Free-agent countdown: LB Jamari Lattimore
Editor's note: Prior to the start of the new league year in March, Press-Gazette Media is counting down the top unrestricted, restricted and exclusive right free agents the Green Bay Packers will have to decide on this offseason.
The rebuilding has begun for the Green Bay Packers at inside linebacker.
General manager Ted Thompson didn't even wait until the conclusion of the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis to part ways with veteran Brad Jones, a move that freed up $3.75 million toward the 2015 salary cap.
Along with determining A.J. Hawk's future with the franchise, Thompson will also need to decide how unrestricted free-agent Jamari Lattimore fits in Green Bay.
Lattimore, 26, signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2011. He converted from defensive end to outside linebacker during his first NFL season, but was still relatively small for the position at 6-foot-2, 229 pounds.
The following year, the Packers moved him and Jones to inside linebacker. He played only eight defensive snaps in 2012 before breaking out in his third NFL season with 35 tackles and two sacks in 15 games and four starts in place of an injured Jones.
The Packers extended Lattimore a first-right-of-refusal contract for $1.431 million last offseason out of fear they wouldn't be able to retain him if he hit the free-agent market. Lattimore started the season as the top backup to Hawk and Jones. He was also the next-man-up behind Clay Matthews in the short-lived quad 4-3 defense.
It was a good insurance policy. Lattimore entered the starting lineup in Week 2 after Jones aggravated a quad injury in the opener against Seattle. He showed tenacity on defense, but lacked instincts at the position. He was inconsistent in coverage and wasn't natural fitting against the run.
The starting inside job eventually went to second-year pro Sam Barrington and Lattimore returned to special teams. He injured his ankle against New England on Nov. 30 and finished the season on injured reserve.
The Packers liked Lattimore's length and ranginess, but it remains to be seen if that will translate to extending him another contract. While he's been a stalwart on special teams, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the team's veterans need to step up. Lattimore was at fault in October for losing containment on a blocked Tim Masthay punt against Miami.
With Hawk's status in question, Green Bay have only other three inside linebackers under contract for next season: Barrington, 2014 fourth-round pick Carl Bradford and undrafted rookie Joe Thomas. Only Barrington has played in an NFL game.
It might only take another one-year deal to bring back Lattimore. He also should be cheaper than the $1.431 million tender he received last year. If the Packers truly want to revamp the position like they did at safety last year, however, it might require a complete reboot.
Jamari Lattimore, fifth-year linebacker
The skinny: Unrestricted free agent.
The snaps: 416 total (281 defense, 135 special teams).
The stats: 39 tackles, one interception
2014 salary: $1.431 million.