Adding talent on defense is the Green Bay Packers’ top priority this offseason, but making a few key moves on the other side of the football can make the offense the league’s best in 2017.
Addressing the defensive side of the ball is easily the biggest task standing in front of general manager Ted Thompson this spring. The unit lacked a difference maker in 2016 and it showed up just about every week, particularly in the playoffs.
Without the magic of Aaron Rodgers, the Packers could only have dreamed of making it as far as the NFC title game.
Yet while Rodgers needs his defense to do a better job to ease the pressure from his shoulders, the Packers must also commit to strengthening in areas they were successful in last year, namely on offense. Mike McCarthy said as much in his end-of-season presser.
“We have to change a lot of things,” McCarthy said. “We have to get better at some of the things we did very well this year. Do you know why? Because we can.
“That’s what this game’s all about. You don’t just keep weighing, ‘This is good, this is bad. Let’s take the bad out, and the good’s going to stay there.’ I don’t think that’s how it works, and that’s not the approach we’re going to take.”
To translate, McCarthy makes it clear that improving his football team isn’t as simple as adding a cornerback here, a pass rusher there. You must continue to work on everything, even what you did well. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse, so the old football mantra goes.
Remember the 2014 season? The Packers were dominant on offense. Dominant. Their No. 6 offensive ranking doesn’t tell the whole story.
Green Bay boasted a pair of 1,000-yard receivers and an 1,000-yard rusher. Their quarterback earned a second league MVP award. The offensive line stayed healthy and played like it.
The results weren’t as predicted. Offensively the Packers got worse. Much worse. The unit ranked No. 23 overall in 2015, numbers unheard of in the Aaron Rodgers era.
And that’s exactly why the Packers must build on their impressive offensive display from the second half of 2016, not stand pat. Here’s how they can do it.
As is always the case, it starts in free agency. Before we look at what the other 31 teams have to offer, the Packers must make decisions on their own free-agents-to-be.
First up is Jared Cook. His return from a midseason ankle injury sparked the dramatic turnaround we saw last season. According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, “with Cook on the field last season, including playoffs, the Packers went 10-3 and Rodgers threw 25 touchdown passes and just three interceptions.” He truly was a difference maker and needs to come back.
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Eddie Lacy used to be a difference maker in his own right, before two disappointing seasons plagued by injuries and some serious red flags derailed all of his momentum. If he is to return, it’ll likely be to a team-friendly deal.
The futures of offensive linemen T.J. Lang and JC Tretter must also be determined. The Packers can ill afford to lose both.
Looking at the pool of free agents outside of Green Bay, there’s not a whole lot to write home about. Le’Veon Bell is the headline act, but there’s little to no chance he even hits free agency, so we can forget about that one.
Martellus Bennett might cause some intrigue if he hits the market, but the Super Bowl champion’s price tag might be a little too dear for Ted Thompson to make a move. The same can be said of Alshon Jeffery, Chicago’s talented yet injury prone wide receiver. Paired with a four-game suspension he served late last season, Jeffery’s price tag might outweigh his value.
Jeffery’s elite potential would make him an excellent addition to the Packers roster. A receiving trio of Jeffery, Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams would easily rank among the league’s very best. It’s the kind of high-risk move that could transform Green Bay’s passing game into an unstoppable force.
Is he worth more money than any other wideout in the NFL? No. But it’s the kind of move that wins championships. As unlikely as it is—and let’s be clear, there’s as much chance of Calvin Johnson coming out of retirement and demanding a trade to Green Bay as there is Jeffery being signed by Thompson—he could be a game-changer for the Packers.
If Ted is willing to break routine and make a splash, Jeffery should be a target.
Most of the Packers’ work will take place in Philadelphia this April. Here, Thompson has every chance to address the tight end, running back, and wide receiver position to his liking, all three positions boasting a pool rich in talent.
Even if Jared Cook stays in Green Bay, selecting another tight end would be a smart move by Thompson. This is a deep class, and it would be a mistake to not take advantage and potentially leave yourself thin at the position. If Cook gets hurt again, the Packers would be left with only Richard Rodgers.
It doesn’t have to be O.J. Howard or David Njoku, who are both projected for selection in the first round. South Alabama’s Gerald Everett would be an excellent pick by the Packers. He’s expected to be selected either late in the first round on sometime on day two.
If Lacy doesn’t return, addressing the running back position will become a major priority in the draft. Relying solely on receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery, who only exceeded nine carries in a game once last year, is asking for trouble. Montgomery will be a key piece in the backfield moving forward, but he needs a dance partner. If not Lacy, the Packers must find a rookie.
Adding another wide receiver, too, is important. As I wrote about last week, Green Bay needs to find a successor for Jordy Nelson sooner than later.
At some point Nelson’s production will drop. He’ll be 32-years-old at the start of the 2017 season, after all. Maybe it won’t be next year. But maybe it will. Do the Packers already have enough talent at the position to make up for a potential Nelson regression?
While a big free agency splash is unlikely, the Packers can’t afford to neglect the offensive side of the football, despite the amount of work needed on defense.
Dom Capers’ unit won’t be fixed in one offseason. It’s going to take time. Because of that, further strengthening the offense would go a long way to helping the Packers return to the Super Bowl for the first time in seven years.
If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.