For the second time in as many seasons, the Green Bay Packers have lost a Pro Bowl guard to an NFC North rival. In 2016, the team released Josh Sitton during final cuts and saw him resurface with the Chicago Bears. This time around, T.J. Lang has signed a three-year contract with the Detroit Lions. In either case, the departing player left a void along the offensive line for Green Bay to fill.
At this stage, the Packers have no clear-cut choice to replace Lang. However, that doesn't mean they lack options for how to approach the situation. Whether through an in-house promotion or bringing in a player from outside the organization, Green Bay has plenty to consider before the 2017 regular season arrives.
Next man up
When the Packers released Sitton at the outset of the 2016 season, speculation began immediately as to how the team might shift starters into the vacated spot at left guard. Instead, Lane Taylor stepped into the void and performed admirably all season. This could well serve as an indication of how Green Bay plans to approach Lang's departure.
In that vein, the Packers have a few candidates. Likely first among contenders, Don Barclay returned to Green Bay on a one-year, $1.3 million deal. While his performance has largely underwhelmed since suffering an ACL tear during training camp in 2014, the coaches remain confident in his abilities to play. When Lang missed time last season, the staff first went to Barclay as a replacement, only shifting to others after a shoulder injury forced their hand.
Additionally, the Packers could insert one of their two O-line draft selections from 2016 -- Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy -- into right guard. Spriggs received some time in that role last season, though his lack of strength limited him significantly. At least at this time, his future still appears to lie at tackle. Murphy presents a more interesting case, as the team compared him to Lang after the draft. Like Spriggs, he stands 6-foot-6 and could use more time in the weight room, but Green Bay felt confident enough in his potential to burn a roster spot on him throughout last season.
A dark horse contender, Lucas Patrick could also factor into the discussion. Despite joining the Packers as an undrafted free agent and breaking his hand, Patrick became a fixture of the No. 2 offensive line during the preseason and eventually earned a spot on the practice squad. While he hasn't received multiple years of seasoning like Taylor had, Patrick could make the leap and enter the starting lineup in 2017.
Rearrange the pieces
The Packers have stated numerous times that they like to put their five best offensive linemen on the field. If so, the best course of action might involve shifting a current starter into right guard and inserting a new starter at the subsequently vacated spot.
Bryan Bulaga seems the most obvious candidate for such a move. He played guard during his career at Iowa as well as during his first season in Green Bay. He also has the strength and mauler's mentality to succeed in such a transition. Additionally, because Bulaga has already signed his second contract, a position change doesn't affect his earning potential as significantly as it might others.
In theory, the Packers could shift David Bakhtiari into guard. During the draft process, some scouts and media members pegged the Colorado left tackle as an interior offensive lineman. However, with Bakhtiari's development into one of the best blindside protectors in football, such a move presents far more negatives than positives.
Regardless, if one of the Packers' tackles kicks inside to guard, Spriggs or Murphy would become the top options to compete for the open tackle spot. As second year players, both offer plenty of potential for Year 2 jumps, something the team has enjoyed with Sitton, Bakhtiari, and others in the recent past.
Draft a successor
Of course, the Packers could always address Lang's departure in this year's draft. Considered light on quality offensive linemen, the 2017 NFL Draft doesn't have any can't-miss guard options. Still, Green Bay has uncovered diamonds in the rough during past years and could do so again.
Considered by many as the top guard prospect, Western Kentucky's Forrest Lamp could intrigue the Packers as a late first-round pick. He offers size and athleticism similar to Lang as well as four years of starting experience. At the same time, the lack of quality linemen in the draft could result in Lamp coming off the board before Green Bay's top selection.
Alabama's Cam Robinson presents another possibility. Like Lamp, Robinson lined up at tackle during his college career but could shift inside as a pro. However, Robinson ran into legal trouble during his college career, arrested as recently as last June. Even if that doesn't concern the Packers, the recent track record of Alabama O-linemen in the NFL doesn't bode well for Robinson.
Regardless, the Packers generally don't draft interior offensive linemen. Rather, they select offensive tackles and shift them around. Of the six linemen the team has drafted over the past five years, only one -- center Corey Linsley -- started at a position other than tackle during their final collegiate season. As such, prospects with limited or no experience protecting the edges appear unlikely to receive consideration, at least early in the draft.
Bargain shopping in free agency
With Lang headed to Detroit, the remaining pool of free agents lacks any attractive guard options. For the most part, those that have yet to sign a deal have unperformed in recent years, struggled with injuries, reached the twilight of their careers, or some combination thereof.
Still, a few names could appeal to the Packers as buy-low candidates. Former Indianapolis Colts guard Hugh Thornton has started 32 games since 2013 and shouldn't command much more than the veteran minimum after spending all of last season on injured reserve. At 25, he could potentially resurrect his career playing between Linsley and Bulaga. However, as an unrestricted free agent, Thornton could affect Green Bay's future comp picks.
On the other end of the spectrum, John Jerry could make sense for the Packers given his experience playing for former Green Bay assistant Ben McAdoo. Jerry looked like a player the New York Giants would re-sign, but that perception changed somewhat when the team brought in D.J. Fluker. Jerry could conceivably step in without much hassle. However, at age 30, his play could drop off significantly in short order.