After a parade of defections in free agency and few additions made to the team, the Green Bay Packers have some catching up to do this spring.
Known for a staunch draft-and-develop philosophy in his 12 years at the helm, general manager Ted Thompson has a bunch of positions to address throughout the three-day draft, which starts April 27 in Philadelphia.
Running back, guard, cornerback and outside linebacker all have been depleted the last two months.
After cutting the veteran duo of Pro Bowl cornerback Sam Shields and running back James Starks in February, the Packers watched several key players flee in free agency in March -- lead back Eddie Lacy (Seattle Seahawks), Pro Bowl right guard T.J. Lang (Detroit Lions), versatile defensive back Micah Hyde (Buffalo Bills), future Pro Football Hall of Famer Julius Peppers (Carolina Panthers) and his fellow outside linebacker Datone Jones (Minnesota Vikings).
Green Bay also lost veteran tight end Jared Cook (Oakland Raiders) after just one season and young interior lineman JC Tretter (Cleveland Browns), who opened last season as the starting center in place of an injured Corey Linsley.
Thompson ensured the defense still has a capable complement to pass-rushing linebacker Clay Matthews by re-signing Nick Perry to a five-year, $60 million contract at the outset of free agency. Perry had a career- and team-high 12 sacks last season, including the playoffs.
The GM also tried to bolster the cornerback position, which was ripped to shreds in the 44-21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship, by bringing back Davon House on a one-year, $2.8 million deal. The seventh-year pro left Green Bay in 2015 for what turned out to be a short-lived stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The one position that won't need to be addressed in the draft is tight end after Thompson turned a surprising double play by signing veteran playmakers Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. The 30-year-old Bennett, who is going into his 10th pro season, after winning the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, landed a three-year, $21 million contract.
Kendricks, a seventh-year pro from Milwaukee who played his college ball at Wisconsin, signed a two-year, $4 million deal.
Here is a closer look at where the Packers are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft, No. 29 overall.
2016 finish: 1st NFC North (10-6)
TOTAL OFFENSE: 368.8 (8th)
RUSHING: 106.3 (20th)
PASSING: 262.4 (7th)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 363.9 (22nd)
RUSHING: 94.7 (8th)
PASSING: 269.3 (31st)
1. Cornerback: The return of Davon House to Green Bay after he bolted in free agency in 2015 for a starting job with the Jacksonville Jaguars doesn't heal a wounded position for the Packers. General manager Ted Thompson bid adieu to veteran standout Sam Shields early in the offseason in the wake of his repeated concussions, and integral defensive back Micah Hyde signed a free-agent deal with the Buffalo Bills. The absence of Shields for all but the opening game reared its ugly head throughout last season, culminating with the defenseless display on the back end against Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in the Atlanta Falcons' 44-21 NFC Championship rout. Though House should step right in as a starter, the Packers still could use a ready-made contributor early in the upcoming draft as they continue to wait on the development of young prospects Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter.
2. Running back: Thompson fortified the team's bread-and-butter passing game by signing not one, but two big-play tight ends in free agency with Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. That's good news for Aaron Rodgers, who has an abundance of options on the receiving end of his throws. Yet, the Packers have counted more key personnel losses than gains so far this offseason, and one of the big departures happened at running back. Eddie Lacy, thought to be a bell cow in the team's backfield for many years, is looking to get back on track after two subpar, injury-plagued seasons by joining the Seattle Seahawks. Coupled with the release of James Starks shortly after last season, that leaves the Packers with converted wideout Ty Montgomery and the re-signed Christine Michael as their top two ball carriers going into the spring workouts.
3. Guard: The Packers are faced with plugging in a starter at right guard for the first time since they shifted stalwart T.J. Lang there from the left side in 2013. That's because Lang's productive eight-year run in Green Bay is over after he cashed in as a free agent with a big contract from the rival Detroit Lions. Head coach Mike McCarthy has asserted that veteran Bryan Bulaga, who has experience playing guard, won't be moving from his longstanding spot of right tackle. Yet, the team's investment of a second-round draft pick in natural tackle Jason Spriggs last year may prompt some necessary line tinkering, unless Thompson hits on a capable interior player in the draft. The only viable options on the roster are versatile backup Don Barclay, recently signed first-year player Justin McCray and Kyle Murphy, a tackle who essentially had a redshirt rookie season as a sixth-round draft pick.
KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 5)
T/G Don Barclay: UFA; $1.025M/1 yr, $150K SB.
LB Jayrone Elliott: Not tendered as RFA; $1.6M/1 yr.
RB Christine Michael: UFA; $800K/1 yr, $25B SB.
LB Nick Perry: UFA; $60M/5 yrs, $18.5M SB.
LB Jordan Tripp: Not tendered as RFA; terms unknown.
TE Martellus Bennett: UFA Patriots; $21M/3 yrs, $6.3M SB.
CB Davon House: FA Jaguars; 1 yr, terms unknown.
DL Ricky Jean Francois: FA Redskins; $3M/1 yr.
TE Lance Kendricks: FA Rams; terms unknown.
DL Ego Ferguson (waived, Bears).
TE Jared Cook: UFA Raiders; $10.6M/2 yrs, $2.5M RB/$5M guaranteed.
S Micah Hyde: UFA Bills; $30.5M/5 yrs, $8M SB/$14M guaranteed, $3.7M injury only at time of signing.
LB Datone Jones: UFA Vikings; $3.75M 1 yr, $1.6M SB.
RB Eddie Lacy: UFA Seahawks; $4.25M/1 yr, $1.5M SB/$2.865M guaranteed.
G T.J. Lang: UFA Lions; $28.5M/3 yrs, $8M SB/$19M guaranteed.
LB Julius Peppers: UFA Panthers; $3.5M/1 yr, $1.65M SB.
CB Sam Shields (released/failed physical).
RB James Starks (released/non-football injury).
C/G JC Tretter: UFA Browns; $16.75M/3 yrs, $4.5M SB/$10M guaranteed, $3.5M injury only at time of signing.
NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 29 overall)
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State. Running back is far from Green Bay's biggest concern, but after allowing Eddie Lacy to leave in free agency, the Packers will almost surely be looking for help there via the draft. Cook is a top-20 talent, but questions about his shoulders and decisions off the field could lead to a surprising drop on draft day.
Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky. The Packers lost several offensive linemen to free agency and now have strong question marks at guard. A four-year starter at left tackle, Lamp is a plug-and-play guard in the Zack Martin mold.
Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?
Based on the team's current status, those are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate see NFLDraftScout.com's full mocks and ratings.
--Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. TSX team insiders contributed to this article.