The 2012 season is over for the Green Bay Packers. And, yes, many are still trying to get over the San Francisco defeat and trying not to think of what could’ve been.
But, as we all know, the NFL never stops. That means it’s time to begin piecing together what the 2013 edition of the Packers could look like. And unlike in year’s past, it stands to reason this team will look much different come opening day. For the first time in a long time, there could be significant turnover on the roster and in the coaching staff.
That being the case, it seems appropriate to go comb over everything and figure out who will be back, who will be gone, who’s getting paid and who’s being paid too much (amongst other things). Consider this your early offseason primer for the green and gold. We’re going to do this in two parts because, frankly, it ended up being too long for one. Part two will run later in the week.
And because I’m obnoxious, I’m going to do it in that style where I ask questions I came up with to myself and answer them myself. We pay for this site we can do whatever we want!
- Question: Will Dom Capers return as defensive coordinator next season?
Answer: This is THE topic of discussion amongst Packers fans at the moment, for obvious reasons. After yet another poor – make that disgusting – playoff showing from his unit, most fans are calling for Capers’ head (myself included). To think that is not the mindset of “knee-jerk reactive people”, as Mike McCarthy put it in his season-ending presser Tuesday. That is the mindset of people who are fed-up with a defense that has allowed 82 points and 999 yards in its last two postseason losses. And don’t forget the playoff showing against Arizona in 2010, either. Oh, and also don’t forget that more than one defensive player (namely, B.J. Raji) seemed plenty miffed at the gameplan after Saturday night’s debacle.
But the real question, of course, is whether or not McCarthy feels the same way. He was awfully testy when pushed on the issue by reporters Tuesday, saying he was “appalled” by the questions and felt “very confident” Capers was going to be back. Remember, Capers’ contract is up, so he doesn’t need to be fired, just not re-signed. At this point, however, it sure seems like he’s coming back. McCarthy did technically leave himself a little wiggle room – he didn’t say he was certain Capers would return – but after such a public defense, it’s hard to imagine him changing his mind in a few days or a week. McCarthy can point to the unit’s relative youth and overall statistical improvement this season (11th in total yards allowed this year as opposed to dead last in 2011) as the prime reasons why.
Those come off as merely average reasons. Remember, in five of Green Bay’s six losses this year, the defense surrendered 30 points or more. And all but one of those losses came against playoff teams (the other being the defending champion New York Giants), so it’s not like the defense was greatly improved when it mattered most. Still, look for Capers to return on the hottest of hot seats in 2013.
- Question: We all know the offensive line was fairly porous this year. What could the group look like in 2013?
Answer: Expect it to look significantly different. For one, Jeff Saturday won’t be on the roster. He’s due a $1.4 million roster bonus and has a $1.35 million salary. That’s money best saved, so he’ll be cut. Signing him was still the right call, but we learned he just doesn’t have it anymore. Could Evan Dietrich-Smith be the guy there? Definitely possible. He was solid upon taking over for Saturday, turns just 27 in July, can play multiple spots to varying degrees of success and absolutely could improve with a full offseason as the starter. But he’s also set to become a free agent and a team desperate for offensive line help could blow him away with an offer. Plus, you have to wonder how high his ceiling is. If the team thought so highly of him, why did it sign Saturday in the first place?
Could the Packers do better at such a key spot? Would they be wiser to use their first round pick on, say, Alabama’s Barrett Jones? That would be the better call. Jones has the versatility Green Bay looks for, playing all three positions in college and excelling at each one. Jones could also form with T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton to give the Packers their nastiest interior line since the days of Mike Wahle, Marco Rivera and Mike Flanigan. He just fits what this line needs.
Another key spot to watch is left tackle. Considering he was a fifth round pick, the Packers have squeezed a ton out of Marshall Newhouse. And at times, Newhouse plays rather well. He’s also prone to trainwreck showings and when you have Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback, more stability is required at that spot. Luckily, all indications are that 2011 first round pick Derek Sherrod (leg) will be ready for camp. That’s good because it’s time to see if he’s the future there. Hopefully he is and Newhouse can play a key backup role. Right tackle Don Barclay, a player with a bright future, will also fill a key backup spot as Bryan Bulaga (hip) will be ready for camp.
A starting group of, say, Sherrod-Lang-Jones-Sitton-Bulaga looks to be much better than what the Packers had this past season. And the depth would be much better, too. It’s what Rodgers deserves, frankly.
- Question: What will the pass-catching corps look like? Probably a lot different, yes?
Answer: It will be different, for sure. A lot of fans are still holding out hope that Greg Jennings will re-up with the team. That, at this point, is a mere pipe dream. This is, you have to think, the last big contract Jennings will get. And with a ring on his hand and Pro Bowl appearances on his resume, he’s likely looking at this as a straight cash grab. Some team will throw big money at him, no doubt, but with his age and recent injury history, there’s almost no chance the Packers will match.
Also, Donald Driver is a free agent now and, having been reduced to an almost-nothing role with the team in 2012, retirement seems the most likely path for him. He could try to catch on somewhere else, but why bother? Best to ride off into the sunset with his health intact and all-time Packers legend status already cemented.
The Packers can, obviously, withstand these losses. A top trio of Randall Cobb (quickly becoming a superstar in this league), Jordy Nelson and James Jones is enough to make most other teams jealous. And Jarrett Boykin and Jeremy Ross are both intriguing young players to keep an eye on. Still, as we learned this year, you can never have enough depth at receiver, so don’t be shocked if the Packers take one high in the draft. Maybe not first round, but definitely in the second or third round. They could come out of the draft with multiple receivers, in fact. And they should.
As for the tight ends, the level of change largely depends on whether or not Jermichael Finley returns. We’ll talk a lot more about that in part two, don’t worry. If Finley is gone, Green Bay could definitely target that position high in the draft (Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert or Stanford’s Zach Ertz would look great in green and gold). If he returns, the group should remain largely intact. D.J. Williams still has some upside, Tom Crabtree turned in a very solid season and Andrew Quarless (knee) should finally be back for camp. You can’t give up hope completely that Quarless could still become a good player. Perhaps a player like Ryan Taylor is gone, but that’s nothing major.
- Question: Who are the running backs for next season? Didn’t this team have like 20 guys play there at some point this year?
Answer: No, it only felt like 20 (attempt at humor: success!). Still, the Packers are going to have to make some decisions there. Cedric Benson – aka D.J. World Peace – is a free agent. He was running well at the time of his injury, but he also turned 30 in December. Hard to see him back. Ditto Ryan Grant. Those two felt like stopgaps, essentially, and nothing more.
DuJuan Harris was really a revelation after being signed to the roster in December. He runs hard, takes on contact, factors in the passing game and is shifty. In a lot of ways, he’s what the Packers expected Alex Green to be. And he hasn’t even been on the roster more than a few months. Have to think Harris is back, though it remains to be seen how he’ll hold up over a full season.
And even though he hasn’t quite developed the way many had hoped, Green is likely back in 2013, as well. Remember, he was a third round pick just two years ago. Can’t see them giving up on him so quick. Green showed flashes of being a good back at times. He just needs more patience and vision. That could come.
That leaves us with James Starks and Brandon Saine as the holdovers who could return. Starks is continuously dogged by injuries, much like in college. He’s an impact player when healthy, yes, but that doesn’t happen nearly enough. How much longer can they wait? Sure seems like a good time to finally cut the cord with him. The coaching staff seems to really like Saine and he could definitely figure in the mix, too, but he just seems like an average player. We all know Ted Thompson loathes drafting running backs, but really this seems like a good year to do so. Maybe not high, but somewhere in the middle rounds. The type of prospect who can grow into something, giving the Packers three young backs with upside heading into 2013.
As for fullback John Kuhn, much has been made of his high salary for 2013 ($1.8 million salary plus a $450,000 roster bonus) and whether or not he’ll be back. But if you watched the playoff game against the Vikings, that tells you all you need to know. McCarthy loves this guy, so even if he drives us mad at times, he’ll be back.
Hope you enjoyed part one. Again, check back here later in the week for part two.