A look to the future

PackerReport.com's Bob Fox gives his opinion of what the Green Bay Packers should do in free agency and the NFL draft during the off-season.

The Green Bay Packers' 2006 season has been an up and down year, which is to be expected with the youngest team in the NFL. At 5-8, the Packers have a chance to finish the season strong and perhaps (gulp) make the playoffs with a few breaks.

For the Packers to make the playoffs, they would need to run the table and finish at 8-8 and hope some other wild card contenders lose at the appropriate time. This would mean beating the Lions and Vikings at home in back to back weeks, and then beating the Bears in Chicago, who will most likely be resting starters preparing for the playoffs.

The Packers are an embarrassing 1-5 at Lambeau Field this year, so the time is NOW to start regaining that home field advantage. The Packers were 80-15 at home from 1992-2003, but since 2004, they have been very flat at home going 8-14. That trend needs to turn around now. The next three games will determine the future of many of the current Packers, whether the team makes the playoffs or not.

Speaking of the future, what do the Packers need to do to get to the next level in terms of success? General Manager Ted Thompson has plenty of money available under the salary cap going into 2007. The Packers currently are $29.5 million below the cap. Thompson will need to determine what free agents he wants back on the club and also what players he wants to tie up to long term deals.

Thompson will have a difficult choice with Ahman Green for instance. Green has had a solid year coming back from a serious injury, but he is up there in running back mileage and is definitely not the back he was three or four years ago.

David Martin has the best potential among the tight ends on the roster and he has once again flashed great ability, but he again showed that he is injury prone. Green and Martin are unrestricted free agents.

A restricted free agent the Packers may take a long look at is Cullen Jenkins. Jenkins may have taken over for Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila for good at defensive end. KGB is a definite possibility as a salary cap casualty this off-season. One player the Packers need to extend a contract extension to is Nick Barnett. Al Harris may get his deal reworked as well.

In terms of adding talent through free agency, Thompson will have some choices. He did pretty well in 2006 with the additions of Ryan Pickett and Charles Woodson. Pickett may have been the Packers' most consistent defensive player, while Woodson may be going to the Pro Bowl because of his fine season thus far. Thompson missed the mark with Marquand Manuel, however. There have been numerous communication breakdowns in the secondary and Manuel is the quarterback back there. Plus, his lack of speed is alarming.

Two players stick out in my mind in terms of potential free agent acquisitions. One would be outside linebacker Lance Briggs of the Bears and safety Ken Hamlin of the Seahawks.

The addition of Briggs would give the Packers the best set of linebackers in the NFL, bar none. Briggs is also a playmaker and his addition would also significantly weaken the Packers biggest arch-rival. Thompson is very familiar with Hamlin, as he drafted him for the Seahawks a few years back. Hamlin brings nice size and speed and delivers a punch. Both Briggs and Hamlin are young, as each will be 26 years old going into the 2007 season.

But the NFL draft is where the real foundation of the Packers will be set. Thompson has done an excellent job here in his two years as Packers GM, especially this last draft. The 2006 draft class has given the team five rookie starters in A.J. Hawk, Greg Jennings, Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz and Tony Moll. Hawk has a chance to go to the Pro Bowl. The others have been very solid, considering the learning curve that is expected out of players at their respective positions.

So, what will the 2007 NFL draft class bring? The Packers have needs in many areas. More depth is needed at WR, RB, FB, OT, DE, S and CB. Some say the Packers should look at the QB position, but I feel strongly that Brett Favre will definitely return in 2007 as this team continues to grow. The Packers are ready to take the next step and Favre will play a big part in that renaissance. Favre may not be the player he once was, but he still has plenty left in the gas tank. Favre wants to go out a winner and the future looks bright. I also believe that Aaron Rodgers still has a fine future.

The Packers will probably pick anywhere from somewhat early in the first round to the middle of the first, depending on how they finish the 2006 season. Players that may fall into that area include wide receiver Ted Ginn of Ohio State who is also an explosive returner, running back Marshawn Lynch of California, safety LaRon Landry of LSU, safety Reggie Nelson of Florida, cornerback Leon Hall of Michigan and defensive end Gaines Adams of Clemson. If Thompson can add to the Packer talent level in 2007 like he did in 2006, then the Packers will be in fine shape. Success in the future will depend on it.

Bob Fox is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at greenbaybob@hotmail.com.

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