The Packers Front Office, led by second year GM Brian Gutekunst, has had a very busy week in free agency. Packers fans got to spend their Tuesday morning with bright news of a total of four free agents agreeing to contracts to become Green Bay Packers. Perhaps most notably were the pair of edge rushers or the Smiths. Preston & Za’Darius Smith (no relation) were both signed to long-term deals at upwards of 10 million dollars annually per year. The Packers also signed safety Adrian Amos away from the Bears to a 4 year 37 million dollar contract. The organization then ended the day by signing Guard/Tackle Billy Turner to a four-year contract.
In making these moves the front office was able to make clear upgrades at 4 starting positions. It is also worth noting that the Packers acquired young, ascending players with a history of being healthy year in and year out. The Packers also brought back Mercedes Lewis on a one year deal, most likely to provide some much-needed blocking ability to their tight end group.
The Packers filled some serious holes on their roster this week, but with the draft upcoming in April, there is still plenty more work to be done for Brian Gutekunst. The five contracts affect the draft needs of Edge rusher, safety, offensive line, and tight end in a big way. The effect the signings had on will also open to the door for more draft capital to be spent at other positions like wide receiver. One of the biggest upsides of this draft is that it prevents the Packers from having to reach for need at edge rusher, and therefore allows them to select the best player available. In this post, I’d like to take a look at some positions and how they were individually effected by the recent free agent signings.
Lets start out with the obvious choice. Green Bay had a glaring need at edge rush prior to the signings of Preston and Za’Darius Smith. The Packers added two young quality starters to the position when making those signings. The team also will look to utilize Kyler Fackrell as a rotational rusher. Reggie Gilbert and Kendall Donnerson will also be on the roster to begin training camp. This position went from a glaring need to a position that the Packers could realistically ignore in the draft if they wanted to.
The one this that this position group clearly lacks is a prospect to develop. We may see Green Bay pick an edge rusher at 12 overall despite the new influx of talent at the position. Za’Darius Smith’s versatility playing other positions will certainly allow for some rotational snaps in obvious passing situations. Do not rule out one or more edge rushers drafted by the Packers just because they have invested at the position in free agency. Say for example, that Florida State edge Brian Burns is atop the Packers draft board come pick number 12, I would fully expect them to make that selection.
After the addition of Adrian Amos, I still very much view safety as a big need for Green Bay. Amos is best suited to play a strong safety role. The only semblance of a starting free safety the Packers currently posses is Tramon Williams, who is a potential cap casualty. The Packers seem to be content letting Kentrell Brice walk in free agency, and Josh Jones seems poised to take on a role close to the line of scrimmage. The front office really needs to find both talent and depth at the free agency position prior to the start of the season. The team may look to sign a free agent as their starter at free safety and move Tramon Williams back to his natural position of cornerback, but that remains to be seen.
If the Packers are currently hand cuffed to drafting for need, it is at free safety. While the draft class of safeties is deep, the top-level talent is not there. Realistically we should not expect to see a safety picked until at least pick 30. With the addition of Amos, the Packers can now primarily focus on free safety as a need. Top prospects like Nasir Adderley, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson & Deionte Thompson should be available around picks 30 & 44 which the Packer posses in this years draft. Nothing is set in stone, however the front office needs to address the free safety position is some way or another prior to the draft.
The Packers have not addressed their need at wideout just yet. A free agent could be signed between now and the draft, but the Packers are looking at the lower tier of free agents at this point in the process. Apart from elite wideout Davante Adams, the team has Geronimo Allison, EQ St. Brown, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow & J’Mon Moore as potential contributors. While that is a long list of names, none of them are proven options besides of course Davante Adams. Long time slot receiver Randall Cobb remains a free agent and could be a potential option if his contract number becomes low enough. In a rather unlikely move, the team could look to reunite with Jordy Nelson who was just cut by the Raiders. I tend to doubt the Packers are interested in Nelson however.
With a lot of young developing talent at the position, I think Green Bay should invest at wideout on day 1 or 2 of the draft or not at all. The reason I say this is because I think they should develop the prospects they have rather than adding more guys into the mix. I would be in favor of adding a wideout in rounds 1-3 because they would be more likely to develop into that solid number two receiver opposite Adams.
The signings at edge and safety really allow the organization to spend high draft capital on the wide receiver position, rather than reaching for need. Top level talent is lacking at this position as well. The only sure-fire first round pick at wide receiver that I see is DK Metcalf of Ole Miss. There seems to be a lot of wideouts with second and third round grades out there for the Packers, so do not be surprised to see one picked on day 2.
Free agency affected the tight end need similarly to the need at wide receiver. There is no real need to reach for talent at edge or safety anymore, so that moves tight end up the board. Consensus number one prospect TJ Hockenson of Iowa could now be in play for the Packers at pick number 12 or 30, maybe even somewhere in between. Noah Fant of Iowa could be in play at number 30 overall for the Packers as well. Both Iowa tight ends are just 21 years old and would be great prospects to develop behind Jimmy Graham in 2019.
With the signing of Mercedes Lewis, this is really a position that could be ignored in the draft if the board doesn’t fall the Packers way. Graham can handle the role as tight end one, while Lewis is an outstanding blocker. Robert Tonyan looks to contribute something as well. I think the Packers would be wise to look to the draft to develop a prospect this season to potentially take over the position in the future.
The most important thing that the Green Bay Packers organization did was eliminate the colossal needs they had at edge rusher and safety. The team can now select the player that they feel is best available when they pick at 12th overall. This is important because Green Bay has not gotten the opportunity to play with this kind of draft capital in years. Great talents like Ed Oliver and Devin White, for example are now much more realistic picks at 12 overall because we know that the Packers do not need to pick an edge rusher no matter what. Green Bays primary focus will be on getting blue chip players via the best player available route. That is the best way for them to get back to their philosophy of draft and develop.