The Head Cheese Emerges From His Shell

OK, now that the Super Bowl is over, I can come out of my cave. Sorry that things have gotten a little stale around here--it took a while to get over that performance against the Giants.

Now that a little time has passed, I feel ready to look ahead to the season opener, most likely Thursday, September 6th, when the two most recent champs square off at Met Life Stadium. I'd be very surprised if Pack at Giants does not kickoff the 2012 season, giving the Packers a chance to get that sour taste out of their mouths and get the new season off on the right foot.

You can come up with all the reasons you want for the flat performance we witnessed at Lambeau Field. I suppose there's a reason so few teams repeat these days and why five of the past six #1 seeds in the NFC have gone down in the divisional round. Everything changes when you're on top and you're susceptible to all kinds of outside influences affecting the team on any given day.

That said, there will once again be a lot of new faces on the 2012 Packers. Ted Thompson's first decisions come with his free agents. Let's take a look at who's involved:

Unrestricted Free Agents

Bring Him Back Category: Center Scott Wells earned a new deal and although at 31 he's a couple of years older than Thompson is probably comfortable with, he can't cut Wells loose. He earned his Pro Bowl bid and provides a high level of comfort for his MVP quarterback. Every offensive line needs a dependable veteran and with Chad Clifton likely done, Wells fills the bill.

Yep, that's it. He's the only one that makes the list.

Gone But Not Forgotten Category: It was a nice run for Ryan Grant and he provided a nice late season boost when James Starks' ankle was acting up. But despite the 80 yard TD in week 17 against the Lions, Grant is not the answer for this offense. Unless he's willing to take backup money, the Packers will move on and either hope Alex Green can come back healthy, or find another back in the draft or via free agency. Erik Walden saw his game fall off the map after his domestic issues and it appears his time is done. Howard Green was another solid find who was a solid contributor to the '10 champs, but he's getting up there in age and a cheaper replacement can be found. Pat Lee and Jarrett Bush are both likely to be gone, though Bush has more lives than a cat and may find a way back. The Pack will hope that Davon House can step in as a sophomore and they'll address the secondary again in the draft.

That leaves Matt Flynn, who we know will be one of the most sought-after free agents next month, likely landing in Miami, Seattle or Cleveland. It will be interesting to see whether Graham Harrell is handed the backup job or whether the team brings in a veteran to serve as insurance, should Rodgers go down next season. I'd like to see them choose the latter route.

Tag Him. Jermichael Finley likely will get the franchise tag, which for tight ends is around $5 million. I think we'd all like to see a stronger 2012 campaign from #88 before he's handed the keys to the Brinks truck. In the year of the tight end, Finley did not become one of the elite guys. Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis and Rob Gronkowski all surpassed him. He needs to put up bigger numbers consistently to get paid like a top 5 tight end. It could get ugly if Finley's representatives insist he be tagged at WR money, since he lines up outside more than he does inside. We'll see if that storyline plays out.

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