The Green Bay Packers won the NFC North and advanced to the conference's championship game. But that doesn't mean there's room for improvement and of course there are holes to fill. FOX Sports Wisconsin tackles some of the pressing questions for Green Bay this offseason.
USA TODAY SportsJohn David Mercer
Who will be the running backs?
Green Bay began the year with a running back trio of Eddie Lacy (left), James Starks (second from left) and Jhurell Pressley. The latter made it only three games before being released while the other two were dogged by injuries. Lacy being placed on injured reserve in mid-October and Starks played in only nine games and none after Week 14. Knile Davis (acquired in trade and released two weeks later) and Don Jackson (signed from practice squad, placed on IR a month later) also got tryouts. Christine Michael (second from right) was claimed off waivers late in the year and finished with 31 carries for 114 yards in six games plus 16 rushes for 58 yards in three playoff games, although most of that (10 for 47) came in the wild-card game. Ty Montgomery (right) was moved from wide receiver to running back and had a huge 16-carry, 162-yard game with two touchdowns at Chicago in Week 15. However, in the five games after that he had 42 carries for 158 yards, a 3.76 average, with two TDs (both in the playoffs at Dallas). That game against the Bears was his only one with more than 11 rushes. Can he be a bellcow? If not, who? Of all the RBs mentioned here, only Montgomery and Starks are under contract for 2017 but Green Bay would have a $3 million salary-cap savings and just $750,000 in dead money if the Packers cut Starks before June 1. Fortunately, the 2017 draft class is loaded with good RB prospects.
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Will T.J. Lang return?
In his eighth year with the Packers, Lang had another solid season and was named a Pro Bowl starter. However, he suffered an injury in the NFL Championship Game and had to undergo hip surgery. Lang has been Green Bay's starting guard since 2011, but is scheduled to be a free agent this offseason. The Packers had a chance to lock him up to a contract extension during the season -- like they did with tackle David Bahktiari -- but didn't. Green Bay has shown it will let veteran guards move on -- hello, Josh Sitton (who ironically replaced Lang in the Pro Bowl). Green Bay presumably has its replacement for Lang in Jason Spriggs (3 penalties and 1 sack in 238 snaps). How much Lang's injury will affect his market is something to watch; he'll also turn 30 in September. Perhaps it all could lead back to another year in Green Bay on a one-year deal to improve his worth in 2018. But the odds seem low for a reunion and the writing on the wall indicates Lang, like Sitton, will be playing elsewhere.
USA TODAY SportsJohn David Mercer
How will the cornerback situation be fixed?
The cornerback unit obviously struggled in 2016, especially in the playoffs. According to Pro Football Focus, Green Bay's cornerbacks had a big regression compared to 2015: Damarious Randall (right) allowed 4 touchdowns and a 87.6 passer rating in 2015 and 10 TDs and 113.4 rating in 2016; Quinten Rollins (left) went from 0 TDs, 56.1 completion percentage and 58.1 rating to 7 TDs, 71.4 percent and 133.8. Both Randall and Rollins are former first-round picks and will be back in 2017 (plus, cutting Randall would hurt the cap situation). Due to injuries, LaDarius Gunter (second from right) had 1,055 snaps in 2016 compared to 40 the previous year; he allowed 8 TDs and a 112.4 rating. Sam Shields is still dealing with symptoms from his latest concussion, but even if healthy the Packers can save $9 million in the salary cap by cutting him before June 1, which is expected. This is a deep draft for cornerbacks, but with two former first-rounders already in place and other priorities to fill, Green Bay likely will just opt for depth and hope Randall and Rollins return to their 2015 form.
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Will Jared Cook return and if not, who will be that TE Aaron Rodgers loves to have?
Well, we know Aaron Rodgers would love to have Cook back on the roster, as he said as much in his press conference following the NFL Championship Game. Rodgers loves a big, pass-catching tight end and Cook fit the bill as expected. While Cook caught 30 passes for 388 yards and a touchdown in 10 regular-season games, he exploded in the playoffs for 18 catches (on 32 targets) for 229 yards and two TDs, and of course had one incredible sideline catch. Cook averaged 12.57 yards during the season and 12.72 in the playoffs. Richard Rodgers, Green Bay's other tight end, has averaged double digits per catch just once in three years and that was as a rookie (11.3 yards on 20 receptions). Cook will be a free agent in a class which includes Martellus Bennett, Jordan Cameron, Vernon Davis, Jack Doyle, Jermaine Gresham and Jacob Tamme. A pay increase (his cap figure was $2.75M in 2016) is to be expected and there should be other bidders. If Green Bay wants to go the draft route, it isn't considered a very strong group this year. Alabama's O.J. Howard sits atop the list and is expected to go in the first round. Among bigger tight ends, Clemson's Jordan Leggett could be an option on Day 2 and Arkansas' Jeremy Sprinkle on Day 3.
USA TODAY SportsBrett Davis
What is the state of the outside linebackers?
Three of Green Bay's top-four OLBs are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents and another, Jayrone Elliott (left), is a restricted free agent. Julius Peppers (second from left) just turned 37 and could retire. He did have 7.5 sacks in 2016 but also a career-low 23 tackles despite playing in every game. Datone Jones (center), a first-round pick in 2013, started just seven games in four years. He did have a career-high 22 tackles in 2016, but just one sack. Expect him to find a change of scenery. Nick Perry had a career year in 2016, with 52 tackles and 11 sacks -- not a bad thing to do in a walk year. Can the Packers afford to bring him back and how much will he command on the open market? The one player who isn't a free agent is Clay Matthews (second from right), who battled injuries all year and seems a shell of his former self. Matthews played in12 games in 2016 and finished with career lows of 24 tackles and five sacks. Matthews, who turns 31 in May, is scheduled to have a cap number of $15,200,000 in 2017, but the Packers can save $11,000,000 of that if they cut him before June 1. Kyler Fackrell (right) was drafted last year but played primarily on special teams. Beyond the Packers available, it is not a strong free-agent market for 3-4 OLBs (yes, we know Green Bay typically does not make a splash in free agency but that is how Peppers was acquired). There are, however, a number of edge rushers who grade out as first- or second-round picks in the upcoming draft. Either way, it appears as though there could be a large makeover at this position for Green Bay in 2017.