Aldon Smith, Aaron Rodgers, David Bakhtiari

Despite having what they believe is the best quarterback in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers have failed for a third consecutive season to make it very far in the playoffs. Heading into the offseason, finding out how to fill the holes around Aaron Rodgers which especially means improving the defense seems to be the first order of business.

After the 23-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers, cornerback Tramon Williams made an interesting comment about the Packers’ youth movement, something Ted Thompson has been pushing for in recent years. Maybe Williams (30) was mostly talking about himself, with a $7.5 million salary coming his way next season, but considering how badly the Packers performed on defense yet again (25th overall), maybe he has a point.

A lot of the key players on the Packers’ defense are quite young: cornerbacks Sam Shields (age 26, fourth season), Davon House (24, third season) and Micah Hyde (23, rookie) plus safeties Morgan Burnett (age 24, fourth season), M.D. Jennings (25, third season) and Sean Richardson (23, second season). Only Burnett was in his second NFL contract.

The Packers aren’t keen on spending too much money in free agency. Draft, young players, that’s been their system in recent years, keeping the team successful since winning the Super Bowl after the 2010 season. There are plenty of question regarding defensive free agents, and especially B.J. Raji and Sam Shields.

B.J. Raji

Raji turned down an extension giving him $8 million a season, which hints he might be looking for a new team. Not necessarily more money (he won’t get it), but a system in which he’d be more free to go after the quarterback. Sam Shields was also in negotiations up to some point with the Packers, but he knows he can command top dollar with his next contract (a lot more than his $2.02 million base salary right now), which means he’d rather test the market before committing to the Packers long term.

Veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett is also becoming a free agent. At 34, despite a good season, there’s a good chance the Packers decide to let him go. He made $5.4 million last season, and the best thing he has going for him is the fact that he hasn’t missed a game for two consecutive years. Johnny Jolly, C.J. Wilson and Mike Neal seem likely to return. The rest of the players, like Jennings and Lattimore, are going to get low offers, the minimum the RFA tender allows.

On offense, the key men remain, but James Jones who had another productive season (59 receptions, 817 yards), might be looking to see how much a 29-year old number 2 receiver is going to make out there. Jermichael Finley is hitting free agency too, but it’s more of a medical question when it comes to him. James Starks is a good backup to have, but he’ll be looking for a team that can make him a starter, or at least give him more than $630,000 a season.

Sam Shields

Evan Dietrich-Smith did a good job at center and as long as he doesn’t ask for too much ($1.32 million last season), the Packers would like to stick with continuity in that position. They do need upgrade in the offensive line and their secondary, but a lot of it is a matter of money obviously.

A lot also depends on how the Packers see this season – a good one that god kinda messed up because Rodgers missed almost half the season? Matt Flynn proved himself to be a worthy backup, and it will be wise re-signing him, unless he still has starting dreams in his head. If Thompson realizes the Packers didn’t make it as far as they wished because of fundamental weaknesses and not just Rodgers missing a lot of regular season time, we might see a significant upgrade in the secondary, and possibly even the offensive line.

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