Green Bay Packers: Can they build on a successful 2019?
It was a strong 2019 for the Green Bay Packers, who won 13 games on their way to the #2 seed in the NFC. It could have been the #1 seed had the Seattle Seahawks found an extra half a yard in their matchup with the San Francisco 49ers in Week 17, which could have made all the difference in how the season ended for the Packers.
Ultimately, it was an impressive season for the Packers, but it will be remembered with some negatives. Firstly, there was a lot of criticism of quarterback Aaron Rodgers play from outside the franchise, with many suggesting Rodgers underlying numbers suggesting the quarterback is on the decline. Secondly, the way the Packers were dismissed by the 49ers in San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game will likely leave a sour taste in the mouths of Packers’ fans. Let’s take a look at how the Packers offseason may shape up as they strive to go all the way in 2020.
General Manager: Brian Gutekunst
Head Coach: Matt LaFleur
After a 2018 season that saw Mike McCarthy fired and replaced with young and upcoming head coach Matt LaFleur, expectations for 2019 were somewhat mixed. However, an aggressive approach to the offseason, combined with LaFleur revolutionising the Packers running game brought impressive results. While the Packers never really looked dominant on the field, they always seemed to have enough in their back pocket to pull out close games.
Cap Space: $20.5 million
After an aggressive offseason in 2019 the Packers are limited in what they can do in 2020. However, $20 million in cap space when you already have the key spine of your team in place is not something that is concerning entering the offseason.
Generating cap space in 2020 may be most likely to come through extensions and restructures but there are a couple of options they have in terms of moving on from players.
Jimmy Graham is set to count over $11m against the cap in 2020, and the Packers can open up $8m of that if they choose to part ways. I expect to see Graham looking for a new team at some point this offseason.
Four other offensive players taking up large chunks of cap space are three key components of their offensive line and their number one receivers. Therefore, I do not expect to see LT David Bakhtiari, LG Lane Taylor, C Corey Linsley, or WR Davante Adams on the move this offseason.
One other player they may consider moving on from is defensive tackle Kenny Clark. Clark’s contract is set to jump $5m in 2020 to over $7.5m. However, none of that is guaranteed. The problem is that Clark is a crucial part of that defense, having massively outplayed his 2019 contract in terms of value returned, and if he performs the same in 2020, then his current cap hit would look a bargain. At just 25 years of age, Clark may be someone the Packers consider to extend in order to create more space in 2020.
Impending Free Agents
The impact of potential free agents may be fairly minimal for the Packers. Right Tackle Bryan Bulaga, who was a important part of a strong offensive line in 2019 is set to leave. Whether they can re-sign him will depend on his desire to remain at right tackle and if they can strike a fitting price for a player that plays at a position not seen as key as some of the others on the offensive line.
Another key free agent expected to leave is inside linebacker Blake Martinez. While Martinez has been a good contributor for the Packers, he is someone they will likely let test free agency before seeing if they can bring him back. Off the ball linebackers see their value fluctuate year to year and the Packers may be hesitant to commit big money without seeing what the market is first.
Major Need: Wide Receiver
This is as simple as it gets. Rodgers has just one receiver that he seems consistently happy to rely on in crucial situations in Adams. The problem is that if I know that, so does every team in the NFL and they make it a priority to limit the effect of Adams in games. When Rodgers was at his best was when he had the likes of Adams lining up opposite Jordy Nelson, with Randall Cobb in the slot. The Packers need to find Rodgers a second outside receiving threat he can rely on, and perhaps even need to look to add a shifty slot receiver to play the Cobb role in crucial moments.
Major Need: Inside Linebacker
Martinez’s potential departure opens up a need to find someone to dominate that middle of the field role. In the modern game the requirements of inside linebackers are tough. They need to be able to step up and support in the running game, while also being able to cover effectively. It will be interesting to see whether the Packers decide to invest in a veteran presence or look to go for a young athletic option in the NFL Draft.
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