With the Packers on the outside looking in on Super Bowl LI, it’s time for them to turn their attention on the offseason moves that will bring them from the brink to the big game themselves. Despite having a successful season, Green Bay will have to address a number of issues if they are to continue to keep their reputation as one of the top teams in the NFL.
So, in no particular order, these are the areas the Pack must take care of before the 2017 season rolls around.
Figuring out the backfield
Head coach Mike McCarthy recently declared that second-year converted wideout Ty Montgomery would remain a running back in 2017, a good decision considering the Packers’ wealth of receivers and utter lack of rushers. However, despite rushing 5.9 yards per carry last year, it is unlikely that Montgomery will be suited to a bell-cow role. Mike McCarthy has said he wants Eddie Lacy back, but his future seems uncertain. Midseason signee Christine Michael is likely to leave in free agency.
With a number of promising running backs in this year’s crop, the draft would also be a means for finding an answer at the position. The middle rounds are stocked with promising backs like Oklahoma’s duo of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon and Wisconsin’s Corey Clement, though a play for Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara in the first round is also a possibility. Christian McCaffrey of Stanford could fall to the Packers late in the first round as well.
Get Geronimo Allison plenty of time to work with Aaron Rodgers in OTAs
The development of undrafted rookie Allison after Montgomery’s switch to running back and injuries to Jordy Nelson and DaVante Adams was one of the biggest storylines in Titletown. The University of Illinois product was critical in the Pack’s Week 17 victory over rival Detroit, racking up 91 yards and a touchdown in that game. With Montgomery now permanently out of the picture for downfield targets, Allison will be the Packers’ 4th receiver in 2017, pending nothing above him changes. And blessed with a 6’3”, 200 pound figure, Allison has room to develop. Wide receivers tend to experience their biggest year-to-year improvement in their second year, as the additional time in offseason workouts with their quarterback allows them to be more familiar with the offense. The more time Allison gets running routes with Rodgers, the bigger his 2017 impact will be.
Additionally, Allison recently ran into trouble with the police for marijuana possession, and learning from his Super Bowl MVP quarterback should help his maturity. The Packers’ receiving corps has dealt with injuries often in the past, and having Allison reach his full potential would be a major factor for the team.
Re-Sign TJ Lang (if the conditions are right)
It’s well-known that offensive guard Lang is one of the Packers’ top offensive players, and the Pro Bowler and captain brings an essential locker room presence as well. With how well he played last year and the importance of protecting Aaron Rodgers, Lang is integral to the Pack’s success. Additionally, the surprise release of former Pro Bowler Josh Sitton and the injury history of J.C. Tretter doesn’t give Green Bay much wiggle room should they suffer another loss at the position.
However, Lang recently underwent hip surgery, and while he said it was a success, that situation should be monitored. He also left the NFC Championship loss with a foot injury and was in visible pain on the sidelines, though Lang said he only aggravated the area where he had formerly broken a bone. With these setbacks along with the fact that he’s entering the 9th season of his career, the Packers should be careful in contract negotiations. Lang has stated he wants to return to Green Bay, though they may not be willing to pay the price tag that he will warrant after this past season. If the Packers can keep the salary cap hit conservative and Lang shows no long-term damage from his injuries, then re-signing the veteran should get done. Lang could receive the franchise tag if a long-term deal can’t be reached.
Do something about outside linebacker
A critical position in Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme, the Packers have six impending free agents at outside linebacker. Star player Clay Matthews, signed through 2018, and 2016 3rd-rounder Kyler Fackrell are the only outside ‘backers currently set to return to Lambeau. Leading sacker in 2016 Nick Perry could cash in on a bigger deal in free agency after totaling 11 quarterback takedowns despite playing with a serious hand injury. Since he’s just 26, the Packers should focus on giving him a longer contract, though having just 16 starts in his first four seasons makes it somewhat of a risky play. Future Hall-of-Famer Julius Peppers was an impact player in 2016, registering 8.5 sacks despite playing a situational role. Yet at 37 years of age, general manager Ted Thompson could let the legend go even though Peppers still wants to play. Datone Jones, Jordan Tripp, Jayrone Elliot, and Joe Thomas are all unrestricted free agents as well.
The Packers should bring back at least three of the six free agents, but with Fackrell showing little long-term promise, snagging more players at the position in either free agency and the draft would be necessary. In free agency, options like Chandler Jones, Akeem Ayers, Melvin Ingram, Jarvis Jones are enticing even though they are a bit more expensive, while a cheaper player like John Simon would be a great fit. At the end of the first round of the draft, Alabama’s Tim Williams, Missouri’s Charles Harris, and Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt could all wind up in Green Bay, though there are a depth of pass rushers available later in the draft.
Really do something about cornerback
The Packers had a sieve of a secondary for much of the season, and they were absolutely gashed in the loss to Atlanta. Letting Casey Hayward, who was average during his four year tenure in Green Bay, leave for San Diego in free agency last year turned out to be a huge mistake, as he developed into one of the best cover corners in the game in 2016. Sam Shields, the Packers’ top corner, suffered a concussion in Week 1 and missed the entire season due to lingering effects. With players retiring early due to brain trauma concerns becoming more common, Shields may not play football for much longer. With Shields out of the picture, the Pack turned to former 1st-rounder Damarious Randall and former 2nd-rounder Quinten Rollins, who were abysmal and injury-prone, respectively. The entire unit was a mess, and is the Packers’ biggest area of concern entering 2016.
Luckily for them, this year’s crop of rookie cornerbacks is one of the best in recent memory. With a hierarchy among them yet to be established it is hard to pinpoint one or two that would be available in the 1st round, but Iowa’s Desmond King or LSU’s Tre’Davious White would be good fits at that juncture. There a few free agents available at the position that wouldn’t devastate the financial future of the small-market Packers as well, such as Logan Ryan.