By Jimmy Carlton Sportswriter Published Mar 13, 2017 at 4:13 PM

For a fan base as devotedly diehard but accustomed to offseason inaction as the Packers’, it’s been an unexpectedly wild start to NFL free agency, which only began March 9 and has already featured a frenzy of player moves made in the first 96 hours.

To briefly recap: Green Bay re-signed unrestricted linebacker Nick Perry to a large contract, lost – willfully or regretfully – defensive back Micah Hyde to the Bills and offensive lineman JC Tretter to the Browns, inked tight end Martellus Bennett to a three-year deal rather than re-sign Jared Cook, brought back tackle/guard Don Barclay, added Wisconsinite Lance Kendricks for tight end depth and saw Pro Bowl right guard T.J. Lang sign with the Lions.

All of that happened in three days. Meanwhile, the Packers let linebacker Julius Peppers walk, as running back Eddie Lacy, special teams ace Jayrone Elliott and defensive end Datone Jones are talking to other organizations.

Whatever your opinion on the decisions' prudence, it’s hard to argue that polarizing general manager Ted Thompson has been hewing to his annual tradition of essentially just sitting out free agency. The understated 64-year-old personnel man has been, uncharacteristically, a lot more active – or inactive, depending on how you feel about Thompson not retaining some of his own players – this offseason. Might that be a response to Aaron Rodgers’ year-end entreaty that the Packers "reload" the roster and go "all-in"?

Indeed, it was a head-turning, up-and-down first few days. The biggest news was made Sunday, when Lang agreed to a three-year contract with the Lions. The move prompted a double-take from many insiders around the league – the dependable veteran had been a linchpin of the offensive line and repeatedly expressed his desire to stay in Green Bay – and provoked questions among fans about Thompson’s management, Lang’s potential replacement and the doomsday demise of the Packers’ offense, as well as perhaps even life worth living.

Lang had spent his eight-year career with Green Bay and last season, at age 29, he made his first Pro Bowl. He was considered one of the top free-agent offensive linemen on the market and has been extremely durable in his career, appearing in 119 of a possible 128 games. He played through a broken foot in 2016 and then underwent hip surgery after the season, but his increasing injuries may have concerned the Packers.

Last year, Lang became the most senior member of the line after Green Bay released All-Pro left guard Josh Sitton just before the season started. Apparently, Thompson doesn’t believe in paying a premium at the offensive guard position, because he could have negotiated agreeably with Lang, who was coming off a four-year, $20.8 million contract extension.

When the Packers cut Sitton, which was a hugely surprising move at the time, they believed backup Lane Taylor was ready to take over. Taylor had made a couple of starts the year before and, ultimately, he proved the Packers correct with a solid 2016 season. Behind Lang, though, there is no such player, no clear-cut option in waiting.

Barclay returned to Green Bay on a reported one-year, $1.3 million deal, but he’s a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none utility man who’s valued for his versatility and doesn’t really offer much upside as a starter. Jason Spriggs was a second-round pick last year whom the Packers like, but at 6-foot-6 and 301 pounds, his natural position is at tackle.

There are also second-year guards Kyle Murphy and Lucas Patrick on the roster, but either would represent a significant drop-off as a starter. Bryan Bulaga had his best season at right tackle last season and is unlikely to move inside.

While they could sign a free agent, the NFL Draft is the Packers’ best bet for landing a successor to Lang. Thompson has proven adept at unearthing offensive-line talent – we’re purging our memory of Derek Sherrod – and especially in later rounds.

Thompson got Sitton in the fourth round in 2008, Lang in the fourth round in 2009, Bakhtiari in the fourth round in 2013, Tretter in the fourth round in 2013, Corey Linsley in the fifth round in 2014, Marshall Newhouse in the fifth round in 2010 and Jason Spitz in the third round in 2006. All of those players started at least 32 games for Green Bay, except the oft-injured Tretter, who started 10 of 31 games during his three seasons.

Could the Packers find another diamond in the rough, an overlooked titan in the trenches? At this point, Barclay is probably No. 1 on the depth chart at right guard, but it’s hard to envision him there in August.

During an interview Monday on a Detroit radio station, Lang said signing with the Lions "was a business decision" and Green Bay "made it easy on him" to leave.

Thompson may have opened up the Packers pocketbook for Perry’s five-year, $59 million contract – though it’s essentially a year-to-year deal, with the only guaranteed money the $18.5 million signing bonus, which makes it friendlier to the team.

But his other decisions, especially letting Lang and Hyde walk and choosing Bennett and Kendricks over Cook – despite Lang and Hyde seeming invaluable at their positions and Rodgers publicly stumping for Cook – indicate that Thompson still prefers a young bargain over an older asset.

Now, what will become of Lacy, Elliott and Jones? What of long-snapper Brett Goode and Green Bay’s restricted free agents? Will they address the deplorable defensive backfield, further depleted by the loss of Hyde, and how much can the draft help the current squad?

After the Packers’ emotional rollercoaster ride of a 2016 season ended with the NFC Championship Game loss to the Falcons, Rodgers made a public appeal to the front office. "I don’t think we need to rebuild. We need to reload," he said. "We've just got to make sure we're going all-in every year to win. And I think we can take a big step this offseason."

The Packers have taken a lot of steps already in the offseason – absolutely more than they usually do this time of year – but it’s hard to tell if those steps have been big or small, and if they're going forward, backward or merely in place.

Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.

After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.

Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.