Items Packers need to address

Free agency begins March 2 and the NFL draft is April 23-24. Between free agency and the draft the Green Bay Packers need to address some items as they prepare for the 2005 season.<p>

The Packers went 10-6 and won the NFC North last year, but to compete with NFC heavyweights Philadelphia and Atlanta, improvements have to occur for Green Bay. Without further adieu, here are 10 items the Packers must take care of before the NFL season kicks off in early September:

1. Quarterback situation, whether Favre retires or not. If Brett Favre plays another year, the Packers still need to address his future replacement, who is not on the roster. If Favre does retire, then the Packers better have an emergency plan to offset his loss. My thought: Trade for Peyton Manning or Michael Vick.

2. Rivera/Wahle situation. Who stays, who goes? Based on age and health, right guard Mike Wahle is the player the Packers prefer to keep. Based on future salary, the Packers prefer left guard Marco Rivera. Surely, the Packers would like to keep both, but economically that's not possible. Wahle is not a free agent, but an impending $6 million signing bonus means the Packers will release him and try to sign him. My thought: Sign Rivera. Keeping Wahle could be costly and the teams needs to invest on defense.

3. Punter situation. Is Sander the man? B.J. Sander, a third-round pick in 2004, didn't play one game, because the Packers feared he wasn't ready. Nonetheless, how many punters have ever won or lost a game? Unless he starts shanking punts, he should b good enough to play next season. If not, there are plenty of Bryan Barkers around. My thought: Sander will be fine. Past Packers punters Josh Bidwell and Craig Hentrich didn't punt well as rookies and they're doing OK now.

4. Re-signing Franks. Is he indespensible? Tight end is not an impact position with the exception of a handful of teams, so how important is Franks? Let's see, David Martin is a free agent, gets hurt and never produces. Ben Steele. Ben Steele? My thought: Re-sign Franks. He won't break the bank and without him you might as well re-sign Ed West.

5. Sherman's future. Extended or not? Coach Mike Sherman has one year left on his contract and there has not been anything made public about extending him. Yes, Sherman is 2-6 in the post-season, but the regular-season record is very good and making him a lame-duck coach next season would be a constant distraction. My thought: Extend Sherman. Now that he's not a GM, he should become a better coach.

6. Sharper's future. Is he worth his $30 million contract? The way Sharper played this past season he's not worth the minimum. He was hurt and that affected Sharper, but paying top dollar to a safety who tackles poorly is a shaky proposition. At one point he was an impact player. Now, he's average at best. My thought: Renegotiate. If he says no, let him go. Surely there will be an average safety on the market to do just the same as Sharper.

7. Defensive line. Need help desperately. Pick a position, any position along the defensive front. This unit stinks worse than stale beer. Outside of Grady Jackson, there is not another every-down player who teams respect. The Packers need to find at two defensive ends who can take the heat off Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and give the hustling Aaron Kampman a break. Let's face it, both would be better if they were not playing 70 snaps. Also a defensive tackle who can get a push to the quarterback is needed. My thought: Sign a defensive lineman in free agency and then draft a defensive lineman in the first round.

8. Trading up. Should Packers look to move up in the first round? Picking at No. 24, it's likely the Packers won't get a premier rookie, and they need one. Still, trading up doesn't guarantee a team will get a great player (see Jamal Reynolds). My thought: If Green Bay can draft a premier defensive player without giving up too much, do it.

9. Cornerback situation. Are Carroll and Thomas duds? Most say Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas stunk in 2004. Hard to argue. But imagine being a rookie cornerback playing on a defense whose line was as putrid as the Packers. If the Packers can improve in the trenches, Carroll and Thomas will make strides. My thought: Both will improve, so don't panic and pick another cornerback high in the draft.

10. Linebackers. Do they need an upgrade? This is an average group. See how many plays the Patriots' and Eagles' linebackers made during their Super Bowl runs? Packers linebackers did little in '04, some of it due to the stiffs in front of them. Still, more plays should've been made. My thought: Replace Hannibal Navies. Yes, it's a cool name, but his game is going south.

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