*With the offseason officially under way, Around The League will examine what's next for all 32 teams. The series continues with the Green Bay Packers. *
General manager Ted Thompson has snubbed free agency, cutting off one avenue of roster building that has benefited his competition atop the NFC. That will have to change if the Packers are going to keep up with the likes of the Seahawks and 49ers.
Coach Mike McCarthy believes the offense has a chance to be special with Aaron Rodgers and Eddie Lacy catching defensive coordinators in a crossfire, but McCarthy needs help on the other side of the ball. Dom Capers' 3-4 alignment is staying. Now, he needs an influx of talent to hold up his end of the bargain.
» CB Sam Shields: After translating his high-end speed into top-notch coverage ability last season, Shields is expected to be the Packers' No. 1 priority in free agency. Just 26 years old and still improving, Shields would probably command at least $6 million annually on the open market.
» DT B.J. Raji: This is a tricky one for Thompson. Raji offers a first-round pedigree and prototypical size, but he's already turned down an offer reported to be worth $8 million annually -- and he hasn't displayed impact playmaking ability over the past two seasons. Several scouts and personnel directors opined to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Raji would struggle to land that contract on the open market.
» WR James Jones: Coming off a disappointing season after leading the NFL with 14 receiving touchdowns in 2012, Jones is expected to test the open market. His preference is to remain with the Packers, but Thompson won't overpay with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in line for contract extensions.
» TE Jermichael Finley: Finley is expected to get the green light for football activities this month. His first choice is to return to Green Bay, but Packers doctors refused to clear safety Nick Collins after undergoing a similar neck surgery. Local observers seem to believe Finley will have to find another team willing to take on that risk.
Other key free agents: DE Ryan Pickett, DE Johnny Jolly, RB James Starks, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, LB Mike Neal, TE Andrew Quarless, QB Matt Flynn, OT Marshall Newhouse
What they need
Rodgers and Lacy will do the heavy lifting regardless, but the offense could use a pass-catching tight end to replace Finley as well as quality depth on the offensive line -- beyond the return of Bryan Bulaga.
A greater priority will be placed on fixing a defense that finished in the bottom third of the league for the second time in the past three years. Getting Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Casey Hayward back healthy will help, but this unit needs an impact player at all three levels even if Raji and Shields are brought back. Safety was perhaps the biggest trouble spot, as the secondary gave up too many big plays in the second half of the season.
On the way out?
Because the Packers are such a staunch draft-and-development operation, it's not often that they overpay for players. There are no obvious salary-cap casualties this offseason, though injury-plagued offensive tackle Derek Sherrod ($2.1 million) and kicker Mason Crosby ($3.4 million) have inflated cap numbers.
Cornerback Tramon Williams is no longer worthy of a $9.5 million cap figure, but he did lead all Packers defenders in snaps last season. He should be safe for another year.
Offseason crystal ball
Raji has priced himself out of Green Bay, but Shields stands a chance of re-signing before free agency commences in early March. Jones and Finley will test the market, with the former a better bet to return.
Thompson's track record suggests he will attempt to patch all holes via the draft and signing undrafted free agents. The bad news is that recent first-round picks, such as Perry and Datone Jones, have failed to make an impact in Year 1. The goods news is the Packers have come closest to the Seahawks in getting contributions from mid-round draft picks.
In the latest "Around The League Podcast," the guys ponder the future in both Seattle and Denver and break down the teams who intrigue them most this offseason.