After coming up short again in the NFC Championship game, what should the Green Bay Packers be looking to do this offseason?
The loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the weekend led to a wave of speculation about quarterback Aaron Rodgers‘ future. With the franchise’s star player clearly unhappy in the aftermath of the defeat, how can the front office at Lambeau Field get Green Bay back to the title game next season?
Let Aaron Jones walk
It’s difficult to see a dynamic part of your offense walk. Especially a player who just put up over 1,100 rushing yards with 5.5 yards per carry.
But the Packers drafted Aaron Jones’ eventual replacement in AJ Dillon in last year’s draft. The rookie was used sparingly through the season but made the most of his 46 rushing attempts with an average of 5.3 yards per attempt.
He profiles as a similar bruising runner to Jones with the speed to get to the outside as well. The Packers backfield is clearly a committee with fellow prospective free agent Jamaal Williams taking 40% of the snaps in the backfield. That means he’s cheaper to re-sign and lessens the pain of letting Jones leave Titletown.
Cut or renegotiate with Preston Smith
Currently one half of the Smith Bros pass rushing duo counts $16 million against the Packers cap for next season.
That’s in addition to namesake Za’Darius’ $22 million cap charge. It’s easier to justify that cap hit for the latter with his 12.5 sacks this year.
Not so much for Preston who had 4 sacks this year, one less than Rashan Gary, who after a couple of seasons of seasoning could be ready to step in as a starter. The Packers need to find savings in order to invest around Aaron Rodgers.
Go hard or go home at the wide receiver position
So both of the previous moves outlined are about creating cap space for the tight against the cap Packers. Whether ARod’s statements after the NFC Championship game loss to the Buccaneers were just heat of the moment frustration or symptomatic of a longer term grievance he has with the franchise, GM Brian Gutekunst has to maximise the next few years.
He has a generational quarterback in his prime who just put up an MVP calibre season with only one skill position player racking up over 1,000 yards receiving (Davante Adams). Whilst Robert Tonyan emerged as a legit red zone weapon, the amount that Rodgers is forced to rely on Adams is unsustainable. Marquez Valdez-Scantling had a superb day against Tampa Bay but Green Bay hasn’t seen that consistent level of production.
The free agent class at wide receiver projects to be highly enticing this year and the Packers must come away with someone of the calibre of Allen Robinson, Will Fuller or even Marvin Jones as a complement to Adams.
Find a way to resign Corey Linsley
The Packers big ticket free agent, alongside Jones, is center Corey Linsley.
Coming off an All Pro season, the fifth round pick from the 2014 draft is likely to command a lot of interest if he hits the open market.
Colts Center Ryan Kelly who is only 2 years Linsley’s junior and was second team All Pro this year, is currently the highest paid center in the league with an average of over $12 million per year.
Linsley might not quite demand a contract to exceed that but he will certainly expect to be close to it and within the top 5 highest paid centers (who all average around the $11 million per year mark). So any savings the Packers can make through cuts and renegotiations need to be directed towards maintaining that continuity they’ve had on the offensive line as well as finding weapons for Rodgers.