It’s a simple question, really. Are the Green Bay Packers, as of right now, a better team than the one that walked off of Lambeau Field after the loss in the playoffs to the 49ers or not? BJ Raji, James Starks, Sam Shields, Chris Banjo, Mike Neal, Andrew Quarless and Jamari Lattimore have been retained. Julius Peppers of the Bears and Letroy Guion of the Vikings have been added. Free agent losses include Evan Dietrich-Smith, James Jones, and M.D. Jennings (kinda). As the Packers sit now, without any other additions or subtractions are they an improved team from last season. The team certanily needs to improve. It’s not a team that with it’s current deficiencies can win a title.
I think the answer is yes, and I honestly don’t think it’s all that close. The reason that I think the answer is yes is very simply health. I think that despite the loss of EDS, the offensive line will improve with a year of growth from David Bakhtiari, the return of Bryan Bulaga and the last chance for Derek Sherrod. As mean as it is to say it, losing M.D. Jennings will undoubtedly result in addition by subtraction. The receiving corps will be fine. I really did appreciate James Jones . I think that he was worth every penny that Oakland paid him. The Packers just have a younger version of Jones already on the team in Jarrett Boykin. Boykin is yet another undrafted find for GM Ted Thompson, joining Sam Shields and Tramon Williams as effective contributors. Depth will be built as it always is, through organic player acquisition.
The retentions worry some. They don’t worry me. Packers fans fear some of the retentions as an acceptance of a status quo that has resulted in 3 years of Aaron Rodgers’ career being “wasted” without titles. The bottom line is that BJ Raji is coming back for a price that you just can’t pay starting quality nose tackles. As a defensive end he is subpar, but the last time he played nose he was one of the finest at the position. Mike Neal and James Starks are ascending players who might finally be healthy and Sam Shields has the tools to be the number one corner the Packers have been seeking since Tramon Williams hurt his shoulder. Sam Shields’ deal was the only contract given out where the argument could even be made that it wasn’t a team-friendly deal, and that’s saying something.
It’s the addition of Julius Peppers that excites me. I completely understand that Peppers had a bad season last year. I get that he’s now 34 years old and it would be very rare that a player in his age range would get better as opposed to continuing to decline. The thing is, I don’t really care. I think that the Packers can reduce his snap count from the 80% or so that he was playing for Chicago down to 50-55% and increase his effectiveness. I also think that pairing him with an Aaron Rodgers led offense could give him more motivation. Some belief that the team is capable of winning a title might keep him more interested in the game and more effective. All of these things might happen, but to me it’s not as important as the message. The message is that what was going on defensively is not OK. The talk from Mike McCarthy about becoming more multiple (like Super Bowl participants Denver and Seattle) may not just be coachspeak. The way that the team would have to use Peppers gives credence to the idea that they’re willing to make a change. His signing in itself would shows that the team is committed to change. I understand that the team won a Super Bowl AND had a 15-1 season doing it “Ted’s way”. They’re still doing it “Ted’s way” it’s just evolving.