Green Bay bounced back from a dismal 6-10 season in 2008 with an 11-5 record and a playoff berth last year. The season was highlighted by the continued improvement of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a defense that far exceeded expectations despite switching schemes.
In his second season as a full-time starter, Rodgers put his name amongst the NFL’s elite signal callers. The quarterback ranked in the top five in nearly every statistical category, including passing yards, touchdowns and rating. He led a passing attack that averaged the seventh-highest total number of yards per game.
Under defensive coordinator Dom Capers, the Packers handled the switch to the 3-4 scheme better than anyone could’ve imagined. Led by Charles Woodson, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, the unit ranked second only to the New York Jets in total yards allowed per game.
However, a 51-45 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the wild-card round of the playoffs raised some eyebrows. A secondary that had been stingy all season long allowing the fifth-lowest total of aerial yards per game suddenly looked vulnerable, as Kurt Warner picked them apart for 379 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
Green Bay’s offseason plan thus far has been largely characterized by the retention of in-house players. The Packers tendered offers to nine restricted free agents and re-signed three of their unrestricted players. Nose tackle Ryan Pickett was franchised and signed a four-year, $28 million extension, and free safety Nick Collins was tendered at the highest level before signing the long-term deal he’d been seeking for some time. The next step is landing some quality depth in the draft for a team loading up for a potential Super Bowl run.
The Packers will make eight selections in the draft, retaining all of their draft picks as well as one compensatory selection in the fifth round. They currently hold picks No. 23, 56, 86, 122, 154, 169, 193 and 230.
The lack of depth at cornerback was exposed in the playoff loss. The team was hit especially hard by the loss of starter Al Harris, who went down with a torn ACL in late November. Restricted free agent Tramon Williams, who started in place of Harris, received a first and third-round tender and signed his offer sheet, a strong sign the team has big plans for him in the near future. But Harris’ return is uncertain and he’ll be 36 in December. Woodson had one of his best seasons last year, but he’s also aging and will be 34 in October. The Packers would be wise to invest in a talented young corner with an early pick. They’ve already met with Virginia cornerback Chris Cook, a player who could be had in the second or third round.
Safety’s another concern on the defensive side of the ball for the Packers. While Nick Collins and Atari Bigby are both above average players, there’s little depth behind them. A very deep safety class should allow Green Bay to nab a talented young player in the latter parts of the draft.
Linebacker Clay Matthews went far beyond expectations in his first season, racking up 10 sacks on his way to the Pro Bowl. However, the other side was left vacant by the departure of Aaron Kampman, who signed with Jacksonville in the offseason. Fellow rookie Brad Jones filled in opposite Matthews when Kampman went down with a knee injury, but he looks like a situational player at this point.
Green Bay struggled to keep Aaron Rodgers upright last season, allowing a league-high 51 sacks, but the offensive line played considerably better down the stretch, as 41 of those sacks came in the first nine weeks when the team registered a 5-4 record. The Packers won seven of their final eight games and yielded just 10 sacks in the process. The midseason re-signing of Mark Tauscher and the return of Chad Clifton, who missed four of the first seven games with injury, were big reasons for Green Bay’s dramatic improvement in protection. Both players were re-signed in the offseason, but Tauscher will be 33 in June and Clifton turns 34 a few days later. T.J. Lang proved to be a valuable backup as a rookie last season, but the Packers should still look to add a quality young tackle early in the draft to avoid a mess like last season.
At running back, Ryan Grant rushed for career-highs of 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns, but the lack of depth behind him is a glaring hole. Current backup Brandon Jackson averaged just 3.0 yards per carry while rushing for 111 yards and two scores. The team even grabbed Ahman Green off the scrap heap midway through the season to add depth. Green Bay should add a quality backup tailback at some point in the draft.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: DT Ryan Pickett (franchised at $7.003 million, signed extension for four years at $28 million)
TRANSITION PLAYER: None
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: T Chad Clifton (re-signed for three years at $20 million), RB Ahman Green (was not re-signed), LB Aaron Kampman (was not re-signed, signed with Jacksonville), DT Ryan Pickett (franchised), T Mark Tauscher (re-signed for two years)
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: FS Nick Collins (received first and third-round tenders at $3.35 million and signed offer sheet before signing extension for three years at $23.4 million), CB Tramon Williams (received a first and third-round tender at $3.043 million), SS Atari Bigby (received second-round tender at $1.759 million), DE Johnny Jolly (received first-round tender at $2.521 million), OG Jason Spitz (received second-round tender at $1.759 million and signed offer sheet), OG Daryn Colledge (received second-round tender at $1.759 million), CB Will Blackmon (received original-round tender at $1.176 million and signed offer sheet), FB John Kuhn (received right of first refusal tender at $1.176 million), S Derrick Martin (re-signed for two years) RB DeShawn Wynn (was not tendered)
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: TE Spencer Havner (received one-year tender and signed), P Jeremy Kapinos (was not tendered)
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: DT Ryan Pickett, T Chad Clifton, T Mark Tauscher, FS Nick Collins, OG Jason Spitz, CB Will Blackmon, S Derrick Martin, TE Spencer Havner
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: WR Charles Dillon, P Chris Bryan, CB D.J. Clark, TE Tom Crabtree, G Stanley Daniels, LB Robert Francois, WR Kahlil Jones, RB Kregg Lumpkin, QB Chris Pizzotti, DE Ronald Talley, P Tim Masthay
PLAYERS LOST: S Matt Giordano, DE Michael Montgomery, RB Ahman Green, LB Aaron Kampman, RB DeShawn Wynn, P Jeremy Kapinos
OFFENSIVE TACKLE — The offensive line was in disarray before Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton solidified the two tackle spots midway through the year. The two were rewarded for their efforts with multi-year extensions. Still, both players have endured injuries throughout their careers, and there’s no telling how long they’ll last. Clifton will be 34 in June, and Tauscher will turn 33 that same month. Green Bay should look for a young offensive tackle early in the draft.
CORNERBACK — The Packers’ lack of depth at cornerback was exposed when Kurt Warner shredded them in the wild card round of the playoffs. The team lost Al Harris, Pat Lee and Will Blackmon to injuries. Harris was a starter, but suffered a torn ACL in late November. It’s unclear as to when he’ll be able to return. He’s 35 years old anyways and is nearing the end. Charles Woodson was one of the best players in the NFL last season, but he’ll be 34 by the time the season starts. Green Bay should look to add another cornerback in the earlier portion of the draft. Aside from Virginia’s Chris Cook, the team’s also brought South Florida’s Jerome Murphy in for a visit.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER — Aaron Kampman wasn’t the best fit in the 3-4 scheme and departed for Jacksonville in the offseason. Rookie Brad Jones filled in when Kampman went down with an injury in Week 11 and had decent success. Still, he looks too limited to be a full-time starter. The Packers can pick from a deep class of hybrid edge-rushing linebackers to fill this need.
RUNNING BACK – There’s little behind Grant, plain and simple. Backups Brandon Jackson and Ahman Green combined to rush for 271 yards and three touchdowns while averaging a little over 3.4 yards per carry. A quality backup who can spell Grant is a desperate need.
FREE SAFETY — Derrick Martin and Kahlil Jones are the only backups to Atari Bigby and Nick Collins. Martin’s decent, but Jones is a long shot to even make the roster. Green Bay needs to add more depth to the position, and a deep safety class should allow them to do so.
PUNTER – Jeremy Kapinos tied for the second-worst mark in the NFL last season with a 34.1 net average. The team already acquired Chris Bryan and Tim Masthay in the offseason, but could look to add another punter late in the draft.