One of the biggest needs for the Green Bay Packers is at safety where Morgan Burnett is the team's only legitimate player currently on the roster. Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Green Bay Packers and free agency: Fork in the Road

 

Here the Green Bay Packers sit, a mere day before teams are legally able to negotiate players away from rival teams.

Angst and tensions are at an all-time high, especially amongst fan bases across the league.

March 11th begins the infamous “free agency frenzy” and eight weeks later … teams get younger during the 2014 NFL draft.

The Green Bay Packers have been rumored to have the potential to be big players in this year’s free agency. However, there has been little movement from Ted Thompson‘s camp on even the Packers’ own free agents. The Packers are big proponents of the draft-and-develop philosophy, a history rich with homegrown talent. No matter the method, the Green Bay Packers have glaring needs at many positions, namely on defense.

Here’s a quick look at the most dire of needs:

1. Safety

2. Defensive Line

3. Linebacker

4. Tight End

The whole defense needs an overhaul; or at least, a top-tier player in each level of the field. Let’s explore the options at each of these positions, whether it be addressed in free agency, the draft, or the locker room.

Could Micah Hyde be moved to safety in 2014? Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Could Micah Hyde be moved to safety in 2014?
Raymond T. Rivard photograph

SAFETY – far and away the weakest position on the Packers’ defense. This need could possibly be addressed in both free agency and the draft.

  • Locker Room: The Packers just paid Morgan Burnett with a lucrative 4-year contract extension. With that said, he did what all other big extensions (i.e Clay Matthews and Aaron Rodgers) did this year: got injured and missed significant time. He missed the first four games of the season but never returned to form in 2013, at all. In some instances, one could argue that he was just bad, at times. The Packers could cut Burnett and their losses and look to move versatile Micah Hyde to safety and find a complement elsewhere. If Burnett stays, the Packers may still explore the Hyde option, but there will be less urgency to find a playmaker at safety with Hyde in the wings and House still being “developed.”
  • Free Agency: All Packers fans know the name Jairus Byrd. He’s a household name by now. The Bills declined to put the franchise tag on Byrd and he seems set to test free agency. The Packers would be hard-pressed to find a better safety, in any circle. However, he will come with a hefty price tag, and Thompson and Co. might be a bit too stingy for his services, even with $34 million in excess cap room. Charles Tillman is another option in free agency. The Bears seem primed to let him walk. At 29, Charles Woodson was a surprise pick-up that turned out great for the Packers. At 33, Tillman just might be past the age of experimenting.
  • Draft: Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor are getting the most attention from fans, especially after their performance at the combine. Either kid would be a great addition to the secondary, Clinton-Dix a sure-handed ball hawk and Pryor a violent threat against the run and the pass. Each should get a good look from the Packers come draft day, but are they first round candidates? If they aren’t top of the boards for the Packers, chances are good they’ll be gone by the time Thompson is ready to make a move at safety.

D-LINE

  • Locker Room: There was much talk about B.J. Raji being set to test free agency come March 11. The Packers weren’t willing to give him the monster payday that he was looking for, especially after the disappointing season he turned in. Maybe the market wasn’t forming for his services, I don’t know … but it was reported that both sides are exploring a one-year “make-it-or-break-it” deal that could give Raji the chance to prove his worth to potential suitors in next year’s free agency period. Either way, it bodes well for the Packers, who will most likely get good use out of a focused Raji in 2014, most likely moving back to his original

    Louis Nix III
    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    position: nose tackle. Raji isn’t the only guy on the defensive line that will make a difference. The Packers need to focus on signing Johnny Jolly and Mike Neal back to the active roster. Neal is just coming into his own and Jolly (if cleared medically) is the run-stuffer that this team needs to eat up blocks and make plays in the run game.

  • Free Agency: Lamarr Woodley is rumored to get the axe, and Demarcus Ware will be required to take a monster pay cut to remain with the Cowboys. Henry  Melton is about to hit the market, one of the highest rated free agents in the league right now, though he is coming off an ACL injury. Though Woodley and Ware are assumptions, they aren’t givens … yet. Even so, their age and mobility isn’t promising. Melton would be a great sign — but he’s an injury risk after last season and probably still going to be overpaid.
  • Draft: Louis Nix III is probably one of the best overall players available in their year’s draft class. He isn’t likely to be on the board when the Packers make their 21st overall pick. But if he is, they will have a big decision to make. If Nix is available, I’m confident that Thompson will pull the trigger. He’s also been a guy that’s been about the value, not the need. Aaron Donald is another name that makes sense for the Packers, even if he is thought to be “too small.” Sometimes the best things come in smaller packages.

LINEBACKER

  • Locker Room: A.J Hawk is coming off, arguably, his best season with the Packers. His presence was felt week after week and he is an iron man; he’s virtually injury free, he has bionic hamstrings. Though he has taken a lot of heat from fans, Hawk has always been a steady contributor and needs an interior man opposite him to really make the leap. Brad Jones may not be the answer; we thought he was, but he digressed this year, even without his injuries. Jamari Lattimore is set to be a free agent this year, but should definitely be a cheap re-sign for the Packers. He is raw, but his production in the trenches last year was admirable. He’s a diamond in the rough.
  • Free Agency: It is unlikely the Packers go after an inside linebacker in free agency, even with guys like London Fletcher and Brandon Spikes floating around. Besides, there are definitely more poignant areas of need.
  • Draft: It’s very possible that the Packers target a linebacker or two in the draft this year, though it will be something mid-t0-late round. Thompson has also been known to kick the tires on guys in the bargain bins, undrafted free agents and the like.

TIGHT END

  • Green Bay Packers tight end Brandon Bostick
    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    Locker Room: The Packers may not clear Finley medically, but even if they do: he’s unlikely to be back in Green Bay next year. His number was called last offseason, though the Packers decided to let him play out his contract. He was on his way to a record season, but a neck surgery derailed it. He will likely be overpaid somewhere and has the potential to be a big time playmaker if he’s completely healthy. Finley will be surfing through many 1-year deals in the next few days, none of which will come from the Packers. They may keep Quarless around, but with the emergence and potential of Brandon Bostick, they may look to grow his skill set and look for cheap depth elsewhere.

  • Free Agency: The calls for Jimmy Graham and Garrett Graham have been amusing, to say the least. Franchise tag in hand, Jimmy Graham would be worth a lucrative contract AND two first-round selections in the draft. Not going to happen. The Packers aren’t going to be willing to pay big bucks for a tight end, no matter who they are. Rodgers is just fine with his top targets, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin. A homegrown guy like Bostick will do just fine … for now.
  • Draft: Eric Ebron is the best tight end in the draft; and though he’s likely to be gone when the Packers pick 21st, he wouldn’t be at the top of their boards anyway. While the Packers may target a tight end in the draft, it’s middle to late round prospects, only. With so many glaring holes elsewhere, it would be terribly hard to justify an offensive player over a defensive upgrade.

March 11 approaches … let free agency begin!

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