Over the course of the next several days Cheesehead TV will have a brief position-by-position offseason preview, taking a look at what's in store for the Green Bay Packers in free agency and the NFL Draft..
The Packers should consider themselves extremely lucky that Eddie Lacy was A) available and B) they actually drafted him at the end of the second round after trading down twice earlier in the same round.
Lacy was a god-send to the Packers in 2013, giving the team the type of production from the position they hadn't seen since the heyday of Ahman Green. He was patient, powerful, capable of breaking tackles and fought through injury to help the Packers qualify for the postseason.
The professional lifespan of most NFL running backs seems to be shorter-lived than players at other positions, but there's no counting Lacy out this early in his career. As long as he stays healthy like he did this past season, Lacy will be expected to be the workhorse back in Green Bay for the next several seasons.
The Packers are in the enviable position of simply looking for a complementary running back to Lacy for 2014 and beyond.
Perhaps the best option would be James Starks, who had arguably the best season of his career in 2013, averaging 5.5 yards per carry and scoring four touchdowns in a backup role. Starks also stayed largely healthy compared to previous seasons, maybe because of the lighter workload.
But Starks is also scheduled to be a free agent this offseason with no guarantee he'll return.
Outside of Starks, the other internal options include hoping that Johnathan Franklin improves upon a promising but unreliable rookie season and DuJuan Harris recovers from an injury to his patellar tendon.
At fullback, John Kuhn proved his value as a blocker in 2013, both by clearing debris ahead of Lacy and as a personal protector for Aaron Rodgers. He too will be a free agent.
Long-Range Free Agency Outlook
James Starks––Even though he wasn't a starter for the Packers this past season, Starks likely upped his free-agent stock by providing consistently effective play and steering clear of the injury bug.
All things being equal, the Packers probably wouldn't mind Starks seeing wearing the green and gold again in 2014. But with the presence of Lacy and the salary-cap space needed to sign the likes of Sam Shields and Evan Dietrich-Smith and extend the contracts of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, Starks might be a luxury the Packers can't afford.
If there's even one team out there willing to offer Starks a respectable contract, the Packers would probably be happy for the potential of receiving a compensatory draft choice for his loss, and roll with some combination of Franklin, Harris and any rookie additions.
John Kuhn––In his last contract with the Packers, Kuhn averaged just north of $2.5 million per season. Now at 31 years old, Kuhn isn't likely to make that kind of money any more.
Because of his reliability, knowledge of the offense and special teams, Green Bay will likely welcome Kuhn back with open arms. And if he agrees to a contract significantly less than the type of money he earned with his last contract, he'll probably return.
Khalil Bell––Signed late in the season after an injury ended Franklin's rookie campaign, Bell played exclusively on special teams.
It seems like the only well Bell is re-signed is if the Packers suffer more injuries at the position like they did this past season.
Long-Range NFL Draft Outlook
Thanks to Lacy, running back comes far down the list of needs for general manager Ted Thompson entering the offseason.
Not that Lacy's presence would necessarily preclude the Packers from drafting a running back in the late rounds of the draft, but anything before round four would be extremely surprising, even if Starks leaves in free agency.
At the very least, Thompson can be expected to sign an undrafted player or two.
If Kuhn does happen to depart, however, the Packers also might be looking for a versatile fullback/H-back in the later rounds.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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