After four long, arduous months of court appeals, antitrust cases and weeks upon weeks of negotiations, it would appear that a new CBA deal is finally within sight. Once the final details have been hammered out by the legal systems and the deal is signed, sealed, and delivered, free agency will be open once again, and training camp season will be right around the corner.
Everyone can see that with such a shorter window for free agency, there will be an immediate flurry among the 32 teams to retain their most important free agents as well as pick up a few key pieces that the NFL Draft was unable to satisfy.
In this case, Green Bay will be one of the rare teams that truly need to delve into the free agent market to address any missing pieces. The Packers are still in a prime position to good things, even in a locked out 2011 offseason with no OTAs or mini-camps.
But, the Packers do have key needs they must address in free agency. While there is talk of who should be kept, there are actually plenty of reasons that some of these free agents should be put onto the open market and get a fresh start elsewhere.
Signed near the middle of the season due to injuries to linebackers Brandon Chillar and Nick Barnett, Wilhelm was merely a special teams player and made little contributions on defense, and if he was offered a contract, would need to have a big showing to even earn another spot. And with the drafting of a linebacker in the sixth round in DJ Smith, Wilhelm should not even be re-signed for special teams.
Perhaps one of the most injury riddled Packer players next to Justin Harrell, Bigby was gradually demoted from starting safety to back-up safety to the inactive list as the season progressed. Having been beat out by both third-round pick Morgan Burnett and later Charlie Peprah, Bigby was then stamped out when Anthony Smith was re-signed when Burnett went down.
Now, heading into a year as an unrestricted free agent, the Packers are more loaded at safety with Peprah, Burnett, and the versatility of Jarrett Bush, Carlie Woodson, and the possible addition of Anthony Levine to the roster.
Jason Spitz, who has been a member of the Pack for some time, has struggled with inconsistencies and injuries the last couple of seasons. Since his surgery in 2008, Spitz has never quite been the same, and hasn't been able to see much of the field at either the guard or the center position, which Scott Wells won back and hasn't relinquished it since 2009.
Now, with an improved offensive line in 2010 and a gradually improving one with the addition of first round tackle Derrok Sherrod and the growth of 2010 first-rounder Bryan Bulaga, the Packers seemed to have locked up their future tackles for quite some time, and now must improve the interior.
With the underrated TJ Lang and Nick McDonald likely competing for the left guard spot, and Josh Sitton manning the right guard spot, there's no longer any means to keep Spitz around, especially since McDonald can play both guard and center, while Lang can play either tackle position and the guard positions.
As was the case with Spitz, Colledge has seen his play decline since 2008, and has been inconsistent in the running game. Now that he is a restricted free agent, it would appear the Packers are ready to continue preparing as though he wont be there, with the drafting of Caleb Schlauderaff in the sixth round, coupled with TJ Lang, Bryan Bulaga, and Nick McDonald's abilities to play left guard, it's simply too crowded for him to make an impact.
Colledge's lack of versatility on the offensive line, evidenced by his failed attempts at left tackle against the Vikings in 2009, aren't in his favor either. Expect Colledge to be picked up elsewhere and donning a different uniform for 2011.
A converted fullback, Hall came in as a linebacker back in 2006, but has gradually seen decreased time as Aaron Rodgers came onto the scene, and the Packers saw more production out of Kuhn, while simultaneously giving the big, bruising Quinn Johnson opportunities in the power running game. Hall has simply become a special teamer in all aspects.
But, with the Packers keeping three fullbacks the last two seasons, and keeping four tight ends last year, Green Bay simply won't have room, and they must decide whether they keep one or two fullbacks.
While it appears that they haven't given up on Johnson yet, and Kuhn's invaluable versatile ability between running back and fullback, Hall is simply the odd man out. And with the Packers having a crowd at tight end, they may keep more tight ends than normal. But Hall's inability to see the field at times, coupled with nagging injuries, hits the the open market and doesn't re-sign with the Packers.
After Ryan Grant went down, back-up running back Brandon Jackson had yet another opportunity to lead the Packers' ground game and get the starting role he has always wanted.
What Jackson did, however, was under achieve and never really provide a boost to the Packers running game. And it wasn't until James Starks hit his stride in the playoffs that the Packers got some form of a running game again.
Since he was drafted in 2007, Jackson has made his living as a Green Bay Packer as an underrated receiver out of the backfield, and has done a good job in pass protection, and is the primary third down back for the Packers. But he has never fully developed as a back who can be trusted to make too many plays between the tackles.
Despite the Packers offering him a tender before the lockout, it may appear that they are moving on and letting Jackson hit the free market. With the drafting of running back Alex Green in the third round of the NFL Draft, the emergence of James Starks, and the return of Ryan Grant, Jackson is likely to become the third-down back for a different NFL franchise come September.
One of the biggest free agent decisions is wide receiver James Jones.
Taken in the third round of the NFL Draft in 2007, Jones burst onto the scene early in his rookie year, tacking in almost 700 receiving yards. He wouldn't come close to 700 receiving until 2010, and was plagued by drops all the while.
This is perhaps the most interesting of free agents the Packers are likely to let walk. Despite his consistent drops, Jones was a reliable target in the playoffs, and, along with Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings, made the Green Bay receiving corps that much more dangerous.
Now, as is the case with all of these free agents, the Packers appear to be preparing for the offense without James Jones. They drafted the versatile. receiver Randall Cobb, who, while he returns kicks early on, will develop more as the reliable slot receiver, and since he was drafted second round, the Packers are surely looking for an impact on offense as well.
James Jones will definitely attract some interesting attention on the open market, and he will opt to leave the Packers for starting money, which he has a good chance of getting from a different team.
John Kuhn - The 2010 folk hero of Green Bay, Kuhn's versatility, durability, and overall skill sets were essential throughout the season, and he became an important aspect in the Packer offense. While it shouldn't cost too much to bring Kuhn back, The Packers should not let him hit the free market.
Mason Crosby - Despite some of Crosby's inconsistencies, he is one of the better kickers in the NFL, and as it's getting harder to find good kickers, Crosby's strong leg keeps him around in Green Bay unless they bring in competition.
Cullen Jenkins - At this point it's a long shot, but Cullen Jenkins was an integral part of a Packers defensive line decimated by injuries. It's a very good thing to hear a 3-4 defensive end get seven sacks having to face consistent double teams. While rumors are going around that the Redskins are pretty interested in Jenkins' services, the Packers need to at least offer him a contract.