had some very bad ones, as he was moved to outside linebacker and struggled at times with the position. Call it a transition period for him, as he should improve in 2014 when he has to play.
Julius Peppers Joins Packers
This is definitely the biggest deal of the offseason thus far for Green Bay. According to ESPN's Josina Anderson, they landed supreme sack master Julius Peppers on a three-year, $30 million deal. Given this team's dearth of pass rush options, this was a brilliant signing, even if Peppers is 34.
Source: Julius Peppers has agreed to terms with the Green Bay Packers on a 3-year deal.— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 15, 2014
Filed to ESPN: Agent Carl Carey adds Julius Peppers' 3-year deal to Green Bay is "for $30M max, $7.5M guaranteed & $8.5M in tot 1st yr sal."— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 15, 2014
Packers Re-Sign Andrew Quarless
With Jermichael Finley's future with Green Bay in doubt, the team wisely re-signed tight Andrew Quarless to a two-year, $3-million deal, according to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.
Quarless finished 2013 with 32 receptions for 312 yards and two touchdowns, though he was the backup tight end before Finley was lost for the season due to injury. Just 25 years old, Quarless has a chance to grow in this offense and could end up being a starting tight end on the cheap for the Packers.
Packers Interested in Re-Signing Ryan Pickett?
Green Bay has major questions to answer at the defensive tackle position, and the franchise is reportedly interested in bringing back Ryan Pickett, according to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky:
First tidbit of #Packers FA news today. No deal yet for veteran DT Ryan Pickett but he's been in touch with them and will continue to talk.— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) March 8, 2014
Pickett is coming off a disappointing season where he only amassed 19 combined tackles in 16 games, but the Packers are hoping that the player that notched 51 combined tackles the year before will be back in form.
After such a mediocre season, the asking price for Pickett will be much lower and the demand will be limited. Green Bay has a good chance of re-signing him at a discounted price.
Green Bay’s Biggest Needs
Tight End: With veterans Jermichael Finley and Andrew Quarless on their way to hitting free agency, the Packers have to make the decision whether they will address the need now or in May during the draft. Keeping Quarless would be the best in-house option, but he lacks the elite pass-catching talent needed to thrive with Rodgers under center. Washington’s Fred Davis would also be an affordable option who has major upside in the pass-happy offense, but his continued off-the-field issues could be a deterrent.
Outside Linebacker: There is no doubt that Matthews is one of the best pass-rushing outside linebackers in the NFL, but his recent injury issues and the lack of help from his fellow defenders has limited his productivity. If the Packers do not feel that Mike Neal has the potential to be the long-term answer as Matthews' complement, looking to the draft for assistance is an option. Kicking the tires on a talented free agent like Shaun Phillips would have more of an instant impact.