It’s safe to say that this was not the season Packer fans are accustomed to seeing, nor should it be one that they get used to seeing—a healthy Aaron Rodgers will bring this team back into contention this season, but if they wanted to push for the Super Bowl, something else had to change.
And it did.
We saw Ted Thompson step back from GM into a senior advisor role, and we saw the introduction of Joe Philbin and Mike Pettine as offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively. Time will tell if these changes will pay off, but a shake-up was necessary—now it’s time to build a team around these new coaches. Here are the Packer’s biggest needs as we head into the free agency/NFL Draft period.
The Martellus Bennett experiment was a failure, to say the least. The veteran tight end was waived by the Packers after Rodgers went down for failure to disclose an injury, leaving the duo of Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers to hold down the fort. Looking to the draft, this class of tight ends isn’t nearly as deep as last year’s—I don’t expect the Packers to grab a tight end until the later rounds, but that’s ok—there’s some sneaky depth at the tight end position. Tyler Conklin out of Central Michigan is a former basketball player who was a formidable asset for Chippewas his junior and senior season. The Packers could also look to stay at home with Wisconsin’s Troy Fumagalli, first-team All-Big Ten tight end.
But if Green Bay really wanted to make a splash at the tight end position, they’d go after Jimmy Graham—he’s not the same player he used to be, but if the price is right, Graham would be a monster for Rodgers over the middle of the field and in the redzone, and it’d be interesting to see how that combo would fare under Philbin.
Defensive End/Outside Linebacker
I have a theory that the Packer’s secondary is not as porous as people think, they just look bad because the opposing quarterback has all day to throw.
It’s not a great theory. The secondary is still in rough shape, and we’ll discuss that later.
There are multiple options for the Packers in the draft and free agency—multiple mock drafts have the Packers selecting defensive end Marcus Davenport of UTSA, who brings rare size and strong pass-rushing ability to a team that is severely lacking in that department. However, if he is available at 14, the Packers have to grab OLB Roquan Smith—the Butkus Award winner was the anchor to a Georgia defense that reached the National Championship and would be an instant hit in Green Bay.
Mike Pettine recently stated that there’s one player he’s most looking forward to working with.
Many pegged Matthews as the guy with the big contract that was underproducing, and projected that he would be on his way out to clear cap space, myself included. This would open the door to sign a high-end free agent—possibly Ezekiel Ansah, who’s given the Packers fits when they meet.
But we know what Matthews is capable of, and if Pettine is able to unleash the beast once again, then Packer fans should be all for that.
The Packers face a wide receiver dilemma—Davante Adams is locked up for the next four years, and this is good news. But both Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson are taking up a lot of cap space in relation to their declining production—of course, the decline in production is correlated to the loss of Aaron Rodgers, but it was disappointing to see neither of these players step up to the plate when Hundley took over.
It would make sense for the Packers to restructure Nelson’s contract to keep him, given his special connection with Rodgers and the fact that he seems like the type of guy who would be willing to take less for the good of the team.
As far as Cobb, he’s only 27, he’s a fan-favorite and a hardworking winner, but he has never lived up to his potential in Green Bay and his salary cap hit rivals that of Julio Jones and Doug Baldwin—I could see this as the end of the road for Cobb in green and gold. Tough decisions will have to be made.
Concerning the draft, it’s possible that the Packers could target the number one receiver in the draft in Calvin Ridley if he drops to 14, but it’s looking more and more likely that they will use that pick to address needs at a different position—two guys I really like in the 3rd or 4th rounds are Deontay Burnett from USC and DaeSean Hamilton from Penn State—Burnett was Darnold’s favorite target in 2017, and although he’ll need to put on a little weight in the NFL, he’s an athletic playmaker that can hopefully take a similar route as his former teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster. Both of these players could prove to be excellent replacements for Cobb if he is cut, or depth if Gutekunst decides to retain him.
I’d be intrigued to see if the Packers choose free agency to pursue a receiver, in particular Sammy Watkins—he had a disappointing season in Los Angeles, only catching 39 passes in a league-leading offense. Spotrac projects a per-year value of just under 6 million for Watkins’ next contract, which is plausible for the Packers with their current cap space. Watkins and Adams on opposite sides could spell trouble for opposing teams.
Cornerback. The position that the Packers just haven’t been able to figure out over the past five years. Damarious Randall has been up and down in the first few years of his career, Kevin King has potential but battled injury last season, and I have mixed feelings about Davon House. That said, this is a very solid draft class to add depth to the cornerback position.
I’ve got the Pack addressing the defensive end/outside linebacker position in the first round, and cornerback in the second or third—two guys I look at to be available are Jaire Alexander out of Louisville and Mike Hughes out of UCF. Alexander missed time due to injury last season, but he’s athletic and instinctive. Hughes was a key contributor in the Knight’s undefeated season, and it would be an added bonus that he can return kicks as well.
But if there’s one place the Packers should invest in the free agency market, it’s right here. As good as draft development is, you never know what you’re going to get—signing a lockdown corner could very well be the key to kickstarting this defense back to Super Bowl form. Trumaine Johnson is the best free agent corner this year—he had 7 interceptions two years ago, is in his prime, and would be a huge addition for Mike Pettine’s first season.
Obviously, the Packers won’t be able to sign or draft all of the players mentioned above, but with a new outlook on the coaching staff and upper management, hopefully moves are made to address these needs and give Rodgers the best chance to lead this team to another Super Bowl. The season is still a long way off, but as always, Go Pack!
Stats and info courtesy of Spotrac, 247Sport