The Falcons seemed to be the team that would give the Green Bay Packers the most problems in the playoffs, and all the weaknesses for the Green and Gold was exploited.
As the dust settles from the blowout loss, I think it’s apparent 2016 was a success, but there is a lot of work to be done to make the Packers a legitimate Super Bowl contender for 2017.
Thanks in large part to the Josh Sitton move, the Packers are able to roll over $8 million in cap room to the 2017 cap. The cap hasn’t been officially set, but the Packers are likely to have around $37 million to work with. That number seems like a lot, but you will also have to factor in resigning free agents.
There are also some potential moves the team could make to clear more room. Cutting Sam Shields would gain the team $9 million in cap room. If Shields were to retire, they would actually get all $12.125 million back on the cap, but Shields has indicated he would like to try to play. Cutting James Starks could net the Packers $3 million, and should be a no brainer. The most controversial move would be cutting Clay Matthews. CM3 is due $15.2 million for 2017, and would gain the Packers $11.1 million in cap space. With declining production, and constant injury risk, it would be worth consideration.
If the Packers cut Matthews, Shields, and Starks they would around $59 million in cap space, and could be major players in free agency.
Packers Free Agents
The Packers have a large free agency class, so I’m going to try to divide them into categories:
The Restricted Free Agents
These are the players who will likely be back if the Packers extend free agent tenders to them (most with minimal costs):
Geronimo Allison, Don Jackson, Christian Ringo, Joe Thomas, Jayrone Elliott, Jordan Tripp, Jacob Schum
The Unrestricted Free Agents
Micah Hyde – Hyde is going to cash in on the playoff push. While I’m not a huge fan of Hyde’s, his versatility is worth keeping around. I think they resign him.
Jared Cook – The Packers want Cook, and Cook wants the Packers. This deal will get done quickly.
TJ Lang – On Sunday morning, I would have said it was a sure thing. After the foot injury, I’m not so sure. Lang could be let go or signed to a “prove it” deal.
JT Tretter – I think Tretter’s future it tied to Lang. The Packers probably only keep one of TJ or JT.
Nick Perry – A two-handed Nick Perry is probably getting elite pass rusher money. He finished the year on a down note, but this is a contract the Packers have to get done.
Julius Peppers – If Peppers wants to play another year, the Packers would love to have him back (at a greatly reduced cost).
Eddie Lacy – Lacy would have to sign a one year deal with incentives for weight and performance. If healthy and in shape, a tandem of Lacy and Montgomery would be one of the best in the league.
Other guys – Datone Jones, Brett Goode, Christine Michael, and Don Barclay. Jones, Barclay, and Goode can come back if they’re cheap, but I’m sick of Michael not knowing the playbook and dancing around.
NFL Free Agents
We all know how unlikely it is that the Packers would delve into the Free Agent market in the past, but there’s always the hope that things will change. Oftentimes, the most attractive free agents are the ones that are still on other teams rosters, and get cut after the offseason begins. However, we’ll take a look at who we know will be available:
CB AJ Bouye – The Texans corner is going to be expensive. At 26 years old, he emerged into a true number 1 cover guy, and has some similar physical characteristics as Josh Norman. This would be the ultimate move away from the Packers typical mode of operation, but his salary may end up being the equivalent of what Sam Shields would have made.
DL Kawann Short – The Panthers DT is another high-priced option. Daniels and Short would control the middle of the field, improve the Packers run stopping, and give them two fearsome interior pass rushers.
CB Stephon Gilmore – He was considered one of the best young CBs in the game until an injury in 2015. He took a huge step back this season, while recovering from the injury and dealing with constant contract distractions. Gilmore won’t have as high a price tag as Bouye, but would represent a considerably higher risk. However, he’s still only 26, he’s big, fast, physical, and has been highly successful in the past.
Other options: CB Dre Kirkpatrick, CB Prince Amukamara, ILB Zach Brown, OLB Jarvis Jones, DL Nick Fairley, S/LB DJ Swearinger, ILB Kevin Minter, ILB Gerald Hodges, ILB Sean Spence.
I’m going to be hitting the draft stories pretty hard in a few weeks, so I’ll save you all the names until after the Senior Bowl. The Packers will be picking 29th in the 1st round and have all their original draft picks in rounds 1-7.
The are likely to add a 5th round compensatory pick for Casey Hayward, and would have an outside chance at getting a 7th rounder for Scott Tolzien.
The needs appear to be Cornerback, pass rush, Cornerback, offensive line, Cornerback, a young Tight End, and Cornerback. Free agency could affect that needs list, but this is a draft that looks to be deep at CB.
Ted Thompson’s decision will likely be the biggest story of the Packer’s offseason. If Ted decides to retire or step down from his GM role, Eliot Wolf, Brian Gutekunst, and some former Packer front office folks (John Dorsey) will be thrust into the candidate pool. A change at General Manager could see a new way of thinking about free agency and acquiring talent.
Dom Capers will also be a hot topic. It’s unlikely Capers would be let go after salvaging a NFC Championship run out of a M.A.S.H. unit, but he’s reached an age where retirement is a question every year. The search for a D-Coordinator would certainly be an interesting one.
While Sunday was certainly a disappointment, the end of the season gives us all a great chance to reflect. When people are ready to move on from 2016, the offseason brings exciting opportunities, and a chance for hope for a new year. The Packers will certainly look a lot different when 2017 kicks off, and they will hopefully be a lot better on the defensive end.
Go Pack Go!Andrew Mertig is a a lifelong Packers fan and draft enthusiast. He has covered the NFL draft for radio and television stations in Green Bay. He is currently a host of the Pack-A-Day podcast and a writer for PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter @andrewmertig