More than 50,000 fans withstood what felt like sub-zero temperatures to honor the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field this week. It was just the beginning of the coronation for Green Bay's most recent titlists, as the celebration will last for weeks, if not months, in a variety of ways.
Nobody will forget how a team that finished 10-6, but never trailed by more than seven points all season and lost all of its regular season games by four points or fewer, tore through the playoffs as the last-seeded wild-card team. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has already talked about repeating, but we know that type of talk tends to be more hope than reality.
The glow is deserved, but general manager Ted Thompson and his diligent staff, who built a chunk of his Super Bowl roster out of deep-on-the-depth chart players, is already in roster-shaping mode. His staff is starting to pour over film of every draftable player and cross-checking their regional scouts' personnel reports. It's what they do and it's how they remain grounded.
1. What are keys to another Super Bowl run?
» Aaron Rodgers has been a model of consistency, but until winning this Super Bowl, he was overshadowed by other quarterbacks and other teams. Now, he's going to be asked to be the cover boy for every magazine, the endorser for every product and the spokesman for every cause. He has to manage things as well as he's done in the past, if that's possible. Saints quarterback Drew Brees, among the humblest of humans, tried last year after winning the title, but it wasn't easy. And we saw it was hard for him to repeat that magical type of season he had during the previous year's Super Bowl run.
» If players need surgeries and things of that nature, they need to get those done as soon as possible to be ready by the beginning of the season. If delayed, and the procedures postpone a player's readiness, that could cause problems, regardless of roster depth (see Sidney Rice and Darren Sharper last season).
» The veterans on the team better let some of the young players know that just because they got to a Super Bowl early in their careers doesn't mean it will happen again. Upstarts like Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Bryan Bulaga and James Starks can't feel like they've arrived. They're potential linchpins, but if they don't remain hungry, their play could suffer. Other players could get frustrated, and the door would open for another team that's a tad more dialed in.
» Tight end Jermichael Finley, who will be entering a contract season, can't spend too much time thinking about getting extended. Finley is a difference-maker, who could play himself into a mega-deal by staying healthy and fulfilling his potential. Green Bay might not want to do anything with his contract in the offseason until he can prove his durability. If he does, he'll get his paper -- and maybe another championship ring(s).
2. What areas can Packers address in offseason?
First off, we know Green Bay isn't going to dabble much in free agency, except for areas of depth. With standout defensive end Cullen Jenkins up for free agency, that could be a targeted area in the draft. Jenkins is a big-time player who could draw a lot of big-money interest that might exceed Green Bay's limit. With Donald Driver and Charles Woodson at the back end of their careers, the Packers could address wide receiver and cornerback, respectively, but maybe not at the front end of the draft. Adding even more depth at safety appears likely, because Atari Bigby's days seem numbered.
3. What about the situation at inside linebacker?
This is going to be a very interesting decision. A.J. Hawk's 2011 salary jumps to $10 million, which is way too high. They like him and he's coming off a really good season. If they could work out a reasonable deal, he'll be back. He better take what they offer, because his pickings on the free-agent market could be slim.
Nick Barnett, whose Super Bowl team photo griping didn't earn him a lot of favor, is owed $11.5 over the next two seasons, a reasonable amount. But after signing Desmond Bishop (he replaced the injured Barnett this season) to an extension, it's clear he's the cornerstone at inside linebacker. The Packers can't commit an over-abundance of money to Barnett, or Hawk likely will be sent packing -- and not solely for financial reasons. Neither seemingly would be cool working as a backup. Brandon Chillar is signed through 2013 and gives the team depth.
4. Who will start: Grant or Starks?
Starks could get the nod, but Ryan Grant is hungry to get it back. The competition for the starting running back job could be the most heated of any position. Before the season, there were coaches who thought James Starks had the potential to usurp Grant, but then Starks got hurt. Then Grant (injured, ankle, foot) got hurt, was placed on injured reserve and later in the season Starks made his move, especially during the playoffs. Grant is excited to get going again. He better be, because Starks showed he's got something to offer. Both likely will be on the roster, so the battle could be more for reps than for a roster spot.