How can the Packers replace free agent Corey Linsley?
A key piece to the Green Bay Packers‘ offensive line could be gone in 2021.
First-team All-Pro center Corey Linsley has started 99 regular season games for the Packers since being drafted in 2014, and he’s provided steady play ever since while saving his best season for last.
There’s still time for Green Bay to re-sign Linsley, but a lack of salary cap room makes it difficult. If Linsley signs elsewhere, what options do the Packers have?
Packers’ best option could be to reshuffle line
Aaron Rodgers wanted continuity at center back in 2014 after what seemed to be a revolving door at the position before that. Linsley provided exactly that, but he could now be gone.
An immediate replacement could be Elgton Jenkins, who has spent the majority of his two seasons at guard but has shown he’s more than capable of playing any position across the line. To ensure there continues to be a high level of play at center, why not move one of their best linemen there?
This would have a knock-on effect, however. Who would start at guard in place of Jenkins? Billy Turner could be the choice, but that would create an opening at tackle. Perhaps one of the three interior linemen drafted last year — Jon Runyan played 160 snaps in 2020 — could step up as a starter.
Young players ready to step up?
Option number two would be if one of the backups is ready to move into the center spot.
Instead of reshuffling starters on the line, maybe they could promote from within. The Packers did draft a center in last year’s draft, Jake Hanson. Hanson hasn’t played an NFL down so promoting him to replace an All-Pro in Week 1 of the 2021 season would be a big ask.
Then again, the same was said of Linsley when he was forced to replace an injured JC Tretter against a dominant Seattle defense in his NFL debut back in 2014. Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin even said he would pray for Linsley. But there was no need to worry, the future All-Pro held up just fine and by season’s end, was part of the PFWA All-Rookie Team.
Perhaps the same could be true of Hanson or another second-year lineman.
Add a center in the offseason
The least likely option would be to find a starting center from elsewhere, either via free agency, the draft, or a trade.
Free-agent centers include four-time Pro Bowler Mike Pouncey six-time Pro Bowler Alex Mack, but it seems highly unlikely the Packers would decide not to pay Linsley then sign a free agent.
Drafting a center to start in Week 1 would be even riskier than giving the job to a second-year player like Hanson who has had a season to develop.
What is possible is the Packers going with one of the first two options, reshuffling the starters or promoting a player like Hanson, then drafting a tackle or guard this offseason. Or even a versatile offensive lineman who has some experience at center but can play at other positions.
Regardless of which option the Packers take, it’s unlikely any choice would be preferable to keeping Linsley. But the salary cap will make it a challenge.