The Green Bay Packers have continued to be a contender in the NFC. But, in recent seasons, they haven’t been able to finish the deal. They have gotten to two NFC title games in the past three seasons, but everyone knows that isn’t the goal. This offseason will be an important one for the Packers. They have a lot of free agents that could hit the open market, but many Packer fans are hoping that Ted Thompson reaches out elsewhere to find free agents who will help the Packers, especially on defense. As far as the draft goes, it is one of the deepest drafts many have seen, especially at the areas of need for the Packers. The Packers must reload in order to reach the Super Bowl. Let’s take a look at what to expect from Green Bay this offseason.
Will Ted Look For Free Agents Outside Of His Own?
When will this not be a narrative heading into a Green Bay offseason? Fans continue to get angry at Thompson for his work during free agency, or lack there of. Yet, if you look at what Thompson does compared with the teams that have lots of money to spend, he does find good bargains and never overspends. When he does spend, though, it’s a good thing. Charles Woodson was a great addition to Green Bay, and became a centerpiece on defense. Adding Julius Peppers three seasons ago brought experience and depth to the pass rush. And we can’t forget about Jared Cook, who was very good down the stretch and another good bargain in free agency. But, even with these on Thompson’s record, fans and analysts alike know that it’s going to take more than drafting and developing to reach the top again in the NFL.
What Positions Should He Address?
Clearly, the front seven needs work. If you subtract everyone who is a free agent this season, this is what the Packers are left with: Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Christian Ringo, Letroy Guion, Dean Lowry, Clay Matthews, Jayrone Elliot, Kyler Fackrell, Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez, Joe Thomas. That’s pretty concerning as far as a front seven goes. This is all the evidence you need that Ted needs to find some help outside of Green Bay. Nick Perry is the in house guy fans would love to see come back, but the market may be too rich for the Packers to retain him. Julius Peppers wasn’t as productive as he has been in Green Bay this past season, so you can bet Green Bay won’t bring him back.
Guard is another big hole that could open up in Green Bay. Both TJ Lang and JC Tretter are free agents, and once again, their market could heat up too much for the Packers to afford them. It would be nice if Thompson were to bring one back, but with reports of JC Tretter possibly getting $8 million plus in free agency, and with TJ Lang guaranteed to get north of $10 million per year, the Packers might not want to use that much cap space on an offensive lineman.
There’s an obvious need in the secondary for the Packers. It isn’t likely that they’ll make a splash in this year, because 1) the secondary market is massively driven up based on need and the cap rising and 2) the depth in the draft, especially at cornerback. I don’t expect the Packers to do anything in free agency to upgrade the secondary, and with Micah Hyde likely moving on, the Packers will have to seriously look at drafting multiple corners in April.
As far as the offensive skill spots go, running back and tight end are not big needs, but they need depth. Ty Montgomery isn’t going to be a three down back, but he is a nice player in a two man rotation who can take over on third downs with ease. Jared Cook came up big down the stretch for Green Bay, and signing him to a longer deal is a big priority on the offensive side of the ball. Let’s address both markets. The Packers would like to have Lacy back, but the running back is heating up, and other teams with more room to spend may sway Lacy to come play for them. As far as tight ends go, there isn’t much on the open market. Jack Doyle appears to be returning to Indy, which leaves Martellus Bennett and Jared Cook at the top of the market. Cook was integral to their offense down the stretch, and even if the market is strong, I expect Green Bay to make a run for him.
Who Do The Packers Sign?
Let’s start with the pass rushers. Nick Perry is unlikely to return, but don’t count him out just yet. The Packers know about their depth at pass rusher, so he could return. Julius Peppers is also unlikely to return along with Datone Jones, but the Packers may extend team friendly offers. I expect a dry free agency for the Packers at pass rusher should they not re-sign Nick Perry.
Defensive line is something we haven’t talked about much, but the Packers could use some help there. With Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels as the only current guys with starting experience (I expect Guion to be gone), they may reach for someone with a lower asking price. Ravens nose tackle Brandon Williams is way out of Ted’s spending tendency, so he’s out. Dontari Poe is a good option at nose tackle, and he may opt to sign with a contender, and he would be a good veteran presence at the spot like Peppers has been. Johnathan Hankins is too young and will command too much. There are two guys I like that Green Bay could sign. Bennie Logan and Chris Baker can both play on the interior in a 3-4 and are great run defenders. Chris Baker also had 4.5 sacks last season, proving he can get to the quarterback as well. Watch those two names.
Micah Hyde is on the way out, and I don’t expect the Packers to pursue top guys like Malcolm Butler, AJ Bouye, and Stephon Gilmore. The market will drive their price to a point that is too much that anyone should pay, let alone a smart shopper like Ted Thompson. Rumors have shown that the Packers may bring back former corner Davon House, who was cut by the Jags this week. I expect this to be their only effort in the corner market.
I think Eddie Lacy might be too pricey to sign. He is likely to find a home somewhere else. That leaves injury prone vets like Peterson and Charles, but I think even they might get overpaid. One intriguing option is Raiders running back Latavius Murray. Overall, I think it’s Lacy or nothing for the Packers when it comes to running backs.
Finally, Jared Cook. You know what I think about this. Rodgers isn’t going to let the front office let him go. He is coming back to Green Bay.
What Should The Packers Do In The Draft?
There are four or five spots that I hope the Packers address in the draft, and two spots that are absolutely necessary. The two biggest holes that could use depth are cornerback and edge rusher. Green Bay parted ways with Sam Shields, who was an important piece to their secondary coming into the season. He only played in one game and it is a mystery whether he will play again. Losing Sam Shields, combined with lingering injuries that bothered Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, forced Ladarius Gunter into a starting role and forced the Packers to use Micah Hyde and even Morgan Burnett in the slot. Yes, Randall and Rollins still need time to develop, but the Packers need young depth. Edge rusher is another important position to address. The Packers are set to lose Julius Peppers, and even if they re-sign Nick Perry and Datone Jones, they need some young talent out there. Clay Matthews seems to have begun his decline, and no one is sure if Jayrone Elliott or Kyler Fackrell will make a big impact in the coming seasons. Obviously running back is important, but with a deep group this year, I don’t think the Packers will draft one early. I don’t think Jake and Blake are the answer at middle linebacker, although I do credit Jake Ryan for his improvement in coverage this past season. Adding an athletic linebacker would be nice for Green Bay for depth. Guard will probably be another need for Green Bay with the likely departure of Lang and Tretter, and there should be options there as well.
Luckily for Green Bay, both the corner class and the edge class are extremely deep. The corner class is the best I have seen in my time covering the draft, which isn’t lengthy I admit. But ask some experts about it, and they will say the same. There are a large number of corners who are first round talents, and some will fall to the third round. The edge class is strong too, and there are nice finds when you get to rounds three and four.
Who Should The Packers Target?
There are plenty of names that come to mind at each position, but let’s start where the Packers need help the most: corner. Green Bay needs speed and physicality at the position, and there are multiple corners who fit that description. Gareon Conley and Sidney Jones are top corners who would fit the Packers well, but it is unlikely that either get to the Packers at 29. Jones and (especially) Conley tested real well at the combine, and both are top 20 players in this draft. Should either get to Green Bay, that could be the pick. Tre’Davious White is very physical at the line of scrimmage, and he can play zone as well. Fabian Moreau has been a big riser in this draft, and his speed and physicality are exactly what Green Bay needs. Kevin King and Chidobe Awuzie are day two players that would be great adds, especially King with his size and speed. Some later round options include Cam Sutton, Corn Elder, and Ahkello Witherspoon.
Edge rusher is very deep too. There is a possibility that Charles Harris or Takk McKinley make it to the Packers, but it is unlikely. McKinley is excellent against the run and a fastball off the edge. Harris is a technician with a nasty spin move. Many have TJ Watt mocked to Green Bay, but that feels like a name-based pick. Day two edge guys include guys like Derek Rivers, Tim Williams, and Carroll Phillips. Williams and Phillips bring serious speed off the edge as rushers, and Rivers is very underrated. Don’t forget about guys like DeMarcus Walker, Jordan Willis, and Trey Hendrickson, who all have interesting potential. The depth at that position will allow the Packers to find good contributors on day two should they not grab a big name in round one.
As far as the other positions go, the Packers can mix and match. Guys like Raekwon McMillan and Duke Riley are good options at linebacker later in the draft. Forrest Lamp is mocked to Green Bay in my current round one mock draft, but he might not be there. Guys like Dorian Johnson, Nico Siragusa, and Isaac Asiata are late round options. Last, but not least, the running back class is deep. I’m warming up to the idea of McCaffrey in Green Bay with Rodgers, but odds are that does not happen. Middle round running backs that look good include TJ Logan, Jamaal Williams, Kareem Hunt, and Elijah McGuire.
What’s The Outlook?
I expect the Packers to reload through the draft and retain a big piece or two in free agency. This might even be the year that the Packers reach outside their walls to grab a couple free agents. Packer fans, I know the struggle. March is hard to watch. But, have faith in the front office and this team. They will contend.
Jake Schyvinck covers the NFL and NFL Draft for The Sports Guys. He dabbles with the Packers, his favorite team. Follow him @JSchyvinck13 to stay caught up on all things free agency during this crazy month in sports.