The Green Bay Packers were just a few plays away from going to the Super Bowl.
Rather than talking about how the Packers will match-up against the Patriots in next week’s Super Bowl, their stunning loss in Seattle means it’s time to concentrate on off-season improvements so they won’t miss out on Super Bowl 50 (no Roman Numerals) next season.
Here is what the Packers must do to return to the Super Bowl.
Signing Their Own Key Free Agents
The team has 16 free agents – 12 unrestricted, three restricted and one exclusive rights.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first, they have the money to afford those FA who matter. Randall Cobb must and will be re-signed. The same for Brian Bulaga.
I expect that Tramon Williams will be deemed too expensive given his age and will sign elsewhere which would garner yet another high compensatory draft pick in 2016. They will choose to sign the younger player with more long-term upside that is Devon House.
They will mid-level tender Don Barclay and Sean Richardson and may consider a right-of-first-refusal tender for Jarrett Boykin, although that is not a given. Expect all of them in camp but Boykin may not make the final roster.
They will let John Kuhn, Jarrett Bush, BJ Raji and Matt Flynn test the waters and each will only return if available late in free agency at a rock bottom sale price.
Valuable DT Letroy Guion will return as will QB Scott Tolzein at reasonable contracts.
The remaining free agents will be gone to make way for draft-and-develop players.
Parting Ways with Unproductive Players
I really like AJ Hawk and Brad Jones. They are both quality individuals and give their all for the team. Unfortunately for them their play-making ability doesn’t measure up to their contracts. Hawk and Jones represent the 8th and 9th most expensive 2015 contracts respectively.
It is time to part ways with both and trim about $7.2M from Green Bay’s salary cap (net after cap hit).
I don’t see the Packers continuing to hope for improvement from the unproductive and mistake-prone Brandon Bostick especially after his bone-headed play in the NFC Championship Game. Cutting Bostick would save another $600K.
Although not a huge cap hit, it may be time to replace the league’s 31st ranked punter Tim Mastay and eliminate his $1.4M salary.
Coaching Decisions – Special Teams
As I opined on this web-site several weeks ago, special teams were going to cost this team an important game and unfortunately it happened in the biggest game of the year.
Rich Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News just released his annual report which rated and ranked all special teams’ performance in the NFL as he has done since 1990. Gosselin’s highly respected analysis consists of 22 different categories.
Not a surprise to Packers fans their team ranked dead last in 2014 special teams performance – number 32 of 32. This follows a ranking of 31st in 2009, 29th in 2010, slight improvements in 2011 and 2012 before slipping to 19th last year and dead last this year.
McCarthy replaced the Asst. Special Teams coach last year, Chad Morton with Ron Zook. This was the second time a ST assistant was replaced. He also added Jason Simmons to assist. The one constant here is special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum. Slocum is reportedly a close personal friend of Head Coach Mike McCarthy and they have a long history together.
The Packers simply cannot continue to give away games while rewarding the poor coaching job done by Slocum. The time has come for Shawn Slocum to go which also sends a message to his team that there is equal accountability for all.
Draft and Develop
The Packers have a young and relatively deep roster however they have some pressing needs.
An athletic sideline-to-sideline linebacker in the middle of their defense along with a thumper to clog up the running lanes would be welcome. Luckily, this is a deep and talented year for inside backers.
Massive Bernardrick McKenny from Mississippi State or athletic Eric Kendricks from UCLA would look mighty good in green and gold, but both may be gone by the Packers 30th pick. Denzel Perryman from Miami or Reggie Ragland from Alabama should be available at the end of round one and either one would fit the bill.
An athletic TE such as Jason Whitten clone Maxx Winters from Minnesota or athletic Clive Walford from Miami could be targets in round two. Notre Dame’s dependable Nick O’Leary should be available in round three.
In the mid rounds if a tough offensive tackle or athletic cornerback were available they would have value along with a quarterback that the team could develop to replace the aging and limited Matt Flynn.
It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if a stud D-lineman fell to them early, they would snatch him up in a heartbeat.
A punter later in the draft would provide valuable competition.
Free Agents Finds
Will this be the year that Ted Thompson is active in the free agent market?
Thompson is usually adverse to committing money to other team’s free agents, so the answer is probably not. Although when he has done so he has struck gold with players such as Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers.
As was the case with Peppers, who was signed after being cut by the Bears, the Packers lost no draft choice compensation. If a star player such DT Haloti Ngata becomes available as a salary cap casualty, it might be tempting for Ted to make a bid for his services.
Keeping Their Own
The Packers need to find a way to keep Julius Peppers around by restructuring his current contract. The man has shown he has something left in the tank and the Packers value both his play and his leadership.——————
Jeff Albrecht grew up just north of Green Bay and was lucky enough to attend some of the Lombardi Era classic games, like the 1962 championship and the Ice Bowl. Jeff went on to play HS football in the Green Bay area and College ball at UW - Stevens Point. Jeff is retired but still does some writing for his local paper. Jeff is a writer with AllGreenBayPackers.com and you can follow him on twitter at @pointerjeff .