While the 2019 Green Bay Packers season was a successful one, it still ended without a Super Bowl appearance. In order to have a chance at the big game in 2020, Green Bay has several areas to address. There are certain positions in which free agents are needed, while others could be filled in the draft. Some may even require both in order to gain significant ground. Here is my rankings of the Packers Off-Season Priorities.
Creating Cap Space
Before the Packers can truly begin to add impact players, they need to cut a few bad contracts. According to Spotrac, Green Bay is expected to have around $20 Million in Cap Space in 2020. However, the team could easily double that amount with three simple moves.
Of all the current Packers players under contract, Jimmy Graham and Corey Linsley have the 6th and 7th highest cap hit respectively. However, there is not very much dead cap hits on either contract. Cutting Graham saves $8 Million, while Linsley’s release will come with $8.5 Million in cap relief. In my opinion, Graham has never been worth the contract that he signed in 2018, so that move is practically a no brainer.
Linsley however, has been a serviceable center for years. He is a good blocker and was mostly durable during his Packers tenure. There were some struggles in 2019, certainly, the Chargers game stands out in that regard. In that contest, he demonstrated a lack of awareness in terms of identifying and prioritizing pass-rushing threats. As a center, those line calls and adjustments are incredibly important.
Cutting Graham and Linsley would save $16.5 Million. In order to get to the full $20 Million, the Packers will need to release one more player. Lane Taylor began the season as the starting left guard. However, he was spent most of the season on the Injured Reserve. Luckily of the Packers, Elgon Jenkins not only stayed afloat in the starting lineup but also dominated from the left guard spot. Certainly, in the season opener against the Bears, Taylor struggled and it appeared as though the left guard spot would be the weak link on the offensive line. Jenkins changed all of that and actually made it one of the strongest parts of the line.
While Taylor does not carry nearly the cap hit of Graham and Linsley, the Packers can still save over $4.5 Million by releasing him. That would allow Green Bay access to about double the amount of cap space that they currently have. That will certainly help fill the needs that I am about to outline.
It is no secret that the Packers run defense needs work. Look no further than the NFC Championship Game when Raheem Mostert ran all over Green Bay for 220 yards and 4 touchdowns. It was the 2nd most rushing yards for any running back in any playoff game in NFL history. Not a great performance to say the least.
I believe that the Packers run game problems began long before. It was the offseason release of Mike Daniels that set them back as they were never able to properly replace him in the starting lineup. While Daniels would occasionally contribute to the pass-rush, it was his run-stuffing ability that truly made him special. This off-season, Green Bay desperately needs to find a running-down defensive end that they can plug right into the lineup. This may be one position the needs to be addressed in free agency.
Mike Daniels’ absence was not the only reason that the Packers run game struggled. The inside linebacker position was one that was largely ignored last offseason. The hopes were that Oren Burks would step up become a stable presence next to Blake Martinez. That did not pan out as Burks suffered an injury in preseason that left him behind the 8-ball in terms of training camp reps and getting into mid-season form. Burks did contribute late in the year, mostly as a pass rusher and as a linebacker in coverage. There was the late training camp addition of B.J. Goodson who began to play more often as the season went on and as he grew comfortable with the defense.
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The truth is that the Packers only have two natural inside linebackers signed for 2020, and both are about to enter their second seasons. Ty Summers was a 7th round pick and barely saw the field on defense. The other is Curtis Bolton, an undrafted free agent from last year’s class. Neither are locks to produce at the NFL level, so the position is in desperate need of attention. And that was true with Martinez on the team. It is even more apparent as Martinez is set to be a free agent. If the Packers do let him walk, then they need to fill both inside linebacker spots.
At least one of those inside linebackers jobs should be filled by someone with NFL experience. Green Bay could get away with drafting Martinez’ replacement and pairing him with a veteran. Either way, serious salary and draft capital needs to be spent on this run defense.
Arguably the biggest need on the offensive side of the football is at right tackle. With Bryan Bulaga‘s contract set to expire, the veteran lineman could decide not to return to Green Bay. Perhaps he will walk away from the game entirely. Or maybe he’s looking to sign one last big-money contract and prices himself out of the Packers range. Whatever the case may be, Green Bay needs to have a plan in place.
If they can get Bulaga for one more season, great. The $8.5 Million saved from cutting Corey Linsley, as I suggested earlier, should be more than enough to convince Bulaga to come back for one more go around. If that happens, the Packers still need to address the future of the right tackle spot. Alex Light is probably not the answer. Finding an option in the draft is paramount in order to secure the long-term future of the offensive line.
If Bulaga is not back, then the problem is two-fold: needing a right tackle in both the short-term and long-term. This will also require a serious investment in order to solidify the right side of the offensive line.
I was predicting 2019 as a breakout season for Geronimo Allison. That did not happen as Allison struggled with fumbles and had a limited role in the downfield passing game. That alone would not have been a big concern if some of the other young wide receivers took a step forward. Well, that was not the case either, Equanimeous St. Brown spent the season on injured reserve, while Jake Kumerow never contributed more than a key catch or two per game. Marquez Valdes-Scantling began the year well enough and seemed to be getting comfortable in a role as a deep threat. However, he disappeared mid-season amid struggles with catching the football.
Outside of Davante Adams, and the running backs, no Packers receiver stepped up until Allen Lazard came alive late in 2019. The team certainly has receiver depth as Jace Sternberger should be able to step into Jimmy Graham’s role. But the Packers should be after a true game-breaker at receiver. Considering all of the team’s other needs, I do not believe that they will be able to find a free agent receiver to fit that mold. Instead, the draft may be the best option for the Packers to find their true #2 wide receiver. Considering this deep class, Green Bay may even be able to draft that player with their first-round pick without needing to trade up.
Kenny Clark is truly one of the best young interior defensive linemen. He is about to enter the final year of his rookie contract. What the Packers want to avoid most is any tenuous relationship with Clark. That means getting a long-term extension done this offseason.
I placed this at the end of this priority list because Green Bay needs to address certain positions in order to compete in 2020. However, once that has been accomplished, the team should look to lock up Clark. They do not want to use the 5th-year option or even possibly a franchise tag and risk upsetting Clark. Instead, the Packers need to finalize the extension this off-season.
Thank you for reading my list of the Packers Off-Season Priorities. For more great NFL content, be sure to check out Full Press Coverage daily.