The Packers will get their biggest influx of talent from the large group of men who landed on injured reserve during a season that nevertheless culminated in an NFL championship.
Thus, they don’t need to do much by way of acquiring talent in order to get ready for their run at a repeat.
Here’s where the Packers should focus their efforts as soon as the lockout ends.
1. Re-sign Cullen Jenkins, or find his replacement.
Jenkins, a looming free agent, is expected to solicit a financial offer of a magnitude that the Packers wouldn’t be willing to muster. So if they’re going to let Jenkins go, they need to replace him.
The Packers didn’t look to the draft for help, waiting until the sixth round to select a defensive lineman. Howard Green and C.J. Wilson provide the top in-house options, with Wilson possibly poised to bust out. (Mike Neal, whom we forgot to initially mention on that list, also will be in the mix, assuming that he is recovered from the shoulder injury that limited him to two games in 2010.)
The grow-from-within Packers are likely to go that route in lieu of paying for a 3-4 defensive end.
2. Cut ties with Johnny Jolly.
Regardless of what happens with Cullen Jenkins and C.J. Wilson and anyone else considered to play defensive line for the Packers in 2011, it’s time to move on from Johnny Jolly.
Sure, he has avoided jail despite a pair of drug arrests, including the most recent incident in March 2011. But the Packers simply can’t rely on a guy who is a slip-up away from a lengthy suspension and/or jail.
3. Bring in one or more veterans who are hungry for a ring.
Based on their decision to engage in a grand total of, um, zero lockout workouts, the Packers possibly have become complacent after winning the Super Bowl. The best recipe for avoiding that sense of satisfaction is to add a veteran player or two (or more) who are hungry for a ring of their own.
While some would contend that players like running back Ryan Grant and tight end Jermichael Finley, who have rings that they know they didn’t help earn, will provide the Pack with enough of a kick in the ass to get another, the fact remains that Grant and Finley and every other player who landed on injured reserve during the season have rings.
Though the Packers don’t like to overspend on free agents, they can give a player who has earned plenty of money the one thing money can’t buy. And they should sit back and wait for the best veteran at a position of relative need (like outside linebacker and/or offensive line) to offer to take whatever the Packers will pay for a shot at a title.
Of course, any veterans would have to also fit in with the locker room, and not create distractions or disruptions. If the Packers can add the right player or two (or more) who can bring hunger and extra accountability without derailing the back-to-back express, yet another Lombardi Trophy could be added to the case in which it belongs.
4. Make a decision about Ryan Grant.
The lockout has given the Packers an opportunity to take two weeks to assess Grant’s ability to recover from a season-ending injury in 2010 before paying him a $1 million roster bonus. Due on the 15th day of the league year, the trigger now will fall deep into training camp.
It would be a surprise if the Packers simply cut him, but they have the ability to do so, if they decide that James Starks and whoever else they can block for is ready to go.
Though Grant may still have plenty left in the tank, the fact remains that the Packers managed to play 19 games without him in 2010 — and to become the best team in the league along the way.
5. Unload Nick Barnett and Mark Tauscher.
As our friends at Rotoworld recently pointed out, dumping linebacker Nick Barnett and offensive lineman Mark Tauscher would clear more than $10 million in cap space.
Farewell, Nick Barnett and Mark Tauscher.
When the Packers locked up A.J. Hawk over the long haul, their plan for Barnett was obvious. It’s only a matter of time before they pull the plug.
Tauscher appeared in only four games last year, and he’s 34.
Farewell, Nick Barnett and Mark Tauscher.
6. Start locking up good young players to long-term deals.
The Packers have spent plenty of money over the past few years on contracts, but not for veterans who previously hadn’t played for the team. Instead, the Packers have been re-signing the men who’ll provide the nucleus for the organization over the long haul.
It will be important to get key players signed before they get a whiff of the market, especially since their attractiveness on the open market will only grow as the team continues to succeed.
Thus, whether it’s Clay Matthews or Jermichael Finley or B.J. Raji or Jordy Nelson or any, some, or all of them, now is the time to consider finding a way to give them enough green and/or gold to keep them in green and gold deep into the decade.