OFFSEASON REVIEW: GREEN BAY PACKERS
By Tayyib Abu
As one season ends and another one begins, 32 NFL franchises put 2020 firmly in the rear view mirror and gear up for another tilt at the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The hard work starts here, and for many has already begun; general managers and head coaches are finalizing their staff and looking ahead to turning their rosters into potential challengers.
In this series we identify the key components that go into building a winning team, and what each franchise needs to do to be in the mix come the playoffs next January. We continue our team by team offseason review with a look at the Green Bay Packers:
2020 was an awe-inspiring year for the Packers. The Pack ran away with the NFC North; a 13-3 record saw them take the one seed in the conference. Green Bay were powered by Aaron Rodgers, who deservedly scooped up the MVP award. Rodgers played at a brilliant level, and it was arguably the best season of his long career. Rodgers also benefitted from a fabulous supporting cast.
Davante Adams exploded in 2020. The sixth-year wideout posted over 1000 yards receiving while averaging 98.1 yards per game. Rodgers and Adams developed a telepathic understanding. Adams emerged into a dominant player as he torched secondaries all season long. Aaron Jones joined Adams as another weapon for Rodgers to utilize. Jones ran for over 1000 yards; he became a useful outlet for Matt Lafleur to use in a game. Talented weapons allied with a tremendous offensive line saw the Packers rank first in scoring offense. Green Bay averaged 31.5 points per game, a considerable jump from 2019 when that number was 23.6. Quite simply, in 2020 Aaron Rodgers – and the offense he commands – played better than ever.
While the offense played at an absurd level, the Packers defense still played inconsistently. There were some high points; Jaire Alexander and Adrian Amos starred on the back end, and Former Michigan man Rashan Gary evolved into a solid starter as he displayed his pass-rushing skills. Like so many Packers defenses, the unit probably played below its talent level. Mike Pettine consistently drew the ire of Cheeseheads during the 2020 season.
Despite these defensive concerns, Green Bay stormed their way into the playoffs. The team from title-town looked like the team to beat. Green Bay crushed the Rams in the divisional round, which set up a clash with the Bucs for the NFC Championship. Sadly for the Packers, one critical injury probably derailed their season. Star left-tackle David Bakhtiari got injured, and while that injury didn’t cause problems in the back half of the regular season, it showed up big time in the NFC Championship game.
The Bucs swarmed Rodgers as he struggled under pressure. Add that to some questionable coaching calls from Lafleur, and the best team in the NFL got dumped out on their own turf. The Packers didn’t do much wrong in 2020. Unfortunately for them, almost all of their missteps happened in one game. For how good this team played, missing out on a Super Bowl wasn’t good enough. The Packers head into the offseason knowing they are very, very close, but they also know that the last step is the hardest.
Massive changes didn’t take place for the Packers this offseason. The biggest one saw defensive coordinator Mike Pettine leave the organization. His replacement arrives from the Los Angeles Rams in the form of Joe Barry. The Barry hire puzzled many Packer fans – he is best known for playing his part in the infamous 2008 Lions season. The Packers required a new DC, and even though he played a significant role in the Rams’ excellent defense, it is still a puzzling hire. Barry must win over the players and the fans; that is a difficult spot to find himself in.
Green Bay didn’t make many more changes to its staff. They didn’t need to make many changes. The majority of this staff helped take the team to consecutive NFC title games. Matt Lafleur is an excellent head coach; Green Bay only required some tweaks. Whether Barry is the right hire, only time will tell.
State Of The Roster
The Packers roster is in healthy shape for another run at the Super Bowl. Despite a mischievous comment, Rodgers is going nowhere. The same goes for Adams, Alexander, Amos, Bakhtiari and other stars. The Green Bay roster boasts a slew of superstars that can take the team far. Green Bay does have some areas where they must improve though; the offensive line could do with some depth, and we saw in the NFC championship that it proved costly. The Packers starting lineup is Super Bowl ready. The team is in a championship window due to some excellent GM work and coaching, and there are few holes on the roster to fill. This Packers team is easily good enough to see them return to the NFC title game.
Salary Cap & Cut Candidates
The Packers front office has a ton of work to do regarding the salary cap. $195 million is the projected cap figure for Green Bay, which could leave them $11 million over if the cap ceiling gets set at $184 million. It is a complex situation to encounter when a team is aiming for the Super Bowl. Green Bay understands that it must keep its core intact to win a championship. To that effect, the front office restructured Bakhtiari’s contract to free up around $8 million in cap space.
The team already cut Rick Wagner and Christian Kirksey. That creates almost $10 million on the salary cap. Green Bay won’t likely stop at those two players. Josh Jackson and Devin Funchess are prime cut candidates. Neither player is on massive money; however, they aren’t significant contributors to the team. The Packers can create more flexibility and additional space for rookies to play a role on the team. The Packers can create some more space if they opt to extend Davante Adams to a back-loaded contract.
After cutting Wagner and Kirksey, the Packers’ free agents issues turn to Aaron Jones, Corey Linsley, Allen Lazard and Robert Tonyan. Jones developed into a top running-back over the last two years, but he is not in the class of Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffery or Alvin Kamara. Does Jones deserve top money at a position where the Packers can plug-and-play a new guy who can play just as well? The Mike Shanahan coaching tree guys love using a running-back on offense. Surely the Packers need to spend money on keeping Linsley. He is a fantastic center that can lead the Packers offensive line. He finished fifth in blocking success for centers; The OL stalwart is elite. As Rodgers gets older, protection will play a vital role in Green Bay’s Super Bowl chase.
Tonyan and Lazard were helpful complementary pieces on the offensive side. Both players demonstrated super skill in pass-catching and route-running. That surprised many pundits as they didn’t give the unheralded duo a second thought. Tonyan and Lazard are probably replaceable, although the pair already own a good relationship with Rodgers. They understand the offense, and in a year where it is Super Bowl or bust, that can’t get ignored. As for other players such as Kevin King and Marcedes Lewis, the Packers won’t lose too much sleep seeing them go.
The Packers’ most significant needs will probably come at defensive-line, edge and right tackle. The Packers line up in a 3-4 base; they couldn’t create a ton of pressure out of that formation. Green Bay could pick up a pass-rusher in the draft. Whilst this class may not have a standout player, it is deep. The likes of Jaelan Phillips, Rashad Weaver and Patrick Jones could all be good fits and available at different points in the draft to select. Green Bay could even draft both a defensive end and an edge rusher to play on the outside; nose tackle Kenny Clark is a solid run-stopper. The defensive ends can then get used in tandem with the outside backers to generate pressure. The Packers’ front seven is good, although it does lack some dynamism. They can fix that in the draft.
Offensively, a running back may get pushed to the top of the shopping list if Aaron Jones doesn’t come back. The nature of the Lafleur offense means Green Bay could find a runner in the mid-rounds. Help and depth on the offensive line would also be a handy acquisition. Green Bay’s prize asset is still the man under center; they must protect him if the Packers desire to bring the Lombardi trophy home – and they aren’t far away. A few shrewd offseason moves can make them better. That might be enough to take them to a championship.
TAYYIB IS AN AVID NFL FAN AND, AS A FOLLOWER OF THE DETROIT LIONS, IS A PERMANENT RESIDENT IN THE HONOLULU BLUE HEARTBREAK HOTEL. WRITING FOOTBALL ARTICLES SINCE 2019, TAYYIB LOVES EVERYTHING ABOUT THE SPORT EXCEPT THAT WINS ARE NOT A QB STAT. FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @TAYYIBABU