Look for Charles Woodson to be released due to his age (36) and bloated salary (10.5 million cap hit.) Woodson still has the potential to be a playmaker in the back end, but with younger, cheaper options available in M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian, and Woodson’s recent injury history, there is no incentive to keep him on the roster.
This year’s class of safeties in the draft is also deep and impressive, so the Packers could add talent to the position.
A.J. Hawk had a solid season (top 20 finish in Pro Football Focuses end of year ratings) but hasn’t been involved in a turnover play since 2010. Brad Jones, who has more versatility and size than Hawk, and also finished higher in PFF’s end of year rankings, is a free agent but should be amenable to a team friendly extension. Therefore, look for the Packers to trade or release Hawk and wipe his $5 million salary from the books. The ideal starting ILB’s for the Packers in this scenario would be Jones and Desmond Bishop, who is returning from a season ending hamstring tear. Also, with the waning play of Tramon Williams and the emergence of Sam Shields, Davon House, and Casey Hayward, Williams could be a prime candidate for trade. I don’t think the Packers would cut him outright because of the value of competent cover men in today’s NFL, but a team looking for a viable starter could be interested, such as the Dolphins or Buccaneers.
The Packers have been extremely quiet in free agency since 2006, when Thompson signed Ryan Pickett and Charles Woodson, both of whom are still on the roster. However, with the bloated free agent market that is developing, there could be some viable and affordable options. There are a number of veteran 3-4 DE’s, including Chris Canty, Israel Idonije, Richard Seymour, Randy Starks, Jason Jones, and others who fit a need for a tall and strong anchor at the RDE spot. I would think Canty and Starks would be the best fit of this group. Also, there are reports that Jared Odrick of the Miami Dolphins could be made available for trade or released, and he is a perfect young schematic fit for the Packers 3-4. A player of Desmond Bryant’s caliber (Starting DT for Oakland, FA) would be a huge addition to the Packers defensive line, but he will demand an extremely expensive contract.
If the Packers look to free agency for linebacker help, there are a few options on the table. Players like Paul Kruger, Anthony Spencer, and Connor Barwin will probably price themselves out of the Packers range, but there is some quality depth to the market in Antwan Barnes and Victor Butler, both of whom will not draw top dollar. However, it would be more likely that the Packers would bring back Erik Walden, whom they are familiar with, than go after one of the aforementioned players. Also, with Nick Perry returning from injury, and quality depth in the form of Dezman Moses, it would be hard to envision the Packers reaching for a high priced free agent at this position.
Assuming the Packers are set for years to come at CB, the only secondary depth they could need would be at safety. Louis Delmas, Glover Quin, Pat Chung, and Kenny Phillips, depending on their respective price tags, could be options. Quin is the most talented and proven of the group, whereas Delmas, Chung, and Phillips are extremely talented but their careers have been held back due to injury. However, I would assume that unless one of these players is available for extremely cheap, the Packers are content to extend Morgan Burnett’s contract and let M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, and perhaps a draft pick compete for the other safety spot.
I expect this draft will be heavy on the defensive side of the ball once again. I would expect the Packers, depending on their free agent acquisitions, to target safety early, pick up a talented prototypical 3-4 DE if the value is right at their pick, and perhaps look to add more pass rushing depth at OLB. As the draft approaches, I will be doing some more specific analysis on particular players that would fit the Packers scheme and needs.