Entering the free-agent period, the Green Bay Packers had 11 players to make decisions on in terms of returning to the team or letting them test the market. That included four members of the defense. Team sack leader Nick Perry and fellow outside linebackers Julius Peppers and Datone Jones were on the list. Play-making strong safety and punt return specialist Micah Hyde rounds out the quartet. But three of those four performers have already opted to go elsewhere. The defections leave plenty of question marks in regard to defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ unit.

Packing and heading elsewhere

Instead of opting for another season with the Green Bay Packers, Peppers will play his 16th NFL campaign with the Carolina Panthers – the club he entered the league with in 2002.

Micah is now Hyde-ing in Buffalo after signing a deal with the Bills. And the latest move sees Jones returning to a more comfortable role as a defensive end with the NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings. Perry is the lone returnee for the team after leading the Pack with 11 sacks in 2016. Keep in mind that Mike McCarthy’s squad ranked 22nd in the NFL in total defense. Only the New Orleans Saints allowed more yards through the air than Green Bay. And the club gave up a disappointing 32 touchdown passes in 16 regular-season contests.

What’s next for this unit?

Combined with the free-agent losses of offensive linemen J.C. Tretter and T.J. Lang as well as running back Eddie Lacy, the Green Bay Packers suddenly have plenty of holes on both sides of the ball.

In terms of the defense, bringing back cornerback Davon House (cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars) helps a bit. But the Pack is now in serious need of depth at outside linebacker as well. The team is set at safety with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett, but a few veteran cornerbacks may be needed here as well.

And who will fill the void early in the season with nose tackle Letroy Guion suspended the first four games?

Defense has become a four-letter word in Green Bay as of late. And this could be the Packers’ shakiest unit in nearly a decade. Which means another big year by Aaron Rodgers may not be enough to save the team this time around.

General manager Ted Thompson may be wise to dip even deeper into free agency more than usual the next few weeks. And supplementing that with a defensive-oriented draft would help. As it stands right now, the Green Bay Packers’ chances of reaching the playoffs for a NFL-record tying ninth straight year may be suspect indeed.

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