Lengthy To-Do List Upon Thompson's Desk

Chances are Greg Jennings packed up his personal belongings for the last time. Perhaps the same is true for Jermichael Finley. The defense, while improved, still doesn't measure up. With trouble spots on both sides of the ball, the challenge this offseason is bigger than last offseason.

The Green Bay Packers face a vital offseason.

The same can be said following most seasons, but it seems particularly true following Saturday night's 45-31 thumping at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers.

The loss marked the second consecutive year in which the season ended in the divisional round. After last year's loss to the Giants, the fixes were straight-forward. The offense was record-setting good and the defense was record-setting bad, so the draft was focused on overhauling the defensive side of the ball.

Saturday night's loss, however, leaves the Packers in a pickle. There might be more holes to fill than there are prime draft picks to fill the voids.

On Sunday, receiver Greg Jennings made reporters wait as he removed pictures of his family that were taped to his locker. Perhaps the timing was just a coincidence, but the message was clear: Jennings' will be playing elsewhere in 2013.

The Packers' way under general manager Ted Thompson has been to sign his core players to contract extensions before they reach free agency. No deal was struck with Jennings, who will turn 30 on Sept. 21. Jennings, while using language much more civil and even-toned than his sister during her Twitter rant a couple weeks ago, sounded very much like a player who is ready to begin a new chapter in his career.

"I'll definitely be in touch with these guys throughout my career," Jennings said. "That's the one thing that you take away from it. Everything else just kind of falls to the wayside a bit, which is unfortunate. But you build relationships, long-standing relationships, and you establish them for after football.

If Jennings leaves, the second big decision must be made on tight end Jermichael Finley. As part of the two-year, $14 million contract he signed in February, Finley is due a $3.5 million roster bonus on March 15 and a base salary of $4.45 million for 2013.

Finley has been inconsistent and outspoken, and his agent — as was the case with Jennings' sister — took to Twitter to criticize quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Still, he finished with 64 receptions for 667 yards. He impressed the coaching staff with his toughness playing through a severe shoulder injury, and he mended some fences with Rodgers to regain his quarterback's trust.

"Hopefully, I'm here forever," he said. "I'm good for next year, as far as I know."

Look at it like this: Assuming Jennings leaves and Donald Driver is released or retires, the Packers' receiving corps would be made up of Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin and Jeremy Ross. That's not exactly a fearsome group behind the top three on that list. If Finley is viewed as too much trouble, the passing game would be severely short-handed.

Without Jennings, the Packers probably will have to use a premium pick on a receiver. Without Finley, they'd probably have to do the same at tight end. And that hasn't addressed the offensive line and backfield.

Nor has it addressed the defense. The Packers rose from 19th in points allowed and 32nd in yards allowed to 11th in both categories. None of that meant a thing against Colin Kaepernick.

The jury is out on this year's first-round pick, outside linebacker Nick Perry, who missed the final 10 games with a torn ACL. In his place, Erik Walden was maddeningly inconsistent and Dezman Moses wasn't consistently good enough to stay in the lineup. At inside linebacker, the game has evolved so quickly in the last couple of years that A.J. Hawk has gone from solid starter to a dinosaur because he just can't win one-on-one matchups in space. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers did a masterful job in hiding those limitations all season but Hawk was beaten for a 44-yard completion to tight end Vernon Davis on the last play of the third quarter to set up the clinching score.

Outside of Clay Matthews and, perhaps, Casey Hayward, the defense doesn't have enough players who can make game-changing plays. The defense forced just eight fumbles. The NFL might be cracking down on illegal hits but that doesn't mean it's illegal to have a hitter — someone offenses must fear. Maybe that's safety Jerron McMillian, this year's fourth-round pick. A healthy and hungry Desmond Bishop would help, too.

Receiver, tight end, offensive line, inside linebacker and safety. And that's just the starting point. The odds of filling even one of those spots with a premier player with the 26th pick of the first round isn't great.

Thompson has a lot of work to do to even keep up with ascending NFC powers San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta and Washington. That work starts when Senior Bowl practices begin next Monday.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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