Green Bay Packers: Top 10 Issues Facing The Super Bowl Champions This Offseason
The celebration of the Green Bay Packers' Super Bowl win might not be over yet, but the focus of the fans will eventually turn to the offseason.
Because no NFC team has repeated as conference champions in 13 seasons (The Packers in 1997 were the last), Green Bay needs to have a successful offseason if they plan on playing in Indianapolis next February.
Of course, that all hinges on the NFL reaching a labor agreement. For the sake of argument, however, let's assume that they do and everything in the next few months stays on schedule.
With that said, let's take a look at the top issues facing the Packers this offseason.
Keep Matt Flynn or Trade Him?
Many Packers fans dreaded the day that backup Matt Flynn was taking important snaps, but the third-year quarterback was solid in his limited playing time this year.
Granted, the Packers lost both games in which Flynn played, but that hasn't stopped some teams—most notably the Tennessee Titans—from inquiring about trading for him this offseason.
From the Packers' standpoint, however, this should be an easy decision. Unless you're getting a first or second round draft choice, Flynn better not be going anywhere.
Though he'll be a free agent after next season and the Packers would risk losing him for nothing, you can't underestimate the importance of a backup quarterback with Aaron Rodgers' concussion history.
Green Bay has plenty of picks in the upcoming draft—trading Flynn for another one would not be a wise decision.
Handling Success and Continuity
As is the case for any Super Bowl champion, handling the stresses of success becomes enemy No. 1.
First off, the Packers will have to deal with numerous questions and comments about repeating. It happens every year, but the media and fans alike are already labeling the Packers as the next dynasty in the NFL.
Second, the coaching staff needs to be extended and kept intact.
The Packers have yet to lose any coaches, but Darren Perry, Kevin Greene, Mike Trgovac, Winston Moss and Tom Clements have all been mentioned as coaches with a potential for advancement up the coaching tree.
And while it appears all those coaches will be back next season, 2011 could be the final proving piece for that group to take the next step in their respective coaching careers.
In addition, Mike McCarthy, Dom Capers and Ted Thompson are all due for raises or extensions.
Lastly, the Packers have to reintegrate 15 players from the IR back into the fold. This might not seem like a big deal, but the Packers won the Super Bowl because they were the consummate "team."
Any deviations from the plan that worked this season could derail the Packers chances at a repeat next season.
Charles Woodson, Donald Driver, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher can all now be considered Super Bowl champions.
If they wanted to, they all could retire on top of the football world as well.
Of course, I'm not saying any of the four will retire. They've all expressed early intentions on playing for the Packers next season.
However, you can't count out the possibility.
Woodson will be 35 years old in October and needs to recover from a broken collarbone.
Driver recently turned 36 and has now accomplished everything possible in a football uniform.
Clifton (turns 35 in June) and Tauscher (34 in June) both have aching knees and might not make it through another season.
While I fully expect all four to be back with the Packers next season, we've seen our fair share of waffling on the retirement issue in the past in Green Bay.
Keep Building Offensive Line Of Tomorrow
The Packers offensive line has good depth as it stands right now, but a lot of that same depth is getting old or might bolt in free agency.
Left tackle Chad Clifton probably has one more good year left in him, and former starting right tackle Mark Tauscher is on his last stretch of football as well.
Both Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz are free agents and if neither is retained, T.J. Lang—who can back up nearly every position—will be thrust into the starting lineup at left guard.
Scott Wells, Josh Sitton and Bryan Bulaga are really the only players on the offensive line the Packers can count on moving forward.
With the draft in April, however, the Packers will most likely look to find future starters at tackle and possibly guard.
Either way, Green Bay would be smart to continue investing in their offensive line.
Protecting Aaron Rodgers should always be priority No. 1 for the Packers and there's no better way to do that than bringing in quality linemen up front.
Resigning James Jones
While there are plenty of Packers fans who are done with James Jones dropping important passes, the fact remains that he was Green Bay's second most productive receiver this past season and is vital to the success of offense.
And even production aside, the frustrating word "potential" has to be applied to Jones.
Too many times, he's shown us flashes of the ability to be one of the NFL's better receivers and only his maddening inconsistency has really hampered that viewpoint.
Regardless of potential, there's plenty of reasons to bring Jones back.
First, it'd be very difficult for the Packers to replace his production with a rookie in the draft and they'd probably have to spend their first round pick to even get close.
Second, the way Green Bay spreads the field, the more quality receivers the better.
But finally, and maybe most importantly, Brett Swain has shown us nothing to think he's capable of taking over Jones' spot on the depth chart.
Hate him or love him—there's justifiable reasons for both—the Packers need to resign Jones this offseason.
Resigning Cullen Jenkins
There's no doubting the importance of Cullen Jenkins in the Packers' defense, but it certainly sounded like he was on his way out of Green Bay in both his own post-Super Bowl interview and coach Mike McCarthy's as well.
“I don’t know if it’s frustrating, maybe a little bit,” Jenkins told the Green Bay Press Gazette. “You see everybody else get done. Obviously, during the season you try not to think about it and put it out of your mind. … Now I can reflect on all the stuff and maybe examine on how you feel you were treated and how things went. Just the whole package."
That certainly doesn't sound like a guy who can't wait to resign with the Packers.
And then there was this from McCarthy:
"I have really enjoyed coaching Cullen. He has been an extremely productive and premier player, especially when he is healthy. I have enjoyed coaching him and hopefully we’ll see what happens."
Again, that sounds more like a goodbye than a welcome back.
And even though Jenkins is 30 years old and has an injury history, his contract demands will probably fall outside the Packers' salary structure.
With second-year defensive end Mike Neal in place and the commentary from both Jenkins and McCarthy, it's easy to hypothesize that he'll be playing elsewhere next season.
Solving The Kick and Punt Returner
The Packers have considerable depth at nearly every position on their roster, but punt and kick returner have consistently been a weak point for Green Bay.
The Packers haven't had a kick returned for a touchdown in 10 seasons (Allen Rossum, 2000), and the revolving door of Jordy Nelson, Pat Lee and James Starks hardly struck fear in the opponents' special teams.
While Sam Shields was an interesting prospect, he probably has too much value in the Packers' defense to risk throwing him into the fire.
Which reminds me...punt returner fits that same mold.
Tramon Williams is consistent and provided a few spark plays for the Packers late in the season, but he simply has far too much value on defense to risk an injury as a punt returner.
And to be quite honest, the Packers were very lucky this season he didn't suffer any kind of injury when returning punts.
With that said, Green Bay needs to target an impact player that could handle both kicks and punts.
Resigning Brandon Jackson
Brandon Jackson might garner the most unwarranted hate of any of the Packers players—including James Jones and Jarrett Bush.
Here's the knocks on him you always hear: He's a terrible runner. He'll never be a No. 1 back. He doesn't make people miss.
Well, guess what? He doesn't need to do any of those things to be an important part of the Packers offense.
He's one of the NFL's best blocking running backs and it's a skill that simply cannot be undervalued in this offense.
With how much the Packers pass, the well-being and future of the franchise—Aaron Rodgers—is in constant peril. One more concussion and he could be out of football for good.
Simply put, I don't have the trust in either James Starks, Ryan Grant or a rookie to consistently be as good in pass protection as Jackson has been.
His limitations as a runner will keep his price tag on the market low, but there isn't a team out there that would value Jackson as high as the Packers should.
Resigning Other Free Agents
Jenkins, Jones and Jackson are the Packers three biggest free agents, but there are several others on the roster who will need to be resigned.
Here's some of the more important unsigned Packers:
John Kuhn: As a crowd favorite and important special teamer, the Packers should bring him back. Kuhn shouldn't cost much and I can't imagine he wouldn't want to be back in Green Bay.
Mason Crosby: He's not the NFL's best kicker by any means, but he's a better option than bringing in an unproven rookie. Crosby's big leg is still a weapon.
Daryn Colledge: Thompson doesn't usually pay big bucks for guards, but Colledge might not demand that kind of money. It's possible the Packers are ready to move on with T.J. Lang at guard as well.
Charlie Peprah: It'll be interesting to see if Peprah gets any attention on the market as he was a solid contributor to a championship defense. However, the Packers should want him back, .
Atari Bigby: While he was good on special teams when healthy this season, the idea of Bigby contributing at safety for the Packers has run its course. He's not a guy Green Bay needs to invest in moving forward.
Deciding The Future of The Middle Linebackers
The debate between A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett will probably rule over much of the offseason.
Here's the breakdown:
Hawk's contract inflates to $10 million next season, and there's no way the Packers are going to pay him that much money.
Either the Packers and Hawk will rework his contract to something more manageable, or he'll be released and free to sign elsewhere.
However, also playing into that decision is Barnett. He'll return healthy next year from a season-ending wrist injury, but Barnett been injured in two of the last three seasons and will be 30 years old by the opening game next season.
The final piece of the puzzle is Desmond Bishop. Filling in for Barnett, Bishop finally broke out and had a terrific season that warranted the Packers resigning him for the next four seasons.
Having three solid middle linebackers isn't the worst problem in the world, but it does present the Packers a difficult choice.
Which linebacker stays and which goes?
While Barnett is more of a playmaker, Hawk is consistent and lacks an injury history.
If Hawk can agree to a more manageable contract, teaming him with Bishop—the way the Packers defense looked this season—is probably Green Bay's best bet.