All of the talk from Packers fans this off-season is how new top personnel executive Brian Gutekunst has done what his predecessor Ted Thompson didn’t do, be active in free agency. Sure, Gutekunst and the Packers signed free agents, tight end Jimmy Graham, defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, and aging cornerback, and one time Packer Tramon Williams. But didn’t Packers fans see this last season under Thompson when he signed tight end Martellus Bennett, outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks and one time Packer cornerback Davon House?
The players might not be at the same level, but the Packers are going to ask the newly signed Packers to do the same thing the players signed last season to do. Graham will be asked to stretch the middle of the field (like they did of Bennett), Wilkerson will be asked to help out with the pass rush (like they did of Brooks) and Williams will need to contribute and be a mentor to the young secondary (which they asked of House). The situation is very similar to the movie Groundhog Day, excluding the strong performance from Bill Murray, it appears the Packers are doing the same exact thing that they have done for the past several years. With not expanding what positions they are signing for free agents, the Green Bay Packers draft needs keeps growing.
If you buy into that theory, then you might agree that Gutekunst actually hasn’t made this roster any better, especially if you figure in the departures of Morgan Burnett, Jordy Nelson and Damarious Randall. All three players had their issues and the Packers had reason to show them the door. Burnett had battled injuries, Nelson seemed to lose a step, and it was rumored that Randall was a locker room cancer. But still, all three had a place on this roster, a roster that Gutekunst stated he wanted to keep good players on.
The Packers had a list of holes that needed to be filled before these three moves, now Gutekunst will have to include these positions to that list. Free agency is technically still open, but the list of players who can contribute on a steady basis have been signed by other teams, leaving players left on this list who are held together by duct tape or players who never reached their potential and most likely never will.
As much as the Packers want their fans to believe that they were in talks with some of the top free agents available, it’s likely they never were. That is just not the way the Packers do business. It was like that when Thompson, along with his right hand man Russ Ball, was running the team and it appears to be the same way under Gutekunst, who also works with now vice president of operations Ball. It appears that Ball, who learned under Thompson, has a little more pull than maybe Packers fans were led to believe he would after Gutekunst was given the “general manager” title. Gutekunst might hold the title of general manager, but in reality, he is more like a director of personnel, since he has no control over who the head coach is (that would be president Mark Murphy) contracts (Ball) and the head coach doesn’t report to him (Mike McCarthy reports to Murphy).
Without doing anything more in free agency, once again the Packers will have to rely on the NFL draft to replenish their roster and once again, Mike McCarthy and his staff will be forced to prepare rookies, who are drafted or signed as undrafted free agents, to contribute immediately. Cue Sonny and Cher.
Lucky for Gutekunst and the Packers, they have 12 picks going into this year’s draft, because they have quite a list in regards to their draft needs. Here is a list of potential needs.
EDGE Pass Rusher:
Although many will say cornerback should be on top of this list, EDGE pass rusher gets the call. The Packers cornerback play isn’t going to be their strong suit, no matter if they have a first round pick playing the position or not, but the best thing to cover up subpar cornerback play is to have a top-notch pass rush. Nick Perry and Clay Matthews, the Packers top outside pass rushers, have shown they are capable of rushing the passer, but they have also shown they are incapable of staying healthy. There isn’t much depth behind the two, with former third round draft pick Kyler Fackrell and last year’s fourth round pick Vince Biegel being the top two reserves. Adding a rookie with pass rushing potential to the rotation would not only help the pass rush, but also the secondary.
The cornerback position for the Packers was thin before they traded Randall, but after that, it’s paper-thin. If Williams has anything left in the tank it will be a good signing, but to expect a 35-year-old to come in and play at a high level is a big ask. Last year’s top draft pick Kevin King showed some glimpses, but like with a lot of Packers from last season, his season was cut short due to a shoulder injury. If cornerback isn’t the top choice, it should be the next on the list.
Graham might be listed as a tight end, but in reality, he is a big wide receiver. He lines up all over the field, acting just like a wide receiver. On top of that, Graham is an awful blocker. So he should help the wide receiver position, but still, losing Nelson hurts. He wasn’t the player he once was, but he still had a place in this offense. Seems odd that even with willing to play at a lesser salary, that Gutekunst and the Packers didn’t want him back. Adding a rookie wide receiver to the Packers wide receiver corps seems like a strong possibility. The Packers lost special teams ace Jeff Janis, who signed with the Cleveland Browns. Janis didn’t bring much to the wide receiver position, but was the Packers starting gunner on kickoffs and punts. The Packers might look at a wide receiver who can help out on special teams. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Packers grab a wide receiver in the third or fourth round.
All three candidates to start at right tackle are coming off-season ending injuries, yes, all three. Bryan Bulaga once again wasn’t able to play a full 16 regular season schedule, something the Packers and their fans should be used to. Because of his high salary, he could be a strong candidate to be cut, but unfortunately for the Packers, they don’t have any healthy options behind Bulaga. The best option could be Kyle Murphy, who played well when he replaced Bulaga, but he is coming off-season ending foot surgery. There is also former second round pick Jason Spriggs, but he dislocated a kneecap last season and on top of that, his play since being drafted by the Packers has been below average. To go along with starting right tackle, the starting right guard position is up in the air. Jahri Evans did an admirable job last season for the Packers, but he is pondering retirement and is a free agent. Justin McCray did a nice job filling in at four different positions on the offensive line last season and he could be called on to fill the position. But he might be better utilized as a utility lineman. Along with tackle, guard might be a target for Gutekunst and company.
Even with the signing of Graham, the Packers will need depth and youth at the tight end position. Lance Kendricks will back up Graham, but behind him, there isn’t much quality depth. They also lost Richard Rodgers who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. It is doubtful the Packers will spend a high draft pick on a tight end, but they might look to grab a developmental prospect late in the draft.
The Packers have a lot of draft needs but that is what happens when you don’t utilize free agency to the fullest. There is still a slight chance the Packers might pick up some free agents, but it seems pretty doubtful. Hopefully McCarthy and his staff can work their magic with young unproven players, it appears they are going to have to do it once again, something they should be used to.