The Green Bay Packers endured a roller coaster-type season. It was filled with ups and downs, from being declared out of it by Week 10 to shocking everyone and making it to the brink of the Super Bowl on the back of Aaron Rodgers. It’d be hard to call their season a failure, considering the way they turned it around just after the midway point, but any time you have a perennial MVP candidate like Rodgers, anything short of a Super Bowl is disappointing.
Now, they enter the time in which championship teams are made: the offseason. The Packers’ offseason hauls are typically unexciting, lacking flashy draft picks and free-agent signings, rather featuring a litany of boring re-signings and bolstering of the trenches. In recent years, that hasn’t worked, but there’s still hope. The Packers are always in contention, they just need to get over the hump.
They can do so by making these five moves this offseason.
Re-sign T.J. Lang and J.C. Tretter
Aaron Rodgers said it immediately after the game, and his opinion typically goes a long way in Green Bay.
“And the offensive line, keeping those guys together was a big part of our success.” He’s right. It was a big part of the Packers’ success. Sure, he makes the line look better than it actually is at times, thanks to his wizardry in the pocket and underrated elusiveness when getting outside the tackles, but the Packers’ offensive line was terrific this season – one of the best in football.
Keeping that unit together will be huge for 2017 and beyond, and it starts with re-signing guard T.J. Lang and center J.C. Tretter. Lang had a great season, earning his first Pro Bowl bid. Tretter, on the other hand, had another injury-riddled campaign, playing just seven games.
He was good when healthy, but that hasn’t happened often the past few years. However, when he’s on the field, the Packers are better. He likely won’t cost Green Bay much considering his injury history, and a prove-it one-year deal is something he’d likely have to accept. Worst-case scenario, Corey Linsley steps in again. It’s important for a team to keep an offensive line together, especially a great one like Green Bay’s.
Draft a three-down back
The upcoming draft class is absolutely loaded at running back. As many as four or five backs could go in the first round, and that’s just barely scratching the surface on the depth of the group. With Eddie Lacy becoming a free agent and Ty Montgomery seemingly not solidifying his place as an every-down back, the time has never been better for the Packers to draft a running back.
Whether it’s in the second round or the fourth, the Packers have to address the position that’s been a disaster ever since Lacy’s strong 2014 campaign. They’ve been far too reliant on Aaron Rodgers to make plays in the passing game, and it’s made the offense one-dimensional.
Drafting a playmaker at running back would open up the offense, set up play-action again and allow the coaching staff to take pressure off of Rodgers. Samaje Perine, Kareem Hunt and Wayne Gallman are all guys the Packers could likely pick in the middle rounds, purely based on the fact that the class is loaded, thus pushing talented backs down.
Getty ImagesTom Pennington
Revamp the secondary
Matt Ryan and Dak Prescott both picked apart the Packers’ secondary this postseason, and they weren’t the only ones to do so in 2016. The Packers had one of the worst pass defenses in all of football this season, and it was a big reason they underachieved for the most part. Their play fell off from last season to this year with guys like Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins failing to develop into the players the Packers thought they’d be. Additionally, Sam Shields’ future is up in the air after another concussion, while his contract makes it more than possible for the Packers to move on from him.
The secondary needs to be retooled and revamped, starting with the cornerback position. The Packers can’t go into next season with Randall, Rollins and LaDarius Gunter as their top corners. How do they fix that? There are two options.
The Packers can dip their feet into the free-agency pool, which is littered with talent. Stephon Gilmore, Trumaine Johnson and A.J. Bouye are certain to be the top targets, while guys like Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Dre Kirkpatrick are on the second tier. It would be smart for Green Bay to sign one of those cornerbacks in free agency, but that’s not usually how the Packers do business.
Instead, they’ll likely take a chance on a corner in what’s shaping up to be a deep class. There will be great options at the bottom of the first round, but the second round is where the Packers can find value. They need to continue to draft corners, but more importantly, they have to finally hit on one.
Associated PressDuane Burleson
Bring back Jared Cook
Jared Cook was mostly an afterthought when the Packers signed him this past offseason. He was injured early in the year but came back to prove he’s a weapon in Green Bay’s offense. This postseason, he caught 18 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns, making the catch of the playoffs against the Cowboys.
Cook is set to be a free agent, and he earned himself some money with his play late in the year. Fortunately, he won’t be out of Green Bay’s price range, and Aaron Rodgers clearly wants him back.
“Jared Cook, I think, needs to be near the top of the priority list, the way he played this year.”
Green Bay has to make re-signing Cook a priority this offseason, considering what he did for the offense. He’s an athletic, playmaking tight end in the middle of the field, boasting 4.5-speed and creating mismatches with linebackers and safeties. The Packers aren’t thin on targets for Rodgers, but Cook proved to be one of his favorites late in the season.
Matthew EmmonsMatthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Spend big in free agency
Ted Thompson is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, penny-pinchers in the NFL. He doesn’t like to go after high-priced free agents, instead opting to re-sign his own and build through the draft. It’s a smart way to do business and to manage the cap, but it’s time for a change. The Packers can’t keep relying on undrafted free agents and average draft picks to have success. They need to spend in free agency, and now is the time to do it.
Aaron Rodgers isn’t getting any younger and the roster is only getting worse. Jordy Nelson is 31 years old, Randall Cobb has regressed and Clay Matthews is a shell of himself. The obvious choice for Thompson to correct these issues would be to draft players, but you can’t always find elite, immediate-impact players there.
Rather, he should go out and spend some money with his projected $35 million in cap space. Target an A.J. Bouye or Trumaine Johnson in free agency, providing an instant presence in the secondary. Both would immediately be the team’s best cornerback, and it’s unlikely either will fetch the money Janoris Jenkins commanded last year.
It wouldn’t hurt for the Packers to shore up their shaky linebacking core with a guy such as Gerald Hodges, or Zach Brown. Or see if you can lure a pass rusher like Melvin Ingram. On offense, Alshon Jeffery or DeSean Jackson would be welcomed additions, though at very different costs.
Regardless of which positional need the Packers address, they need to spend money in March. The Giants did that without batting an eye and it gave them one of the top defenses in the NFL. I’m not suggesting the Packers should spend in that manner, but even a quarter of that could go a long way.