The Green Bay Packers are entering another offseason with many needs to address, but this time they are approaching it with a new man in charge.
The 2018 season is already on everybody’s mind as free agency kicks off. With the draft still another six weeks away, the Packers have time to address their depleted roster and once and for all provide Aaron Rodgers with enough support to get this team back to the Super Bowl.
As Brian Gutekunst takes over, he and his shuffled team of scouts, cap strategists and coaches are finding that the team is in need of the exact same assets that they have been missing for years.
Let’s go position by position. At quarterback, the Packers have been looking for a serviceable backup to Aaron Rodgers for years. After Matt Flynn‘s departure in free agency in 2012, the Packers went on a free agent quarterback carousel that included Vince Young, Seneca Wallace, and Scott Tolzien.
Now, the Packers may finally have their answer. After a stunning trade that sent Damarious Randall to the Browns in exchange for DeShone Kizer, the team is set for the time being at the position. They would ideally look to develop Kizer into a more confident deep passer and should exercise patience given that he does not need to be on the field anytime soon.
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The Packers had interest in drafting Kizer in last year’s draft. What is interesting about the trade is that seemingly half of the front office from last year is now running the show in Cleveland. Eliot Wolf and Alonzo Highsmith left Green Bay to join former Packers executives John Dorsey and Scot McCloughan. Clearly, the ones who left town weren’t the ones vouching for the former star quarterback at Notre Dame.
At running back, the Packers have not found a steady answer to the position in almost a decade. After Ryan Grant‘s season-ending injury in the season opener in 2010, the Packers have made no progress towards finding long-term solutions to the problem. James Starks burst onto the scene towards the end of that campaign, but never became the team’s bell cow and never hit 600 yards in a season.
The Packers endured a stretch of 44 games without a running back eclipsing 100 yards in a game that ended in 2012. That is inexcusable for a team that has such a prolific passing threat and keeps defenses fully aware of the Packers’ offensive intentions. Here in 2018, Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Devante Mays and Ty Montgomery are the only running backs on the roster.
The unit is made up of a wide receiver who can’t stay healthy, a fourth-round pick from last year’s draft, and a fifth-rounder from the same year. Mays, a seventh-round pick from a year ago, fumbled on his first two carries in the NFL. The Packers had a need at the position all the way back in 2012, and haven’t made any progress on it six years later.
Next is the tight end position. How long does it take for a team to figure out what it wants to do at one position? Jermichael Finley‘s career ended in 2013 on one freak hit from then-Browns defensive back Tashaun Gipson. As we enter the 2018 offseason, the team is still looking for his replacement.
It didn’t work with Andrew Quarless. It didn’t work with Richard Rodgers. It crashed and burned with Martellus Bennett. The team had a little something going with Jared Cook, who even earned an endorsement from Aaron Rodgers at the end of the 2016 season, saying he wanted Cook re-signed. Ted Thompson and the Packers ignored that sentiment and brought in Bennett instead.
A season later, and the Packers are yet again looking for tight ends in this year’s draft. It is frankly ridiculous that they are still looking to add to this position every single season. The Packers should have had this position solidified several years ago. But a fraudulent trust in Quarless, a brutal draft miss on Rodgers, a bad call on Cook’s departure and a free agent signing gone horribly wrong leave the Packers once again looking to solve their tight end problem.
When it comes to the defensive side of the ball, the questions about the unit cause Packer nation around the world to collectively roll their eyes. Every position on the unit is still in need of reinforcements as they are pretty much every year.
Along the defensive line, the Packers are already throwing their hat into the Muhammad Wilkerson sweepstakes. The defensive line is actually considered the strongest part of the unit by most standards. Despite this, the team still needs a significantly better defensive end who can provide some interior pass rush, as well as a run defender who won’t get blown off the ball the way Packers defensive tackles have been for years.
Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Wilkerson and Dean Lowry would be a formidable line, but it would not necessarily even compare to the defensive line of some of their NFC opponents like the Vikings, Rams or Eagles. The resources the Packers have put into their defensive line over the last several seasons is a perfect snapshot into the team’s inability to improve a position despite years of draft picks and undrafted free agents being plugged into the rotation.
B.J. Raji‘s injury-rattled career did not prevent the Packers from giving him the starting job at defensive tackle for six straight years. The team foolishly let Cullen Jenkins out the door and failed to replace him in 2011. Letroy Guion was given an extension despite being a non-existent pass rusher and an average run defender.
Ted Thomspon took Nick Perry with his first pick in the 2012 draft. Despite this, he still felt it was necessary to draft another edge rusher the year after in Datone Jones. Jones quickly showed the world what a bust he was, and Thompson added yet another first-round pick to his defensive front in Kenny Clark. He tried Mike Pennel. He tried Mike Neal. He even uncharacteristically brought in Julius Peppers. Despite all these investments, the Packers find themselves in need of the exact same things in 2018.
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Since 2011, the Packers have had the league’s worst middle linebackers. The team had a glaring need there after the 2014 season, and only addressed it with a fourth-round pick when they took Jake Ryan. A year later, they had the exact same desperation for a middle linebacker. Thompson, failing to recognize the importance of the position despite playing it in the NFL with the Houston Oilers, drafted Blake Martinez a year later in the same round.
Only so much blame for the defensive failures over the years can be put on Mike McCarthy’s shoulders when such weak investments are being made to middle linebacker every year. At cornerback, the Packers are again in need of one this offseason. After Charles Woodson was cut to gain unused cap space, the Packers haven’t solved the puzzle since 2013.
The team swung and missed on Damarious Randall, and have now called it quits after trading him. They swung and lost control of the bat on Quinten Rollins. They smacked a foul ball off of their shin on Ladarius Gunter. Ted Thompson signed Davon House as a free agent last offseason, but he quickly established himself as the third Packers’ cornerback to be ranked lower than 80th according to Pro Football Focus from a year ago. So he we are in 2018, with the Packers yet again needing help at cornerback.
A team should not be this inept at finding long-term solutions to almost every position on the roster. This offseason, they also need help at receiver and right guard. The team needs an infusion of speed on offense, and a long-term solution at guard. They also need a veteran presence at running back and have a decision to make on free agent Morgan Burnett.
Brian Gutekunst has a lot of work to do to help clean up the mess created by his predecessor. Thompson’s tenure as general manager in Green Bay was in large part a success, but the last seven years of his time in Green Bay were every bit as frustrating and confusing as the first six years were productive.
If the Packers want to get back to the Super Bowl, they are going to have to be less arrogant and evolve their philosophies. A team that relies on college free agents, undrafted rookies and inexperienced training camp signees will never lead to success on the field. The Packers have their work cut out for them this offseason.