Aaron's Answers: Packers' free-agent focus?

Aaron Nagler
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Throughout the offseason, I’ll be answering reader questions in a weekly mailbag here at PackersNews.com. If you’d like to submit a question in the future, just email me atanagler@gannett.com.

With the Green Bay Packers starting their offseason by releasing running back James Starks and cornerback Sam Shields, the arduous task of “reloading” the roster has begun. Let’s dive in to your questions.

From Steven Petersen:

To be a dominating team the defense, as we say, wins championships. Our team in 2010 which won the Lombardi Trophy had a multitude of injuries defensively and also on offense. In your opinion, would a veteran shutdown corner and edge rusher be the answer in free agency?

Aaron’s answer:

Free agency is a tricky beast, and never as easy as “just go get a shutdown corner.” For every Janoris Jenkins, who signed with the New York Giants last offseason and proceeded to have a career year, there’s a Byron Maxwell signing with the Philadelphia Eagles and proving to be an overpriced disaster.

The Packers are in a tough spot when it comes to the cornerback position. They have two guys they drafted with premium picks as recently as two years ago in Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins who clearly were not up to the task of being a No. 1 corner this season. (And yes, this determination could be made even prior to their many injury issues.)

Can the Packers count on one of them developing into a dependable corner going forward? Regardless of the answer to that question, Ted Thompson needs to be open to every avenue possible to improve the cornerback position. He simply cannot afford to box himself in to “draft and develop” as the majority means by which he procures talent, or he will continue to leave shallow spots in his roster.

From Guilherme Dufflis:

So, the Patriots just won the SB for the fifth time in the last 17 seasons. They made it to the final 7 times, and fell in the championship game another four. They have a HOF QB and a great coach. They also aren't afraid of making splash moves in free agency or trading to get draft picks and players. Although you can say they are in one of the softest divisions in the NFL, you can't argue with their consistent results. In the same period, the Packers won a Super Bowl and fell in the championship 3 times, in addition to several other playoff losses in which our weak defense was a huge factor. In your opinion, isn't this a strong indication that, in order to take the next step, Ted has to make changes in either philosophy, coaching, or staff? If you were the GM, what would be your actions?

Aaron’s answer:

I got a lot of questions that used the Patriots as a comparison this week, and I think this one touches on all the others, so here goes:

There is only one Bill Belichick, and the Football Gods put him in New England. No one else is Bill Belichick, and no one will ever be Bill Belichick, except Bill Belichick. If you desperately feel the need to root for a Bill Belichick team, the Patriots are always at your disposal.

With that out of the way, in answer to your question, I’d point you above to the first answer. I’d open up every avenue when it comes to acquiring players. Trades, free agency (though I’d never jump in during the stupid money time) and moving up and down the draft board.

Now, all of that said, Ted Thompson is one of the best general managers in the league and the last thing he needs is me telling him what to do. In fact, Packers fans should be thankful they’ve enjoyed the type of success they have with Thompson at the helm. One need only look at over half the league to see how hopeless it can feel year in and year out knowing your team has no shot at winning a Super Bowl. For all the heartache you may have dealt with over the last decade, your team always has had a chance. There are plenty of fan bases who can’t even comprehend that idea.

From Matt Kronzer:

Being a draft & develop team , that should include retain. Our own FAs are FAs too & a couple guys I think really they are high on as far as the guys they drafted go ...  Hyde , Lacy & Perry. I think TT will put an emphasis on Lacy , or at least be a bit more liberal to his approach than that of another guy under similar circumstances.

Could you number our own draftees in order of preference to retain? Top 3-4 ?

Aaron’s answer:

Interesting thought experiment, Matt, if only because it leaves out the one guy who I think will be at the top of the pecking order when it comes to re-signings and that’s Jared Cook.

Of the guys they’ve drafted, I’d put Micah Hyde at 1, Nick Perry at 2, J.C. Tretter at 3, Eddie Lacy at 4 and T.J. Lang at 5. I know that last one won’t be popular, but Thompson rarely if ever gives out big money for a guy’s third contract. Couple that with the fact Lang undoubtedly can get that big money on the open market, and it’s hard to see the team making him a priority. They’ve had all year to lock him up and haven’t so much as spoken to his agent, other than to tell him that they want to concentrate on younger guys first. That pretty much says it all.

From Matt Baumgartner:

I tend to side with you in that the Packers likely won't sign a bunch of FA (maybe 1 and it would have to be a good price). Barring a street FA being made available like Cook or Peppers were, it just doesn't mesh with Thompson's 'mo and isn't great cap management. That being said, now that Compensatory picks are tradeable, do you think there's any chance Thompson will get a bit more aggressive in the draft moving up? Likely have a 5th and a 7th round comp pick, which should be more than enough draft capital to make a move up at least in the 2nd round.

Aaron’s answer:

As most anyone who has followed along on my Facebook Live chats knows, I absolutely think the fact that compensatory picks are now tradeable should give Thompson all the ammo he needs to move up and down the draft board a bit more freely.

Now, do I think Thompson suddenly will become more aggressive just because he can be? Not exactly, but I do think the move up to land Jason Spriggs last year shows that he’s not averse to jumping up to grab a player he thinks can help his team. His jump up to draft Clay Matthews is obviously the extreme example of this, but I don’t think he needs to do anything quite that drastic in this draft.

Ultimately, the draft teaches us year after year that it is the world’s biggest crapshoot, especially after the blue-chip players are gone early. The more swings at the plate, so to speak, the better. But with a team that has such obvious needs (edge rusher and cornerback chief among them) the extra picks are a nice bargaining chip to have to allow for ultimate freedom.

From Kiley Tracy:

Hi Aaron. I recall you asking Mike McCarthy during last off season's NFL coaches meeting, I believe, about possibly using more pro formation. I forget which game it was this season, but did McCarthy actually have a pro-formation package for one or two plays, or was I just seeing things? I realize when one of your backs is Christine Michael off the street and another is a former blocking FB in Aaron Ripkowski that you can't necessarily just plug them into pro formation, but is this something that might be beneficial to see moving ahead with Ty Montgomery and another reliable complementary back to create mismatches off play action and get Aaron Rodgers in a rhythm when he's struggling?

Aaron’s answer:

Well remembered, Kiley! I did indeed ask McCarthy about “pro set” or “split backs” last spring at the NFL scouting combine. I’d have to go back over the season to be sure (I’m about halfway through doing so right now) but I don’t recall an actual, traditional pro set popping up in the Packers' backfield this year.

As McCarthy explained when we spoke, so many of the guys coming out of college these days are learning the game as single backs, so their footwork and speed to the hole is really geared away from the kind of things the pro set offers an offense.

That said, who knows if it could make a reemergence in the NFL game? Football is and always has been an incredibly cyclical game with formations and schemes going in and out of favor. The 3-4 defense is a perfect example of something that almost completely disappeared from the pro game before it came roaring back into prominence.

Could pro set make a similar reappearance? Be on the lookout for it on an NFL field near you.

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