Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson faces one of his most challenging offseasons.
He must find some key roster pieces to restore the Packers to Super Bowl-contending status, either through the draft or free agency.
But Thompson carries the added burden of determining which of his own players to try to keep. The Packersí list of free agents is 20 players deep, and itís up to Thompson to figure out which ones should stay, and at what price.
ďYou try to retain your own players as much as you can. And you donít. We lose players just like everybody else,Ē Thompson said this week in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. ďIf we can, we like to keep our own and continue adding guys through the draft and through free agency.Ē
Determining which of his own players to retain is a delicate balancing act that will keep Thompson busy in the coming weeks.
Here are the Packersí free agents divided into three categories and listed in order of importance:
1. Sam Shields: You canít have too many good cover cornerbacks in the pass-happy NFL, and although it wonít be cheap, the Packers need to remain strong at this position.
2. B.J. Raji: He under-performed in his contract year and raised some red flags, but big and agile defensive linemen are hard to find.
3. Evan Dietrich-Smith: Two years ago, the Packers let starting center Scott Wells walk and it didnít go well, so Thompson should learn from that mistake.
4. Mike Neal: He showed promise in his first season at outside linebacker and in time could become a legitimate difference-maker.
5. James Jones: With solid overall depth at receiver this isnít a priority, but it never hurts to give Aaron Rodgers as many weapons as possible.
6. Matt Flynn: If we learned only one thing from last season, itís that the Packers canít win without a credible backup quarterback if Aaron Rodgers gets hurt.
Take them or leave them
1. Andrew Quarless: Someone has to start at tight end, and he wouldnít be the worst option until a younger player emerges.
2. John Kuhn: Itís not a bad thing to have a savvy veteran on the roster, even if the fullback position is becoming less vital.
3. Johnny Jolly: He would have been a keeper if not for a late-season neck injury that leaves his football future in doubt.
4. James Starks: He runs hard and served as a decent complement to Eddie Lacy, but DuJuan Harris and Johnathan Franklin could fill that role if push comes to shove.
5. Ryan Pickett: Itís been a productive eight-year run in Green Bay, but heís ancient (34) in a young manís league.
6. Jamari Lattimore (restricted): Heís still developing and might be worth keeping as an inside linebacker prospect.
7. C.J. Wilson: Things looked promising in training camp but he fell off the map during the regular season.
8. Robert Francois: He could bring some juice to special teams, assuming the price tag is low enough.
9. Chris Banjo (exclusive rights): What he lacks in talent he attempts to make up for with effort, especially on special teams.
Let them walk
1. Jermichael Finley: Heís not worth the risk after a serious neck injury has left his football future in jeopardy.
2. M.D. Jennings (restricted): The time has come for the Packers to raise the performance bar at safety.
3. Marshall Newhouse: Surely the Packers can find better backup offensive linemen.
4. Seneca Wallace: Thereís a reason he didnít play for any team in 2012, and a season-ending injury in 2013 didnít improve his stock.
5. Kahlil Bell: His best days as a back and return man are behind him.
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