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Free agency could break up Packers' offensive line after this season

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A year after the Green Bay Packers started the same offensive line in 17 out of 18 games, including the playoffs, only Josh Sitton started every game in 2015.

And the rash of injuries even prompted coach Mike McCarthy to start Sitton once at left tackle instead of his usual left-guard spot, where he has been a three-time Pro Bowl selection.

The lack of continuity up front no doubt played a role -- even if it was just one of several factors (Jordy Nelson's knee injury, Eddie Lacy's weight and Aaron Rodgers' inability to find anyone down the field among them) -- in the Packers’ astonishing fall to 23rd overall in the NFL in total offense last season.

Between now and the Packers' first training-camp practice Tuesday, we will break down each position group.

Next up, the offensive line:

Returning players: Sitton, David Bakhtiari, Bryan Bulaga, T.J. Lang, Corey Linsley, JC Tretter, Don Barclay, Lane Taylor, Josh Walker, Matt Rotheram (practice squad).

Gone from last season: Jeremy Vujnovich (practice squad).

New this season: Jason Spriggs (second-round pick), Kyle Murphy (sixth-round pick), Jacob Flores (undrafted free agent), Lucas Patrick (undrafted free agent), Josh James (undrafted free agent).

Position coach: James Campen (13th season).

Biggest issue: Three of the five starters -- Bakhtiari, Lang and Sitton -- are entering the final seasons of their contracts. There’s almost no chance general manager Ted Thompson will re-sign them all, meaning this could be the last hurrah for a group McCarthy once called the best offensive line he’s ever had. Bakhtiari should be in line for a huge contract on the open market given the kind of money left tackles have been getting lately. He’ll almost certainly be looking for a deal that eclipses $10 million per year in his first negotiation since his rookie contract. Lang and Sitton have been through the contract game before, and although they re-signed with the Packers, they’re also in line for at least one more big payday in their careers.

Player to watch: Bakhtiari’s contract status likely factored into Thompson’s decision to trade up to take Spriggs at No. 48 overall. Even if the Packers re-sign Bakhtiari, there’s also the chance they could move Spriggs to right tackle if Bulaga shows any signs of a drop-off or his balky knees give him more trouble. The Packers love Spriggs’ strength and athleticism, and they’ll want him on the field sooner rather than later.

Medical report: Lang sat out all of the offseason practices while recovering from shoulder surgery, and Linsley didn’t practice because of what was believed to be a hamstring injury.

Help wanted: Tretter has played well enough at multiple positions that he should surpass Barclay as the top swing lineman on the depth chart. Tretter started games at both center and left tackle last season and could play guard as well. However, he's also entering the final year of his contract.

Quotable: “We’ve got a lot of guys up, and if I’m gambling, I’m going to bet that not all of us come back,” Bakhtiari said this offseason. “That’s just how the nature of the beast is. But that’s something you don’t want to think about, and that shouldn’t be our topic of conversation.”

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