Hello Packer Nation!
We are in full off season mode and roughly a week away from the start of free agency. Fans should be energized for this team to take the next step, and that starts when the new league starts on March 18th. Let's recap what has happened so far after the disappointing end to the 2019 season in San Francisco. 2020 will mark the 102nd year for the Pack.
1. The Packers have applied to host an upcoming NFL draft in 2022 and/or 2024. The NFL has not awarded a city yet, but rumors are the Packers will host the 2022 draft. The Packers have not determined where they would conduct a possible draft, but they do have Titletown District to the west of Lambeau, a soon to be opened Brown County Expo Center in the old Brown County Arena location (estimated to open January 2021) and of course, Lambeau Field. The infrastructure is in place to accommodate such an event. For reference, Nashville hosted last years NFL draft and it was estimated the event generated just under $133 million dollars and attracted close to 650,000 fans. Green Bay has a population around 105,000 people.
2. On the coaching front, head coach Matt LaFleur fired WR coach Alvis Whitted. He brought back defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. He hired former Viking DB's coach Jerry Gray, who will coach the Packers secondary. Gray replaces Jason Simmons who was not retained. Butch Barry, a Sturgeon Bay native, was hired as a senior offensive assistant. He has OL and TE coaching experience. Connor Lewis was hired as a quality control assistant. WR Coach is still open and is rumored to be a promotion from within.
3. On the roster front, Mason Crosby was resigned and earned a three year $12.9 million dollar contract. The Packers will need to create more room if they want to improve the roster and are estimated currently having around $18 million in cap space after signing Crosby. It is widely rumored the Packers will move on from TE Jimmy Graham. Releasing him would save roughly $8 million in cap space. It is also likely they will release LG Lane Taylor and recoup around $4.5 million in cap space. LB Blake Martinez will be an UFA and is likely moving on. UFA Bryan Bulaga has not had contract talks with the Packers and will test the FA waters. UFA CB Tramon Williams is a valuable veteran on his last legs and the Packers can move on with the right replacement. WR Geronimo Allison, TE Marcedes Lewis, T Jared Veldheer, OLB Kyler Fackrell, LB BJ Goodson, KR/PR Tyler Ervin and S Ibraheim Campbell are all UFA's. No players have been designated franchise or transition tenders and time is running out to use them - deadline is March 16th.
4. The NFL Players Association and NFL Owners have been trying to hammer out a new CBA, which currently expires after the upcoming 2020 season. The owners have approved a 17 game regular season schedule, decreased preseason to three games, increased game day rosters from 46 to 48, adding one more team to the playoffs in each conference, and increasing players share of profits from 47% to 48% with possible increases to 48.5%. I only mention these because they are the major sticking points according to players, who feel more games isn't in their best interests. The players all received the new CBA document which is 456 pages. That is a lot of reading material for players to mull over. Aaron Rodgers has been vocal critic of increasing regular season games and has said he has emailed all teammates to read the new CBA and become involved. Also, the major networks that broadcast NFL games are coming up for new contracts as well. The league is going to expand on its $15 billion dollar revenue stream. 2020 team salary caps will increase to around $200 million dollars and that number should increase tremendously with new TV contracts in the coming years.
5. As we stand today, the Packers have the following picks in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft:
- R1, #30
- R2, #62
- R3, #94
- R4, #136
- R5, #175
- R6, #192
- R6, #208
- R7, #224
- R7, #242
What positions need improvement in order for the Packers to take the next step and become legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2020? Their run defense was porous and they need to invest the resources to shore up this weakness. Also, the offense needs a talent infusion to get the most out of Rodgers last years in Green Bay.
* Defensive Line: This position needs some girth and active bodies. Pettine likes smaller and quick lineman but besides Clark, they were extremely weak here. They need to invest in a third DL and get away from 2 DL sets. Dean Lowry is not a starter and neither is Tyler Lancaster. They gave up almost 2,000 yards on the ground and opposing offenses averaged 120 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry. As evidenced by the NFC Championship loss to San Francisco, they will not advance if teams gouge them for 285 yards on the ground. Yes, they do need offensive weapons but the run defense needs to get better for this team to really improve.
* Inside Linebacker: Blake Martinez is a tackling machine but requires clean lanes to the ball carrier. He needs DL to soak up blocks and allow him freedom to navigate downhill. He is below average against the pass and the 49ers exposed him multiple times. It is why they need to find a stud #1 LB who can play all three downs and be a force against the run. I would prefer they play 2 ILB's but Pettine has been hesitant to use more than 1 ILB on a consistent basis. If they want to improve their defense, they need to shore up DL and ILB to take the defense to the next level. Martinez would be a nice complimentary ILB next to a stud, but Martinez's market will likely be too expensive for GB's taste. If they want to acquire help in the NFL draft, they will likely need to trade up in the first round to grab studs Kenneth Murray or Patrick Queen.
* Wide Receiver: If the Packers had at least one more weapon on offense last year, it is very likely the offense would have been more dynamic. The Packers offense threw passes behind the line of scrimmage at the third-highest rate in the NFL (26%) which is why their second and third ranked pass catchers were Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. Last years off season focused on defense and it is likely this off season will focus on offensive weapons. Marquez Valdez-Scantling was expected to make a big jump in his second season and he fell off the wagon as the season progressed. He barely was on the field in the playoffs and only had 6 catches total after his 2 catch, 133 yard effort against Oakland in Week 7. I have to wonder if the sprained ankle he suffered in a Week 4 loss to Philadelphia was the culprit, but the pressure will be on him to rebound. Equanimeous St. Brown was put on IR before the regular season began and wasn't brought back to the active roster. The Packers will be counting on St. Brown to come back and provide a downfield threat he displayed his rookie season. Keep in mind this years WR draft class is one of the deepest in recent memory. Teams should be able to find contributors in all rounds.
* Tight End: With the likely departure of Jimmy Graham, there is not much proven talent. Jace Sternberger will likely be pushed into a bigger roll on offense after a promising end to last season where he scored his first TD of the season in the NFC Championship. Robert Tonyan will be an exclusive restricted FA and the Packers will need to tender a contract to keep him. It is widely rumored the Packers will target this position in free agency and will go after former Falcon Austin Hooper, but his market could ensue bidding war. The Packers would be wise not to get involved if the price goes above $7-8 million per season. Their last two FA signings have been Martellus Bennett and Jimmy Graham, and they did not receive the return on two talented individuals.
* Offensive Line: The line had the highest pass blocking win rate in 2019, but that was with Bulaga and a healthy OL. The right side looks to be in flux again if Bulaga is not resigned. RG Billy Turner is rumored to replace Bulaga if he leaves and it is not his strongest position. Elgton Jenkins should not be moved. They will either need to sign or spend a high draft pick on a guard or tackle. If they elect FA, the cost will not be cheap to bring in an above average starter.
* Cornerback: Even though Kevin King was mostly healthy and Jaire Alexander played good football, they were exposed in the slot. They need to find a 3rd CB to shore up the pass defense. Tramon Williams gave up a lot of underneath catches. Josh Jackson has been a huge disappointment and you have to wonder if the team will move on. Either way, they will need to invest in a player here.
* Running Back: An undervalued position for years, Aaron Jones was exceptionally durable last year and scored 19 total TD's. That should not be expected every year. Jones and Jamaal Williams are upcoming free agents and it will be difficult to keep both. Investing here is a necessity if they want to continue a balanced offensive approach.
* Outside Linebacker: The Smith brothers were great FA signings last off season, but behind them depth is questionable. Rashan Gary will be expected to make a big jump in season two. Outside of those three guys, there is no one else here. It is highly unlikely Kyler Fackrell will be back unless the market tanks for him and he can be resigned for cheap. Even that, Fackrell slipped last year after producing 10.5 sacks in 2018 to only having 1 sack in 2019.
Free Agency: The Packers likely won't be as active as they were last year. Salary cap restrictions will keep them from making big signings but they can be selective and find immediate help here. Here are some rumored candidates the team is interested in;
ILB: Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatkoski, Patrick Onwuasor, Joe Schobert, David Mayo, Christian Kirksey
TE: Austin Hooper, Hunter Henry
WR: Phillip Dorsett, Emmanuel Sanders, Breshad Perriman, Tajae Sharpe, Robby Anderson
DL: Andrew Billings, Javon Hargrave, Derek Wolfe
CB: PJ Williams
OT: Jack Conklin
My guess is Littleton, Hooper, Henry, Hargrave and Conklin will be too pricey for the Packers. If they go after any of these players, it will likely only have the money to sign one. Their priorities will likely concentrate at linebacker, tight end/wide receiver and defensive lineman. There are good team fits at those positions. With 10 draft picks, they can recoup some athletes that will help this team compete better against upper echelon teams.
I will follow up with a pre-draft blog regarding possible draft options the Packers could target after free agency settles down. It could be a busy off season and expect Gute to make moves.
Go Pack Go!