After pass rusher, most fans don’t really care. Fix the pass rush, maybe upgrade the offensive line depth and fill the right guard spot, but really all anyone in Packer Nation wants to talk about this offseason will be fixing the pass rush.
As they should. Clearly, that’s a hole on this team no matter what Kyler Fackrell’s shiny numbers say. Nick Perry can’t stay healthy. Clay Matthews will make a great Raider. Reggie Gilbert may be just a guy and Kendall Donnerson is a big ball of tools.
The offensive line could use some upgrades, but more on that later.
Defensively, the Packers will be materially consistent year over year. Mike Pettine will stay on as defensive coordinator and though he has a reputation for molding his approach to fit his players, we can safely assume there will be myriad blitz looks, double-A gap pressures, and mixing of coverages. We know what that looks like and where the Packers have to get better: outside linebacker first and foremost, an upgrade at safety, and maybe someone to push for more time inside at linebacker.
Matt LaFleur’s arrival in Green Bay presents much larger trickle-down effects when it comes to roster building. His offense doesn’t prioritize all the same things the Packers did under Mike McCarthy, though luckily the zone blocking schemes will remain intact. That shouldn’t change the kind of offensive linemen the Packers might be targeting in free agency or the draft. Ted Thompson and now Brian Gutekunst have a type when it comes to the draft and they’ll retain continuity of that type under LaFleur.
Not everyone on the Titans’ roster fit what LaFleur wanted to do, including along the offensive line, but Quinton Spain possesses some of the athletic traits the Packers prize in a guard, with tackle size and quick enough feet. He played solid football for Tennessee and would be a clear upgrade at right guard for the Packers. His knowledge of the system and his talent could make him an intuitive addition in free agency.
There’s also a potentially important philosophical approach to consider this offseason. Sean McVay came to LA and changed the Rams, but that front office loaded him up with talent. So aside from simply considering scheme fit, there’s a case to be made that the Packers should get back to reloading an offense that has been mostly neglected by Ted Thompson over the last few years. It’s been years since Green Bay spent premium draft capital on a skill position player and while they have studs like Davante Adams and Aaron Jones, behind them stands a plethora of question marks. Being aggressive in free agency and the draft to surround Rodgers, and by extension LaFleur, with playmakers, is the best way to set the new head coach up for success.
This draft is rich with tight end talent, so much so Iowa might have not one but two guys go in the top 40-50 picks. There are a half dozen other guys who could go in the top-100, maybe more. There could be a greater sense of urgency to add pedigree at that position with LaFleur in the fold.
To wit, LaFleur’s arrival could speed up Jimmy Graham’s departure. McCarthy’s usage of his personnel with Graham in particular last season was troubling, but the evidence is clear: Jimmy Graham can’t block. And in LaFleur’s offense, that’s just not going to work. There are plenty of opportunities to split out tight ends, but so much of the offense is predicated on having a tight end who can at least threaten to block someone, it’s hard to see justifying the $12.6 million cap hit for a part-time player.
Green Bay can designate him as a post-June 1 cut and only have around $4 million in dead cap on their books. That $8 million difference could be used to sign a quality player or two and make this team more well-rounded.
As such, the Packers should continue the Big Bob Tonyan experiment and giving Marcedes Lewis another go would make sense given his blocking prowess – assuming him telling tales out of school about Rodgers changing McCarthy’s plays isn’t a dealbreaker for Green Bay. But with Lance Kendricks unlikely to be back, that isn’t going to be enough to the tight end position, not in this offense where LaFleur and other Mike/Kyle Shanahan disciples will use two and even three tight ends with regularity.
Speaking of pass catchers, Davante Adams works no matter what scheme is being run, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s speed should be a boon for the types of shot plays LaFleur loves to scheme up. Prime Randall Cobb would have been perfect for this new offense with his quick twitch athleticism and run-after-the-catch potential. Unfortunately, that player hasn’t played in Green Bay since 2014. There are glimpses, like his incredible game-winning touchdown vs the Bears, but on a snap-to-snap basis, he simply can’t provide that any longer.
LaFleur loves to give receivers a chance to catch and run, whether it’s off crossing routes underneath, on receivers screens, or on slants. As dynamic as Adams can be after the catch, the Packers would benefit from the addition of a Cobb-like player. There will be options in free agency like ex-Lions star Golden Tate who proved last weekend he still has some juice in those legs at 30 years old. For a player who runs after the catch like a running back, he should have no problem being effective into his 30’s. Want to find a better use for the $8 million the Packers could save by cutting Graham? Found it.
Could the Packers surprise and use one of their first-round picks on a pass-catcher? Most of the receivers in the class are big-bodied maulers, but there are some intriguing names to watch. Oklahoma’s Marquise Browns may be small (5’9 168) but may well be the fastest player in college football and was dynamic after the catch in Norman. Parris Campbell from Ohio State could further the Packers’ trend of striking gold in the second round at receiver. The Buckeyes used him in the backfield and split out. His playmaking jumped off the screen when I was studying Dwayne Haskins.
Just look at how the Rams offense has struggled to a relative degree with its slot weapon Cooper Kupp since his injury. The ability to get open quickly and create after the catch can be a vital weapon to this offense in Green Bay and they don’t have a player right now who can fill that role.
Certainly, there are players on the margins who could come in and help this team, like a pass-catching running back, safety help, and more, but those were going to be needs regardless of who was calling the shots in Green Bay. The Packers front office has its work cut out for it identifying and filling the voids to bring this team back to Super Bowl contention, but at least there’s a clear identity on both sides of the ball. That kind of focus has been lacking in recent years, and continuity should make it easier to identify players who could come in and help. The Packers bet big on a young coach to come in and revamp this team. They have to tailor the offseason to give him every chance to live up to those expectations.