With one game left in the season, thanks to the ineptness of the other teams in the NFC North, the Packers are somehow still in the playoff hunt even though they have had a terrible season. All they have to do is beat the Bears next week and they are in. I hope to be wrong on this, even if they beat the Bears, I can’t imagine them getting too far in the Playoffs. At this point it looks like the Playoffs will be the Seahawks, the Panthers, the 9ers, likely the Eagles, and then Bears/Packers and Saints/Cardinals with the Saints having a slight edge. With the Seahawks and the Panthers of all teams getting a first week bye. If the Packers do make it to the playoffs, assuming both the saints & the 9ers win out… the Packers would be playing the Saints in Green Bay in the first week of the playoffs followed by the Seahawks in Seattle in week two. We could potentially beat the Saints in Green Bay though it’d be tough especially if Lacy, Rodgers & Cobb are all playing by then. A win in Seattle seems unlikely. So I’m taking a look at what the Packers can do to correct themselves this offseason.
First and foremost, something needs to be done about the conditioning staff. I was willing to give the staff the benefit of the doubt after 2010 when most the team was injured, we did win the Super Bowl after all… 2011 the team was fairly injury free, so when the injury bugs returned in 2012 I was willing to give them another shot. But this year is actually worse than 2010 and 2012 which seems impossible. This is the third injury plagued season in the last four seasons and something needs to be done. You can’t blame the staff for the broken fingers, broken bones and spine injuries, but you sure as hell can blame them for the dozens of hamstring and groin injuries. A shakeup needs to occur.
For the third straight season, the defense seems to be a major vulnerability and I imagine that for the third straight season the Packers will draft heavy on defensive players in order to try to cope. Many fans are calling for Dom Capers head, I don’t think that is the answer and I’m not sure if it will happen. I don’t think the Packers would get a better coach than Capers and I imagine that they would likely just promote one of their position coaches which if you ask me wouldn’t bring much change anyway. Yes I feel like Capers could improve in half-time adjustments, but he still can bring a game plan better than almost any other defensive coordinator in the league.
Safety is what is really needed, the Packers biggest weaknesses on defense remain to be the deep ball and the middle of the field, both of which can be faulted by bad Safety play. Morgan Burnett would be an ok #2 but isn’t great as a #1. The Packers still haven’t come up with a decent replacement for Collins 4 years ago and they really need to do something. Honestly given the sketchiness of finding a safety in the draft, I would say the best option for the position is to seek out help from Free Agency. I hope that Ted Thompson will return to the days where he realizes that sometimes you just need to bring in quality from outside when you can’t build it inside. He did bring in Woodson after all and I think Woodson was a big reason why the Packers went to the Super Bowl and then 15-1 the following season. He needs to go out again looking for value this offseason. I’d love to see Jarius Byrd, but he’s being projected at 8 million a year which is just too much. Another option I suppose would be to convert someone like House or Hayward to Safety but that could be a project that takes a couple of years to see fruition.
Inside Linebacker is another area of concern. Hawk is getting old, though i would say this was his second best year of his career, and Jones is not very good, though I like him. We need a speedy inside backer to be the future of the position. I think a good ILB is a very overlooked position in the 3-4 but very important… just look at guys like Ray Lewis and Sam Mills as proof of that. I don’t think either Hawk or Jones needs to leave the team at this point, but they need to start looking for a true answer. This again goes to the middle of the field being a problem for the Packers. At Outside Linebacker I actually think they finally got it figured out with Worty/Neal opposite Matthews.
They will also need to address the Defensive line. I honestly feel that BJ Raji’s time with the Packers is at an end. Word is that he turned down an $8 million a year deal at the beginning of the season and after having the worst season of his career, the Packers might not want to give him more than 4. I actually think that is an appropriate and even high salary for Raji. He really only had half of a good season (end of 2010) and has been inconsistent at best the rest of his tenure. I love him, but I think he’ll leave in the offseason. Pickett is interesting because he continues to put out good play despite being 34. He is also rarely injured and very consistent. He currently makes $5 mil a year and I think the Packers will make him an offer for 2 years at around $3.5 million but no more than that. Packers don’t generally like older players but I think this one is worth keeping around, especially if you think that Raji will be gone, we need to keep 1 of those two. I would like to think that the Packers give Jolly yet another shot. The neck injury is pretty dangerous though and I don’t know if he’ll be back at 31 years of age and not a ton of experience. The Packers were better with Jolly than without though. Datone Jones has not done well this season and I think they will need to hope he improves, luckily there are a lot line choices and only 3 slots so I think they will be fine as long as they don’t lose both Pickett & Raji.
For the offense… My gut says that Finley is done for his career. No team will want to sign him for much after that injury and I think if he doesn’t end his career that he signs a 1-year contract for $2 million. That will put him at 28 if he recovers which is still a good age to get a good contract. It’s too bad, he was starting to show well as being a team player and production improved because of it. I think the Packers will go with Quarless and be OK. Cobb was really the replacement for Finley anyway. Despite the issues with QB this season I think they will stick with Tolzien and Flynn and not draft another QB. But I do think they will draft a WR and a TE to help shore up those positions. I expect that Kuhn will be back despite his age but at a serious pay decrease. Starks may find play elsewhere, he’s had a good year when he had the opportunity and with Franklin & Lacy, they Packers won’t give him a serious offer.
The really interesting bit is that they have a ton of free agents coming up this offseason and a lot of them need to stay. For instance Quarless is a Free Agent and given the loss of Finley is somewhat important… Evan Dietrich-Smith is a free agent, and though he isn’t a great Center, their current backup is their starting Guard. They have 4 Defensive Linemen going up. And then there is James Jones & Sam Shields, both will be paid better than they currently make and neither would be good losses for the team. My bet would be that if they had to keep one of those two and drop the other they’d keep Shields. Jones has gotten better but is still very inconsistent. John Kuhn is also a Free Agent, and he is aging and hasn’t been showing up on the field as much. Given that he is a crowd favorite, I could see him staying around if he wanted to for less money.
It will be one of the more interesting offseasons I can recall. It is too bad that this year was wasted. I honestly felt that 2013 was going to be one of the final seasons with the core team before some rebuilding was going to be needed. Unfortunately the rash of injuries killed that off. Who knows, it could still happen. In 2010, the Packers snuck in the back door of the playoffs, barely making it and then went on to win it all. That year, the Packers were red-hot going into the playoffs… this year they are sputtering. I don’t foresee a repeat.