Packers free agency preview: Offense

The center position will be one to watch with regard to the Packers in free agency. Incumbent Evan Dietrich-Smith (pictured) was a respectable option for Green Bay in 2013, but Cleveland center Alex Mack, 28, could be an intriguing outside option for the Packers, too.  

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Compared to the defensive side of the ball, the Green Bay Packers’ offense is relatively set heading into free agency.

The combination of quarterback Aaron Rodgers being in a long-term contract, NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year running back Eddie Lacy having a lot of room to improve, a good group of wide receivers in tow and a solid offensive line gives the Packers’ front office plenty of reasons to feel comfortable with where they’re at.

Not that general manager Ted Thompson is ever likely to use salary cap space on other team’s unrestricted free agents anyway, but at least the offense doesn’t have the holes to fill that the defense does.

Thompson does have to look ahead toward the 2015 offseason, though. That’s when Green Bay’s top two wide receivers, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, would be unrestricted free agents if a deal is not reached before then. The futures of Cobb and Nelson will play a large role in what the Packers decide to do this offseason, as the team would clearly prefer to have extensions in place with both players sooner than later.

This list examines which offensive players the Packers could re-sign, which are likely to sign elsewhere and a couple external free agents Green Bay could potentially explore in free agency. A list of defensive players was posted on Tuesday.   

Packers unrestricted free agents:

Tight end Jermichael Finley — Not yet medically cleared from the C-3, C-4 neck fusion surgery that Finley underwent in November 2013, the Packers have a recent history with this injury. It was two years ago that Green Bay’s medical staff wouldn’t clear safety Nick Collins after the same surgery, and he’s been out of the NFL since. That certainly doesn’t mean Finley’s NFL career is over, but it seems unlikely for the Packers to be the team that takes a chance on him after the injury. Most likely outcome: signs elsewhere

Wide receiver James Jones — Jones wants to be back with the Packers, making that point very clear as he cleaned out his locker in early January. But with Jones turning 30 years old at the end of March and Jarrett Boykin seemingly ready to take over the No. 3 receiver role, it likely points in the direction of him not being back in Green Bay. Most likely outcome: signs elsewhere

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Fullback John Kuhn — Like Jones, Kuhn talked openly about wanting to remain with the Packers. Kuhn is 31 years old, but his understanding of coach Mike McCarthy’s offense is a value to Green Bay that it obviously isn’t to other teams. It would likely only take somewhere in the range of a one-year, $1.5 million deal to get Kuhn back. Most likely outcome: re-signs with Packers

Center Evan Dietrich-Smith — He’s come a long way since being released by the Packers in 2010, and his first full year as Green Bay’s starting center was fairly good. It would also be beneficial to Rodgers to not have to work with a fourth center in four years. But the Packers have JC Tretter waiting in the wings, and that seems to be the direction that the team is thinking of going in. Most likely outcome: signs elsewhere

Quarterback Matt Flynn — Flynn had his chance to be an NFL starting quarterback two years ago with the Seattle Seahawks. He had another opportunity last season with the Oakland Raiders. Both situations were total failures for Flynn. Both Green Bay and Flynn are better together than the two parties are separate. Most likely outcome: re-signs with Packers

Tight end Andrew Quarless — If Finley is gone, it makes Quarless’ return more likely. And, at age 25, Quarless has some time to still improve. However, Quarless is probably best suited in a situational role in the Packers’ offense and not an every-down type of role. If another team offers him more playing time, he could leave. But, Quarless should have the opportunity to get plenty of snaps with Green Bay, especially if Finley isn’t around. Most likely outcome: re-signs with Packers

Running back James Starks — With Lacy and DuJuan Harris on board, there isn’t much of a need for Starks. Plus, the Packers still need to see what they have in Johnathan Franklin. It’s difficult to see how the 28-year-old Starks fits in with all of that. Most likely outcome: signs elsewhere

Offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse — He got beat out for the right tackle job by Don Barclay in 2013 and didn’t play well in his two late-season starts. Most likely outcome: signs elsewhere

Two notable free agents across the NFL:

Center Alex Mack — Mack was given the transition tag by the Cleveland Browns, which means the Packers would not have to surrender any draft picks to sign him. However, Cleveland could match any offer from Green Bay, so the dollars would have to be high enough to dissuade the Browns. Mack is one of the NFL’s best centers, and at age 28, he still has a few years left to remain at that high level. He’d be a huge upgrade for the Packers at center and would really solidify the offensive line.

Return specialist Devin Hester — McCarthy has been a big Hester fan over the years, well aware of how much game-planning it’s taken twice a year to plan around him. Hester is 31 years old now and just got released by the Chicago Bears, but if Green Bay wants to take a shot on a respected veteran who could serve entirely as a return specialist, the money would probably be low enough to make it feasible for the Packers.

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