Can Packers afford to stay the course?

NFL free agency is not an event in Green Bay. Drama and anticipation don’t exist when nearly every offseason concludes with a lack of noteworthy results.

Since Ted Thompson took over as general manager of the Packers in 2005, he has mostly sat back and planned for the draft while many of his peers spend tens of millions of dollars on free agents. That’s just not the Ted Thompson way.

It’s no secret that Thompson believes the best way to build a team is through the draft. After a Super Bowl victory for Green Bay in February 2011 followed by back-to-back years in the divisional round of the playoffs, it’s difficult to argue with Thompson’s method.

But, could this year be different? Could Thompson actually make a splash in free agency? It’s possible.

The Packers are close to returning to the Super Bowl. But they’re not that close.

For the past two seasons, Green Bay has been one of the final eight teams remaining in the playoffs. However, in each of the past two seasons, the Packers have gotten thoroughly dismantled by their opponent at that stage. A crushing 17-point loss at Lambeau Field to the New York Giants in January 2012 was followed a year later by a 14-point defeat against the San Francisco 49ers in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicates.

Unless Thompson and his staff are dismissively choosing to chalk those games up as poor performances that just happened to fall on the wrong day, Green Bay’s roster clearly needs to add quite a bit of talent this offseason to keep up in the NFC.

Still, for Packers fans to circle the Tuesday start of free agency on their calendars would be a mistake. Free-agent signings can become official that day, but Thompson will likely wait for the big-spending teams to throw out huge chunks of cash at the marquee free agents.

After waiting out that initial frenzy, though, there will be plenty of available players who could make an immediate impact for Green Bay next season.

At running back, 26-year-old former New York Giant Ahmad Bradshaw would be a good fit. The Packers have plenty of decent running backs already on the roster, but Bradshaw is still young and was one of the 10 best players at his position last season. At a reasonable price, Bradshaw instantly would make Green Bay’s offense better. So would former St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson. The downfall with Jackson is that he’ll be 30 years old when the 2013 season begins, but he has been a terrific running back on mostly terrible Rams teams throughout his career. That would likely make Jackson hungry for a Super Bowl and perhaps have him willing to take less money from the Packers to chase a championship ring.

If Thompson wants to spend big on improving the offensive line, the opportunity to do so is available in this free-agent class. Former New England Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is 28 years old and one of the NFL’s best on the right edge of the line. The 2008 No. 1 overall pick, Jake Long, wasn’t retained by the Miami Dolphins. Long, 27, was once a great left tackle, but his performance over the past two years has fallen off as injuries have piled up.

On the defensive line, with Jerel Worthy spending the next several months recovering from reconstructive knee surgery and Ryan Pickett’s career winding down, the Packers might have more of a need. Green Bay has already had former New York Giant Chris Canty in for a visit. Canty is 30 years old and has been an effective player on a recent Super Bowl-winning team. Former Packer Cullen Jenkins, 32, is a free agent after being released by the Philadelphia Eagles and could be a nice addition for Green Bay’s defensive front. A younger (26) and likely cheaper option on the defensive line would be Ricky Jean-Francois, a seldom-used but effective player in his four years with the San Francisco 49ers.

There isn’t much quality help available at inside linebacker in free agency, but the Packers could re-sign Brad Jones or reunite with 2003 first-round pick Nick Barnett, 31.

Safety is another position of need for Green Bay, but addressing it could come at a steep price in free agency. Former 49ers safety Dashon Goldson, 28, is available, as is 27-year-old former Atlanta Falcons safety William Moore. Longtime Raven Ed Reed is the flashiest name on the list, but his play has declined in recent years and likely wouldn’t be the answer for the Packers unless the contract were very team-friendly.

Regardless of what happens in free agency, Thompson will add some new players in the upcoming draft. But, even with top picks, results can vary as to how quickly they’re ready and able to contribute in the NFL.

Though it’s not the preferred Ted Thompson way of team-building, this free-agent group could immediately help solve some of the Packers’ most pressing needs.

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