The 2012 NFL season is now over and every team but the Baltimore Ravens is disappointed with the way its season ended, especially the Green Bay Packers, who have strong aspirations of winning the Super Bowl these days with Aaron Rodgers under center.
With the offseason upon us, the Packers and general manager Ted Thompson are now approaching free agency and the draft — two aspects of the game in which Thompson has proven to be more than capable.
This offseason presents a lot of challenges for the GM with a number of big-name free agents and expiring contracts to address.
Although Green Bay will have to make a lot of future-defining decisions come the next few months, fans of the green and gold should feel comfortable putting the team’s fate in Thompson’s hands by now.
Attempting to predict the moves Thompson will make this off-season would prove to be futile. The general manager has time and time again baffled Packers fans by making moves that, at the moment, seem ridiculous but then turn out to be a genius play, à la Jordy Nelson. Who saw that coming?
I, instead, will try to make sense of Green Bay’s roster situation and decide which free agency moves and draft picks would make the most sense for the defending NFC North champions.
As far as money goes, the Packers are $5.8 million under the salary cap right now, giving them a little bit of wiggle room when free agency starts March 12.
Green Bay will be looking to re-sign Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews to new contracts this offseason since Matthews is entering the last season of his current contract and Rodgers has two years left on his.
After the Packers take care of Matthews and Rodgers, they will have to focus on choosing which of their free agents to sign.
The Packers have a number of notable free agents this year including Greg Jennings, Sam Shields, Cedric Benson and Evan Dietrich-Smith, all of whom were starters in 2012.
Of these players, Greg Jennings will be the most likely to suit up for another team next season. Jennings is one of the top wide receivers on the free agent market right now and will undoubtedly be courted by a number of teams searching for a No. 1 option at receiver despite his injury problems in 2012.
With the possibility of releasing Charles Woodson because of a $2.5 million roster bonus he is due in July, re-signing Shields — who had a solid season in 2012 with five interceptions, including two picks in the playoffs — is a must for the shaky Green Bay secondary.
Benson should be relatively cheap considering he is coming off an injury, and, at 30 years old, his veteran experience will be needed in the mix of the inexperienced Green Bay backfield.
Dietrich-Smith will need to be signed to keep depth on the offensive line. Sure, he struggled at times during the season, but he also played out of position for most of 2012 while filling in for Jeff Saturday at center.
There are also a number of big names on the free agent market in 2013 who will make for an interesting off-season. If I know Thompson like I think I do, don’t expect any sexy pickups over the spring. Green Bay has made their living off the draft over the past five or so years, picking up players like Matthews, Rodgers, Nelson, Randall Cobb…you get the point.
The Packers’ biggest positional needs to be addressed in this year’s draft are offensive linemen (as usual), defensive tackle, running back, defensive back and tight end.
Barring a trade, Green Bay will have to wait until the 26th pick to draft their No. 1 choice. The Packers could do a number of things with this late selection in the first round. In his mock draft, Mel Kiper Jr. has Green Bay picking Alabama running back Eddie Lacey in the first round. I think this would be a solid pick, but if the Packers re-sign Benson, and with the emergence of Dujuan Harris last season, they might be better served to draft a running back in a later round.
I think Thompson has two ways he can go with the first pick. First, he could draft Alabama center and Outland Trophy (awarded to the college football’s top lineman) winner Barrett Jones. Jones could be a fantastic addition to the unstable Green Bay offensive line and become the anchor of the unit for years to come. Sure, Wisconsin’s Travis Fredrick is ranked higher than Jones among centers, but Jones has played three different positions on Alabama’s line, which makes him versatile — a key attribute on a Packers’ line that is always shuffling its players.
Another viable option for a first round pick would be a tight end. There have been rumors of the Packers releasing starting tight end Jermichael Finley because he is due a $4.5 million roster bonus in March and struggles to catch the ball. If Green Bay does drop Finley, the Packers would need to address this position in the draft.
There are two first-round quality tight ends the Packers could pick up with the 26th pick: Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert or Stanford’s Zach Ertz. Both players are 6-foot-6 and can catch the ball. In his four-year career with the Golden Domers, Eifert snagged 11 touchdowns and compiled 1840 receiving yards. Ertz caught 16 touchdowns over his career and had 1434 receiving yards.
Like I said earlier, it’s impossible to know who the Packers will draft, but if I was in the war room in April, I would pick Jones in the first round.
Whatever Thompson ends up doing this offseason, I am more than confident he will lead Green Bay in the right direction.
Spencer Smith is a senior majoring in journalism. Have a different idea of where Thompson might be headed in the free agent market or on the draft board? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sj_smith23