The next big thing: Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With 17 unrestricted free agents and two restricted free agents, the Green Bay Packers have plenty of decisions to make about their own players before they can set their free-agent and draft boards.

Shortly after the season ended, we wrote about the long list of players with expiring contracts on both offense and defense.

Among the defensive free-agents-to-be are six starters, including all three starting defensive linemen -- B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly -- plus cornerback Sam Shields, outside linebacker Mike Neal and safety M.D. Jennings (who is a restricted free agent).

For a defense that is in need of more playmakers, it will be interesting to see if general manager Ted Thompson views those starters as players he must re-sign, or will he replace them with more impactful players?

On the offensive side, four starters -- including one with a major injury issue -- are scheduled for free agency. Tight end Jermichael Finley underwent spinal fusion surgery following a season-ending neck injury, which further clouds his future. Three other offensive starters were in the final year of their contracts: receiver James Jones, fullback John Kuhn and center Evan Dietrich-Smith.

The Packers no doubt will make an effort to re-sign one or more of their free agents before the market opens in March, but given this lengthy list, there’s a good chance several of them won’t return.

"We lose players just like everybody else," Thompson said recently. "But if we can, we like to keep our own and continue adding guys through the draft and through free agency."