Play-it-safe Packers don't sound ready to change their offseason strategy

INDIANAPOLIS -- After the Green Packers' season-ending loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers stated that his team, which last won a championship in the 2010 season, needs to go "all-in" in its efforts to construct another Super Bowl-caliber roster while the two-time MVP is still in the prime of his career.

The remark was interpreted by some as a nudge to the Green Bay front office, perhaps urging Packers general manager Ted Thompson to be more active than usual in free agency this offseason -- "I don't think we need to rebuild," said Rodgers, 33. "We need to reload."

Such an approach would not be in keeping with Green Bay's history of prioritizing the re-signing of its own players over bringing in other teams' available free agents, however. And if Thompson's own remarks at the NFL Combine are any indication, it doesn't appear the team's strategy is going to change significantly as the free agency period opens this week.

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The Packers enter the offseason with 11 players set to become unrestricted free agents, including tight end Jared Cook, running back Eddie Lacy, linebackers Nick Perry and Julius Peppers and offensive guard T.J. Lang. And while Thompson kept his offseason plan predictably close to the vest, he said he hopes to bring back as many of those players as possible.

"That's our intention, and it's our intention every year," Thompson said. "And I stand on this podium, I think, every year and say the same thing. Our best intentions will be to sign as many of our own players as we can and keep it together."

Thompson hasn't yet agreed to terms with any of the players who could soon look elsewhere, but he's also not overly concerned and said he expects those should come soon.

"I think that deadline's an artificial deadline," Thompson said of March 9, the official start of the new league year and the date when players can officially sign deals. "Not that free agency is not going to start at a certain time, but once you get to this particular point, there's very little risk of the player getting injured. So there's not a push on the side of the player to hurry up and get a deal done.

"But at the same time," Thompson continued, "sometimes they would prefer to stay and deals get done earlier than we think."

It also likely helps to have several years worth of history to fall back on when it comes to guys re-upping in Green Bay.

"Players (know) that there's a good chance they can have a home going forward in free agency instead of going and signing with someone else … and now we're talking about players that have retired and moved on to other things in life," Thompson said. "I think our former players and our current players appreciate that."

"It's not just about how you bring the players into your program," Packers coach Mike McCarthy added. "That's the first step, (and) player acquisition is very important. But at the end of the day, it's about gathering football players, getting them to come together in a program and doing things the right way."

The current Packers roster is made up almost exclusively of players whom Green Bay either drafted or signed as undrafted free agents, with players like Cook, Peppers and Letroy Guion standing out as the exceptions, rather than the rule.

Even so, the Packers recognize that they have to be prepared to investigate other available players when the free agency window opens -- Reggie White and Charles Woodson are just a couple examples of how well other teams' free agents have panned out in Green Bay in the past -- and are ready to explore the market, if necessary.

"Obviously there's not one way to do it, and if there was, people long before us would have figured it out and everybody would be doing it by now," McCarthy said of building a team. "It's just really sticking to our foundation of how we do things, but still, at the end of the day, it's about getting good players in your program.

"There's a process to it," McCarthy continued. "At the end of the day we're all aware of what the results are. So we're involved, we're working through it and we'll see how it shakes out this year."

In addition to free agency, there's also the issue of the draft, where Green Bay will be looking -- as it always does -- to further solidify the future of the franchise.

"We look at all positions," Thompson said when asked about his approach. "We don't have any favorites right now. We don't have any projections of what we think we're going to have. We have to take it one step at a time. I haven't even seen 95 percent of the players that are here, so let us go through that, and then at some point, somebody will figure it out."

When the team takes the field again next fall, however, it should largely resemble the one that walked off the field at the Georgia Dome two months ago. And Thompson seems to think that that should be enough.

"It wasn't easy for any of us, and certainly our players, to walk away from Atlanta because it's too much heartache, too much pain that's gone into trying to do something," he said. "And this is something special that people are trying to do.

"We're getting ready for one thing and it's to try to get to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl," Thompson added. "We don't try for anything else."

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