Mason Crosby’s new contract eliminated a potentially unwanted headache for the Green Bay Packers headed into the personnel-building portion of the offseason.
By re-signing the kicker to a reported four-year deal, the Packers will not have to worry about
replacing a key part of their special teams, which was much improved as a whole in 2015. Add in the signing of Mike Daniels in December and the Packers crossed off arguably their top two free agents before the open signing period even began.
Of course, there is more work to be done. Outside of the obvious needs on paper – at inside linebacker, outside linebacker and tight end – there are secondary needs for the Packers festering. Here is a quick look at some of those.
Eddie Lacy, entering the final year of his rookie contract, is the big wild card headed into the 2016 season. Should he come into training camp in better shape and return to form, the Packers should be fine. If not, the running back spot could be an unexpected issue. Lacy and James Starks have been a solid one-two punch over the past three years but that could change. Starks is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and his departure would leave the Packers scrambling for running backs. Not counting fullbacks John Kuhn and Aaron Ripkowski, John Crockett – a 2015 rookie free agent – is the only other pure running back on the roster. The Packers re-signed Starks in 2014, coming off his rookie contract, to a modest two-year, $3.25 million deal. He was coming off a career-best season at the time yet failed to hit it big on the open free agent market. Starks turned 30 on Feb. 25 yet has just 676 career carries (just more than 112 per season).
The Packers have one of the best cover corners in the league, Sam Shields, locked up for the next two seasons. After that, the Packers have some depth, but not necessarily anyone suited to handle the league’s dynamic playmakers along the sideline. Free-agent-to-be Casey Hayward gave it a shot this past season and eventually settled back into more coverage of slot receivers. That gave Damarious Randall a chance and the rookie performed well considered he came into the league as a safety. Randall has coverage ability but his style and speed limitations may project better long-term in the slot. Fellow rookie Quinten Rollins spent most of his first year in the slot and showed play-making ability there. Demetri Goodson also returns, and depending on how the Packers feel about sleepers Ladarius Gunter and Robertson Daniel (both 2015 rookie free agents) that might determine how they approach the outside cornerback spot.
The Packers have had a good run with the starting five along the offensive line and figure to again in 2016. All five starters return so there is no apparent immediate need. But dig deeper and the Packers might have to address their guard and tackle spots for not only depth, but also starting spots a year from now. It would seem unlikely that David Bakhtiari, T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton – headed into the final years of their contracts – all would be back in 2017. Sitton, 29, and Lang, 28, will have the eighth- and ninth-highest cap charges, respectively, for the Packers in 2016. They are cornerstones of the team. Bakhtiari, 24, would probably be a priority, however, because of age. Either way, the Packers will have some decisions to make. And with no apparent backups ready to step into a starting role – other than maybe J.C. Tretter, who at one time was pegged to be the starter at center – the Packers might want to start thinking about their offensive line. General manager Ted Thompson has used the draft to select at least one offensive lineman every year except 2015.
Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org