After coming to terms with cornerback Sam Shields, the Packers can turn their attention to their other high priority free agent, Evan Dietrich-Smith.
The Packers began each of the last three seasons with a different guy starting at center. After Pro Bowler Scott Wells left for St. Louis following the 2011 season, the Packers signed veteran Jeff Saturday to ease the transition to a younger, long-term answer at the position. That change came sooner than expected, as Saturday was benched midway through his lone year in Green Bay for Evan Dietrich-Smith. Dietrich-Smith returned under a one-year deal this past season and performed admirably. Once again, the Packers find themselves tasked with re-signing their starting center or beginning yet another project at the offensive line's most cerebral position.
The question of whether Ted Thompson can retain Dietrich-Smith should be settled over the next few days. In the event that the two sides fail to reach an agreement, the Packers will be forced to move on to Plan B.
But what is Plan B? There aren't many clues as to what the Packers would ultimately settle on, but here are the possibilities.
Tretter moves into the starting lineup
Overview: With the second of their three fourth-round picks, the Packers selected offensive lineman J.C. Tretter out of Cornell. Despite playing most of his college career at left tackle, Tretter's size (6-4, 307 lbs.) projected better at an interior line position. An ankle injury sidelined the rookie lineman for most of 2013, but Tretter did practice at center during the final weeks of the season. That appears to be where the Packers plan to develop him moving forward.
Pros: Now equipped with a snowplow for a running back, the Packers want to get bigger and stronger along the offensive line. Tretter's physical stature far exceeds Dietrich-Smith's, and in theory would allow Green Bay to run more effectively through the A gaps.
Cons: The drawback of Tretter is his inexperience. The Packers have taken painstaking measures to prevent an unproven player from starting at center. While Tretter's Ivy League background would suggest he can handle the mental aspects of the position, he's yet to demonstrate it on the field. Ideally, Tretter would backup at center for another few years before moving into the starting lineup.
Lang slides over to center
Overview: While Dietrich-Smith never missed a start in 2013, injuries forced him out early in week 10 and 13. In his absence, the Packers shifted T.J. Lang from right guard to center. Despite not practicing at the position, Lang was steady snapping the ball.
Pros: As with Tretter, Lang's size (6-4, 307 lbs.) would add considerable beef along the middle of the offensive line. Lang's intelligence and experience also lend themselves to successful center play. Additionally, Josh Sitton may benefit from playing alongside his best friend on the team.
Cons: Despite being a plus run blocker at guard, two of Lang's worst performances in that arena came in relief of Dietrich-Smith. While that doesn't necessarily mean Lang couldn't run block well consistently if he practiced at center fulltime, he might not play up to his size at the position. It's also unclear who would fill the guard vacancy in this scenario. Tretter, Lane Taylor, and even David Bakhtiari would have to be considered.
Bakhtiari moves from left tackle to center
Overview: It's easy to forget that before Bryan Bulaga's ACL tear opened the door for David Bakhtiari to take over the blindside, the Packers and most of the league viewed the rookie as an interior lineman prospect. Indeed, the Packers' west coast scouts suggested Bakhtiari as a potential guard or center to backup Sitton, Dietrich-Smith, and Lang. Bakhtiari endured an up-and-down first year in the NFL, but performed well consistently in pass protection.
Pros: While Bakhtiari is still incredibly young -- he won't turn 23 until after the start of the season -- the experience he gained as a rookie would be invaluable should the Packers move him to center. Like most first year offensive linemen, Bakhtiari stands to take a big leap in year two. Despite the position switch Bakhtiari would still line up next to Sitton. Such continuity would make the transition smoother.
Cons: If Bakhtiari doesn't line up at one of the tackle positions next season, it means that two of Bryan Bulaga, Derek Sherrod, and Don Barclay are starting there instead. Bulaga should be fine wherever the Packers put him, but Barclay struggled through most of last season and Sherrod remains an unknown.
The Packers welcome back a familiar face
Overview: While he's yet to receive a pink slip, there's reason to believe the Rams will part with Scott Wells after two seasons. Cutting Wells would save St. Louis $4.5 million on this year's cap. It would also allow the team the opportunity to find out what it has in 2013 fourth-round pick Barrett Jones.
Wells' performance the past two seasons hasn't come close to matching his play in Green Bay, but much of that can be attributed to injuries. Now healthy, Wells could perhaps start another year or two alongside Sitton and Lang.
Pros: Wells played in the Packers' offense for many years and wouldn't require much time to reacclimate. Furthermore, he had a great relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the offensive linemen. At 33, Wells wouldn't cost too much to sign.
Cons: Playing along the offensive line takes a considerable toll on the body. That's even truer for undersized linemen such as Scott Wells. As he enters his mid-30s, staying healthy becomes a more monumental task. Even if he stays on the field, it's been over two years since Wells last played at a high level.