Well, after a comment on the current NTs and possible 2014 NTs turned into a pretty interesting discussion on 2014 Free Agency in general, I thought that would be a good topic for a fanpost, so here goes!
First of, I will look at some positions that could prove to be critical in the 2013 off season, because of the players set to become Free Agents and the depth of their respective positions.
Next, I'll attempt to speculate a little on the Packers 2014 salary cap figures and how much room they will have.
Last, I'll share my own opinion on who could be important for the Packers in the future and who could actually be resigned given the salary cap figure.
First: critical positions in 2014
Along the DL: Ryan Pickett, 34, NT/DE; Johnny Jolly, 30, DE/NT; BJ Raji, 27, NT/DE; CJ Wilson, 26, DE are all going to be Free Agents. Basically, the Packers 3 prototypical big men are Free Agents. These three are the players that line up next to each other in the base 3-4, run stop lineup. The depth along the DL looks good on first glance, despite 4 players being Free Agents. The Packers will have 2013 first round pick Datone Jones, 2012 second round pick Jerel Worthy, 2012 fourth round pick Mike Daniels and 2013 fifth round pick Josh Boyd. On second glance however, it becomes evident, that all four of these players are currently listed as DEs, leaving the NT spot weak. I personally believe Daniels could be an effective and strong NT, but that is anything but certain, so the DT/NT spot will be of high importance after the season.
Moving on to the LBs: Mike Neal, 26, OLB/DE; Rob Francois, 28, ILB; Jamari Lattimore, 24, ILB (RFA) are all players that could go either way, IMO, especially since the Packers appear to have decent depth along the LBs. Inside they have AJ Hawk, Brad Jones and Sam Barrington, outside they have Matthews, Perry, Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer. However, without the FAs, it's a collection of late round/undrafted 2013 rookies behind the starting 4, which could be troublesome.
In the secondary, Sam Shields, MD Jennings (RFA) and Chris Banjo (Exclusive RIghts) will be subject to Free Agency. While neither MD Jennings nor Chris Banjo seem to have big parts in the Packers future at Safety, losing both would leave the Packers thin. Also, Sam Shields has been showing plenty of potential to be a #1 CB.
What it comes down to is that without Finley and Quarless, the Packers would only have Bostick and Taylor as TEs currently on the 53 (Stoneburner on the Practice Squad deserves mention here), whole James Jones is one of the big 3 at WR and behind those 3, there's no player the Packers appear comfortable to rely on as of right now. Starks is one of 3 current RBs and has just enjoyed a huge game. He appears to be the safest bet in case Lacy is injured, though DuJuan Harris will likely be back come 2014. As for Wallace: The Packers have just cut ties with their two development projects in Colemann and Harrell and nothing is known yet about Tolzien.
Moving on to some cap talk: The Packers are currently roughly 10 million under the cap, which appears set to get rolled over into 2014 (unless there will be any major signings because of injuries). The cap numbers of the 2014 FAs make up well over 35 million this season.
This could lead you to figure the Packers will have 45 million in cap space next season (35 from players gone, 10 rolled over), however the salaries and cap numbers of players signed beyond 2014 will increase, as well.
Looking at the 3 players the Packers resigned this off season (Rodgers, Matthews and Burnett): their cap hits will increase by a total of roughly 11-12 million. So now we're already down to ~30 million (on the careful side)
Looking at some other important players (Bulaga, Hawk, B.Jones, Lang, Nelson, Sitton, Williams) there goes another ~7.5 mil because of salary increases. Adding in the rest of the roster, it's probably safe to say they will have another 10 mil less because of salary increases outside of the 3 big extentions.
Overall, my guess is they'll have about 20 million to work with. I'll leave the number at that, because while they will have to pay rookies, there will also likely be some cuts.
So 20 million dollars and a whole bunch of players of note.. Who to keep?
I think there are a few key players in here, that they can't let go.
#1: Sam Shields. He's been steadily improving as a CB, and since he's learned how to tackle, he's actually been really good! He appears on the verge of pricing himself out of GB, so I hope they get this taken care of quickly and won't have to pay 10 mil.
#2: Either James Jones or Jermichael Finley. As was said in the comment section, they'll probably have to keep one of the two. My vote would go out to Finley. Why? Well, I'm expecting both to have big seasons this year and I think the price tag will be similar. Sure, Jones is quite a bit older, but he also plays at the WR position, which usually is paid much better than TE. I think their worth to the team would be fairly similar, but if they lose Finley, they likely have to resign Andrew Quarless. You wouldn't wanna go with Bostick and Taylor as your only TEs with NFL experience.
#3 One big DL. This is where it's starting to get tricky. Shields and Finley/Jones will already be eating up a lot of cap room! Raji would, too, while Jolly might be somewhat cheaper. However, you get age concerns with Jolly and he's really more of a run defending DE. Pickett is too old for GB, Wilson was a healthy scratch for the Redskins game, so that means it's going to be either Jolly or Raji. In my opinion, WR/TE and Shields have higher priority, so the direction they go would largely depend on the cap space left.
#4: An LB! I would love to see Neal back next season, with a whole season and another off season under his belt in the hybrid role that seems to suit him best. However, that role might also price him out of Green Bay. In general, I'm not comfortable with all the late round/UDFA rookies being the top backups next season. Maybe resigning Francois and releasing Hawk would be a way to keep a quality player and free up some cap space? I believe the dead money won't be a reason to keep Hawk again, next season?!
In conclusion, this is my (greatly premature) view of the 2014 Free Agency chaos. I find it very interesting, as there will be more than just one or two very important decisions that will need to be mad and the future of the franchise might very well depend on the front office choosing wisely who to resign and who to let go.
One thing is guaranteed: Agreement between the fans will never be achieved, so we'll always have something to argue over and blame TT and the front office for, if the season doesn't go as hoped!
I hope I get some people to actually read this insane monologue and maybe start a discussion in the comments! Hope you enjoyed the future outlook!