With the NFL teams stuck in a state of limbo thanks to the lingering lockout, we are taking a tour around the league and looking at where teams stand as they await the opening of the 2011 league year. Today, we offer our take on where the defending Super Bowl champion Packers stand.
Top three story lines
1. Did the rich get richer? After winning their fourth Super Bowl title and league-high 13th NFL championship with QB Aaron Rodgers, LOLB Clay Matthews and an outstanding secondary headlining a high-quality core, there are many who believe the Packers will enter the 2011 season looking even stronger with featured back Ryan Grant and highly regarded TE Jermichael Finley among the 15 players returning from season-ending injuries in 2010. It also helps that GM Ted Thompson once again did a good job in the draft, appearing to add quality depth on both sides of the ball.
2. Is Rodgers the league's new poster boy at quarterback? With apologies to Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers, among others, the Packers' 2005 first-round draft pick blossomed into arguably the league's most polished and productive signalcaller last season after an uneven start. It's worth noting that Rodgers was forced to overcome two concussions on the road to the Super Bowl. While backup Matt Flynn proved to be a very worthy replacement in a late-season start against the Patriots, the Packers figure to need a healthy Rodgers operating at full throttle to have a legitimate shot at hoisting a second consecutive Lombardi Trophy next February.
3. Will Father Time take his toll on key veterans such as 34-year-old Pro Bowl CB Charles Woodson, 34-year-old Pro Bowl OLT Chad Clifton (he turns 35 in June) and 36-year-old WR Donald Driver? While Woodson excelled primarily as an extra linebacker in the slot last season, he became much more vulnerable outside, as his interception total dropped from nine in 2009 to two in '10. Clifton kept on getting better last season, after looking like he was on his last legs in mid-September, and managed to start every game, thanks to a relaxed practice regimen. But both of his knees have taken quite a beating over the years, and he missed four games because of injury in 2009, in addition to getting forced out of four other games that season counting the playoffs. Driver really started to show his age and is likely to be replaced by Jordy Nelson as the No. 2 wideout behind Greg Jennings this season.
2011 free-agency — whenever that happens
Unsigned players: OG Adrian Battles (1), CB Josh Bell (3), S Atari Bigby (5), OT Chris Campbell (1), OG Daryn Colledge (5), PK Mason Crosby (4), S Michael Greco (1), FB Korey Hall (4), TE Spencer Havner (2), RB Brandon Jackson (4), LB Cardia Jackson (1), DE Cullen Jenkins (7), DE Johnny Jolly (5), WR James Jones (4), FB John Kuhn (5), S Anthony Levine (1), DT Jay Ross (1), S Anthony Smith (5), OL Jason Spitz (5), WR Brett Swain (2), WR Chastin West (1), LB Matt Wilhelm (8), DE Curtis Young (1). [Editor's note: The number after a players' name is his years of service in the league. If the NFL decides to go with free agency under the same rules as used in 2010, then a player would become a restricted free agent after three years and an unrestricted free agent after six years.]
Analysis: History shows that free agents coming off Super Bowl appearances tend to have increased market value, whether justified or not, and that's a trend that could bode well for both Jenkins, who is considered as good as gone by most close team observers, and Jones, who is probably 50-50 to re-sign. The Packers' backfield could take a hit if both Jackson and Kuhn hit the free-agent market. Look for at least one of them to re-sign with Green Bay, the most likely being Kuhn, a huge fan favorite who might not fit other teams' schemes as well as he fits the Packers' offense. Crosby is also more likely to re-sign with the Packers, as his market value is hampered by the fact he has only one game-winning field goal in his four-year career. Colledge, who was widely considered the weakest link on the offensive line, wants to get paid and will end up going to the highest bidder. Bigby and Spitz are expected to be sent packing. Jolly, who continues to be burdened by off-field legal issues, looks like a long shot to be back playing football any time soon.
2011 rookie class
First-round OT Derek Sherrod (No. 32 overall) — A smart, durable three-year starter at Mississippi State, Sherrod will begin his career in Green Bay as the primary backup at both tackle spots. Not too far down the road, though, he is expected to replace Clifton at left tackle.
Second-round WR Randall Cobb (No. 64 overall) — The versatile Cobb, who is capable of contributing in five different areas (wide receiver, return man, running back, holder and quarterback), probably will make a bigger initial impact than any of the team's rookies as the front-runner to return both kickoffs and punts. Cobb also starts off as the No. 4 receiver behind Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver.
Third-round RB Alex Green (No. 96 overall) — A big back who led the country with 8.2 yards per carry last season in Hawaii's spread offense, Green is a good bet to possibly replace Jackson as the team's third-down back. He is an excellent receiver out of the backfield with quick feet and good instincts.
Fourth-round CB Davon House (No. 131 overall) — House adds depth at cornerback, where Pro Bowl veteran Charles Woodson is getting up in years. House's durability and drop-off in production his senior year at New Mexico State concerned the Packers, but they really like his size (6-0, 200) and speed (4.41 forty time).
Fifth-round TE D.J. Williams (No. 141 overall) — The Packers believe Williams might have had the best hands of any tight end available in the draft, but he could have a real problem getting on the field with Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree ahead of him on the depth chart.
Sixth-round OG Caleb Schlauderaff (No. 179 overall) — A four-year starter at left guard at Utah, Schlauderaff could figure in the mix at the same position for the Packers. He plays low to the ground with terrific balance and is a smart kid, but he has been bothered by a nagging hamstring injury this spring.
Sixth-round ILB D.J. Smith (No. 186 overall) — Fast and rangy with the ability to play both outside and inside, Smith is expected to back up starting ILB A.J. Hawk. The Packers like his nonstop hustle.
Sixth-round OLB Ricky Elmore (No. 197 overall) — Elmore is a blue-collar grinder who adds depth on the perimeter. Prior to the NFL Scouting Combine, he spent five weeks working with Clay Matthews Jr., the former All-Pro linebacker and father of Clay Matthews III, the Packers' superstar left outside linebacker.
Seventh-round TE-FB Ryan Taylor (No. 218 overall) — Taylor set a school record for receptions by a tight end with 36 as a senior at North Carolina. But look for him primarily to make his presence felt on special teams, where he is viewed as a potentially key contributor.
Seventh-round DE Lawrence Guy (No. 233 overall) — Guy is a developmental project at the five-technique spot with good size, speed and determination.
Lockout fallout: How impacted will the Packers be by the work stoppage?
On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most significantly impacted), the Packers rate a 2. Although there will be a few significant personnel changes on both sides of the ball, the team's roster turnover figures to be relatively minimal. In addition, Green Bay's masterfully coached schemes on offense and defense remain the same. It goes without saying that assistant coaches Edgar Bennett and Jerry Fontenot are gnashing their teeth in anticipation of their new roles (WR coach and RB coach, respectively). But the bottom line is that the defending Super Bowl champs are better equipped to make up for lost time on the practice field than arguably any team in the league.