While it's true Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson did next to nothing during free agency to improve his team — hello, lonely cornerback Frank Walker — let's not forget what could turn out to be the club's most important offseason signing.
Or re-signing, anyway.
If Cullen Jenkins, who signed a four-year contract extension worth $16 million on Feb. 26, can come through with a breakout season the way Aaron Kampman did last year after getting his four-year, $21 million deal, the Packers' defense could go from being a decent outfit in 2006 to an elite group in '07.
Of course, there are other issues — whether Marquand Manuel (or his replacement) can prevent receivers from constantly getting behind him tops the list — but Green Bay has a potentially outstanding front seven and better depth on the line than anywhere on defense.
Jenkins registered a career-high 6.5 sacks (despite missing two games with an ankle injury) last season, replacing high-paid pass-rusher Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila as the primary defensive end opposite Kampman for the final four games, starting three.
The Packers won all four games, and the defense, much-maligned for most of the season, showed significant improvement.
The Packers' plan is for Jenkins to continue to play end on early downs because he is a better run defender than KGB, then move inside to tackle on passing downs to allow the Packers to have their three best rushers on the field simultaneously in Jenkins, Kampman and KGB.
Finding another edge rusher — Jason Hunter, perhaps? — would be a bonus.
"Guys like Cullen are very hard to find," defensive ends coach Carl Hairston said. "He's good for us because we can use him at end or tackle and put someone else in because he can play two spots. That doesn't happen often. You don't usually find a guy who can play both positions effectively, which he can do. Once he's inside, he's pretty disruptive there."
The Packers finished last season with 46 sacks, ranking them fourth in the NFL behind San Diego (61), Baltimore (60) and Miami (47), and if reducing Gbaja-Biamila's snaps allows him to recapture his form from 2001 through '04 (49 sacks), their pass rush could be formidable. But the run defense, which finished ranked 13th at season's end, must improve as well.
The run defense will again rely on blocker-eating nose tackle Ryan Pickett, who came over from St. Louis as a free agent last year and, despite relatively unimpressive numbers (92 tackles, zero sacks, one fumble recovery, no fumbles forced) was a difference-maker.
"I felt like I had a re-start to my career," Pickett said. "It was a great year. Next year will be even better."
Who'll line up alongside him depends on first-round pick Justin Harrell, who did not take a single offseason snap in 11-on-11 drills because of the ruptured biceps tendon he suffered in his final season at Tennessee. Harrell played only three games for the Volunteers but the club expects him to be ready when training camp opens Saturday.
Read More Here from JAson Wilde's article in today's Wisconsin State Journal: