No different than any other offseason, general manager Ted Thompson faces a critical couple of months in trying to get his team back in possession of the Lombardi Trophy.
Here is a primer to the offseason:
First, the good news: The Packers are squarely in the middle of the pack in terms of available cap space. With almost $8 million of unused cap space rolled over into the next league-year, Green Bay has about $35.72 million of cap space (based on a projected league salary cap of $168 million), according to OverTheCap.com. Assuming the Packers release cornerback Sam Shields, that number would rise to $44.72 million. That would be the 12th-most cap space.
Now, the bad news: No team has fewer players under contract than the Packers heading into 2017, according to OverTheCap. So, not only must Thompson improve the roster. He must fill out the roster.
Key free agents
Green Bay has 10 unrestricted free agents and a total of 12. (The full list is below.) That list includes eight players who started at least four games this season: tight end Jared Cook, running back Eddie Lacy and offensive linemen T.J. Lang and J.C. Tretter on offense, and outside linebackers Nick Perry, Julius Peppers and Datone Jones and defensive back Micah Hyde on defense.
What will Thompson do with Lang, who will turn 30 in September and battled through a lengthy list of injuries to earn his first Pro Bowl selection? He is sure to get a big payday, but will it be in Green Bay? How much money did Cook earn down the stretch, and will the price soar out of Thompson’s range? He caught 31 passes during his final five games. Is it worth bringing back Lacy if the price is right to form a tandem with Ty Montgomery? He rushed for 360 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry in his five games.
Perry had a total of 12 sacks, including four in five games after breaking his hand. When healthy, he’s been a force. But injuries are an ever-present part of his story. At age 37, it’s obvious Peppers is past his prime. But he did have 8.5 sacks in 19 games. If the price is right, should he be asked back for another season? Jones has been a disappointment as the first-round pick in 2013 but he led the team in quarterback hits. He isn’t worth a big payday but he could be a valuable contributor at the right price. The versatile Hyde had four interceptions in his last six games. That certainly didn’t diminish Hyde’s earning potential. Given his athletic flaws, it will be interesting to see how he’s valued around the league.
Top areas of need
Obviously, this is subject to change based on who stays and who goes. But here’s one man’s opinion on what should be atop Thompson’s to-do list in free agency and the draft.
1. Find a starting cornerback. Or two. Duh, right? Maybe Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins will get healthy and take a big leap forward. But “maybe” isn’t good enough.
2. Re-sign Cook. Or use the franchise tag — $9.118 million last year — to buy time to work out an extension.
3. Convince Lang that a two-year deal here is worth more than a four-year deal elsewhere. There are no other starting-guard candidates on the roster.
4. Find an impact player or two at outside linebacker. Clay Matthews looks like a declining player, Peppers, Perry and Jones are free agents, and Kyler Fackrell didn’t do anything as a rookie. Winning in today’s NFL depends on covering receivers and pressuring quarterbacks. The Packers weren’t good in either department this year.
5. Sign Lacy. The price tag shouldn’t be too extravagant, and his all-around play makes him a far better option than fellow free agent Christine Michael, who is a nonfactor in the passing game.
Free agents on offense
OL Don Barclay
TE Jared Cook
RB Eddie Lacy
G T.J. Lang
RB Christine Michael
C J.C. Tretter
Free agents on defense
DB Micah Hyde
OLB Datone Jones
OLB Julius Peppers
OLB Nick Perry
OLB Jayrone Elliott (restricted)
ILB Jordan Tripp (restricted)
Free agents on special teams
LS Brett Goode
P Jacob Schum (exclusive rights)
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.