Free Agents To Be Have A Lot To Prove

For a defending Super Bowl champ, the Packers have a lot of players with chips on their shoulders this season that should prevent any kind of Super Bowl hangover. There are the injured guys, who were stripped down to cheerleader status during the epic post-season run and now want to prove that they are key members of a championship team.

Then there is the team's 2012 free agent class. Ten guys who will either be playing for a new contract or to prove to someone else that they deserve new deals. Two players: Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant fall into both categories.

Following is the order I think the Packers will re-sign their free agents, a process that will probably start in the back half of the regular season as the team spends whatever cap money they have to lessen the hit on future years.

The Packers have 10 unrestricted free agents, and barring significant injuries I think the team makes an effort to sign five and lets the other five test the waters.

1. Josh Sitton: The Pack's right guard is on the cusp of being a Pro Bowler and is clearly an ascending and right now the most dependable member of the offensive line. The guess here is the Pack locks him up sometime after the trade deadline passes and Sitton locks up one of the richest contracts for a guard in the NFL. Think Logan Mankins money: 6 years, $52 million, $20 million guaranteed. With two young tackles, the Pack can afford to overspend a bit at this spot.

2. Jermichael Finley: The fact that Finley has yet to finish a season is the main reason he hasn't already gotten a long term contract. The Packers are in no hurry to get this one done and Finley has no leverage to gripe, but if he does finally stay healthy he has a chance to put up Antonio Gates/Jason Witten numbers and to be paid accordingly. At 24 he is just scratching the surface and has a chance to be a Pro Bowl regular.

3. Scott Wells: For a guy who was buried on the depth chart for a while, Wells has turned into a dependable, if unspectacular center who has a complete understanding of this offense and his QB. At 30, Wells won't command huge dollars, but without a real replacement on the roster (Nick McDonald maybe?), the Pack and Wells should come to a reasonable deal.

4. Jordy Nelson: Nelson will be under a lot of pressure to perform on a team with too many weapons to keep everyone happy, provided they stay healthy. The Super Bowl hero also had a number of drops in that game, something he continues to do in training camp. With Driver slowing down, there is a chance to step into a larger role with the Pack. But the signing of James Jones and the potential emergence of Randall Cobb will put the onus on Nelson to show he deserves to be considered a key component of the WR corps for years to come.

5. Erik Walden: He's in a dogfight with Frank Zombo for the starting OLB spot opposite Clay Matthews. If he shows that the guy who destroyed the Bears in week 17 is for real, the Pack will look to re-sign him. If Zombo wins the job, or the team feels they can finally address that spot in next year's draft, Walden could be sent packin'.

6. Howard Green: A revelation picked up off the Jets' scrap heap, Green proved invaluable on running plays and will be counted on heavily in 2011. At 32, he's on the backside of his career, but could be re-signed at a bargain price to be a situational player on this defense for a couple more seasons.

7. Jarrett Bush: His big time Super Bowl performance, notwithstanding, Bush has more lives than a cat. His value on special teams, not his ability as a CB, has kept him on the roster. I can't imagine a lot of teams will clamor for his services, but if he's forced into action due to injuries, he could get an offer and the Pack is likely to let him walk.

8. Ryan Grant: The running back is 28, but has a lot more tread on the tires left than a typical back his age. He played very little with the Giants and injuries have shortened a couple of his seasons as a Packer. That said, barring a huge season, I can't see Grant back in 2012. James Starks and Alex Green will be looked upon to carry the load in 2012.

9. Pat Lee: Only Lee's status as a former second round pick has kept him on the roster. I'm not convinced he's a shoo-in to make the team this season. He's benefitting early from injuries to a couple of rookies, but didn't exactly take advantage on the field against the Browns. Zero chance he's back in 2012.

10. Matt Flynn: In a perfect world, the Pack trades Matt Flynn to a team like the Seahawks, Dolphins or 49ers before the trade deadline and collects an extra high pick in the draft. Meanwhile the Pack rides the arm of Aaron Rodgers to another Super Bowl championship. But there is no way that will happen. When Rodgers went down last season, Flynn showed he is ready to step in and lead this offense. The #3 QB, Graham Harrell is not close. The Pack can't afford to lose Flynn this season. Rodgers plays very aggressively and runs more than most QBs. If he goes down again in 2012, the Pack should be able to make do for a while. As the defending champs and a favorite to compete for another title, the Pack needs a strong backup and they have one in Flynn. At least for this season. Flynn will depart for a big money contract either as a starter or to compete for a job somewhere else in 2012.

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