Packers: What will it take to reach the Super Bowl in 2021?

Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

After falling just short in a surprising season, what will it take for the Green Bay Packers to get to Super Bowl LV?

The Green Bay Packers had one of the most unexpected seasons in recent memory. With a rookie head coach and a team in flux, no one expected to finish the season one game short of the Super Bowl. Yet that’s exactly what they did.

Now that fans have had some time to get the sour taste out of their mouth I hope they can take joy in just what the Packers did this season. The team was rejuvenated with an influx of new blood throughout the organization and despite never putting together one complete game, the team never gave up, played for one another and returned fun to Lambeau Field.

No matter how you look at it, this season should be considered a success.

Regardless, being this close to playing Sunday and not making it still hurts. The Packers have holes for sure. And there may be some more after the new season begins. Players will leave, some may retire and others might be shown the door by the team.

So with the oncoming change, what will it take for the Packers to take the next step?

The Packers won’t be able to sit back on their laurels and expect to just end up back on top of the division. There’s too much talent in the NFC North.

The Bears that were just short of being a playoff team will return a team that won the division just a year ago mostly intact. The Lions were a few breaks away from being legit contenders. The Vikings made the playoffs but may take a step back themselves with their salary cap situation. But Mike Zimmer always has his teams ready to play and usually in position to win.

The Packers have roughly $22 million in cap space and could free up around $12 million more by cutting Jimmy Graham and Lane Taylor. So there is room to be semi-aggressive in free agency. But they’ll have to take care of their own first. Getting Kenny Clark locked up early in the process will give the Packers a clearer understanding of where they stand with free agency and how aggressive they can be.

GM Brian Gutekunst will then have to decide what to do with Bryan Bulaga and the right tackle position. When healthy, he’s one of the best right tackles in the game. But therein lies the problem, he has only finished a 16-game season twice in his starting career. He’s on the wrong side of 30, and who knows what he has left?

Bulaga has been a leader in the locker room, though, and Aaron Rodgers has lobbied for him to be back. But at what cost? If Rodgers would like some new, veteran toys to play with, the team is going to have to cut corners somewhere.

If Bulaga feels he’s worth $10 million there’s a pretty good chance someone else does too and is willing to pay him as much. The Packers have to hope he takes a hometown discount or let him walk.

The team signed Lucas Patrick to an extension before the end of last season so maybe there’s already a plan in place. The team doesn’t have a ready-made young replacement at right tackle unless they want to move Billy Turner from guard and let Patrick take over his starting right guard position. That could be a cost-saving move but would it be an improvement?

The team will also have to make decisions on Tramon Williams and Mason Crosby. Both deserve to be back. But the same question that comes with Bulaga also comes with them. Crosby should be more valuable to the Packers than any other team. He knows Lambeau well and has proven he can handle Wisconsin winters.

Regardless of what cap space the Packers end up with, Gutekunst will have to find a way to continue his aggressive nature in team-building and figure out a way to add some veteran talent to the receiver pool.

There aren’t too many big names poised for the market. Amari Cooper and A.J. Green top the list as far as big names go at receiver. Austin Hooper and Hunter Henry are the top options at tight end. Until franchise tags have been applied it’ll be hard to speculate which or if any of those players will be available, but it would be a big boon for Matt LaFleur’s offense to add someone from that list.

Rodgers has openly pleaded for veteran talent before. One would have to think after coming this close it would only add to his desire for more veterans around him.

Adding talent at the offensive skill positions is a must for the team this offseason. My hope would be that Gutekunst doubles down like he did last year at edge rusher and adds veteran talent as well as fresh rookie blood. But the quickest way for the team to improve and build that consistency is by adding a veteran or two. Maybe via free agency, maybe a trade. Just add some veteran talent.

One place a veteran would also help is on the run defense. A player like Javon Hargrave could go a long way in shutting down the run. A line with Hargrave, Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry would be a load to handle for any offensive line.

A new middle linebacker will also probably be in the cards. The good news here is if the Packers decide to go with a veteran place holder, the price tags could be cheap for players like Danny Trevathan or Jon Bostic. A young player like Reggie Ragland might also be a good fit.

If the Packers would like to add veterans on the offensive side, the team probably won’t be able to add multiple on the defensive side. Especially if that veteran is a high profile one. The draft and bottom end of the free-agent pool might be the way the Packers have to go.

If so, they’ll have to hit on at least one of those picks. It would be nice if they could have the same type of haul they got out of this year’s crop — three impact players, but that isn’t likely. So one free agent and a draft choice might have to suffice. If the Packers want to make it past the 49ers in the NFC, run defense must be high on their priority list.

The biggest impact the team can add is getting better from within. Mike Pettine is on notice. Coach LaFleur doesn’t seem like he will have the patience Mike McCarthy had with Dom Capers. Pettine must show he can keep up with the cutting-edge offenses.

Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the offense will have another offseason in Coach LaFleur’s system and should be more comfortable. Getting consistency from the offense will help the team finally form the identity they were unable to in 2019.

In theory it sounds simple. Figure out the right tackle situation, make wise decisions with their own free agents, add some talent at offensive skill positions, improve the run defense and get better from within. All those things would make this team better.

It won’t be that simple. All but one of the Packers’ wins came by only one score. That trend is bound to even out. So their record may come down from 13-3. But, if the Packers can hit on free agents both coming and going, fix the run game and get better from within, they could find themselves playing an extra game, the big game next year.