by Brian Umbaugh, @NFLRosters
While the Packers players will spend their offseason looking back at what could have been after blowing the NFC Championship Game in Seattle, GM Ted Thompson is already looking forward to tomorrow. He has roughly $25 million of cap space, but he has the displeasure of trying to re-sign some high profile prospective free agents. The Packers have a strong but inconsistent offense and a middling defense, so where do they go from here?
Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn (UFA), Scott Tolzien (UFA)
It’s universally agreed that Rodgers is pretty good. However, he’s had some nagging injuries the last two seasons that have created problems later in the season when there were games with playoff implications. He’s halfway through his career, so it may only get worse. However, he’s not toward the end of his career, so Green Bay is not drafting anyone. The two backups are UFA’s, though, and it’s important to have someone dependable behind Rodgers. Flynn took a step back this year, and Tolzien was inactive for all but one game. While Tolzien doesn’t have the experience, he’s more mobile, has more upside, and is a better passer. Flynn is more of a veteran game manager. McCarthy views them as almost equal, so they may both get re-signed to minimal contracts.
Eddie Lacy, James Starks, DuJuan Harris (UFA), FB John Kuhn (UFA)
Lacy is not on par with guys like Marshawn Lynch and DeMarco Murray as a runner, but he is a complete back that can catch and pass block. Having a Top 5 RB to pair with Rodgers has created ample play action opportunities and stresses the back end of the defense as coordinators have to decide whether to play run or pass.
Starks is an excellent change of pace back that can not only break long gains, but also break tackles. He averages just as many yards after contact per attempt as Lacy. He just doesn’t have the same vision and isn’t as efficient hitting the hole. Third-stringer DuJuan Harris is just average, but will probably be re-signed for familiarity and cost. Fullback John Kuhn is a good blocker and fairly effective in short yardage. He should be re-signed if they can get him for $1-1.5 million yearly.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
WR – Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb (UFA), Davante Adams, Jarrett Boykin (RFA), Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis
TE – Andrew Quarless, Richard Rodgers, Justin Perrillo
Nelson has been a top receiver for a few years, but has only recently received the attention (and dollars) commensurate with his performance. The best part for the Packers is that he only counts $4.6 million against the cap for 2015. While not the same big play threat, Randall Cobb had similar numbers as Nelson in 2014. Will he want Nelson money? Probably not, because he’s stated he hasn’t earned Nelson’s money yet. I can see him asking for something like $6-7 million annually, and it might price him off the team. He was rated the #28 WR in 2013 and #9 last year, so he’s worth that, but the money might not be there.
Rookie Davante Adams had a good postseason, but he was not very productive in the passing game during the last half of the year. It would be a terrible recency bias to believe Adams is ready for the #2 wideout spot. He has tools, though, and would continue to be a great #3. Would somebody page Jarrett Boykin from 2013 and ask him to return to the front of the store? He was completely absent this season. The Packers could give him a $1.323 million tender offer, and they should if they don’t sign Cobb. If they do, though, Green Bay should put Jared Abbrederis in the #4 spot and move on from Boykin. Jeff Janis also showed some flash as a rookie. If Cobb moves on, a wideout should be drafted.
The tight end position has been a position of need in Green Bay for a few years, and it still is. Although rookie Richard Rodgers did some positive things, he has a lot to learn. Andrew Quarless is not particularly good and would be a source of $1.6 million in cap savings if released. If the Packers can add a spectacular tight end in the draft or in free agency, Rodgers and Perrillo would be good complementary players.
L to R: David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Corey Linsley, T.J. Lang, Bryan Bulaga (UFA)
Top backups: T Don Barclay (RFA), C J.C. Tretter, G Lane Taylor
The guys up front showed their stuff in the playoffs. Tackles Bakhtiari and Bulaga were Top 20 pass blockers at the position, guards Sitton and Lang were two of the top four at theirs, and center Linsley garnered small consideration for Rookie of the Year. They stayed healthy and finally became a cohesive unit. It may not stay that way. Bulaga deserves to be re-signed, but it would probably be in the $6 million range for a RT. If the Packers can clear that space, it should be done. Regardless, the Packers should upgrade their depth, which is currently pretty thin. Barclay can be tendered for $1.3 mil as a RFA and has shown some flexibility.
Ends: Mike Daniels, Josh Boyd, Datone Jones, Luther Robinson
Tackles: B.J. Raji (UFA), Letroy Guion (UFA), Mike Pennel, Khyri Thornton, Bruce Gaston
Daniels followed up a Top 10 2013 with more of the same. He defends the run and spends a lot of time in the backfield. At $735K, quite a bargain; 2016 will be a different story. Boyd did not hold down the other side very well, and is better suited as a bench player. Pass rush specialist Datone Jones was good in that regard, but was a bit of a liability against the run. For a first round pick, he’s too one-dimensional. Green Bay should check in the free agent market for a run-stuffing 3-4 DE, like the Ravens’ Pernell McPhee or the Jets’ Leger Douzable.
It’s a little tougher to determine what will happen on the inside. B.J. Raji had two spectacularly miserable years from 2011-2013 and was on the IR for the entire 2014 season. He may have injured himself off the roster, because he needed to prove he was worth the money, and he’s not. Replacement Letroy Guion, a castoff from Minnesota, was average. You’d like the guy over the ball to be a run stuffer, and he hasn’t shown this ability for either team. He does not need to be re-signed either. Third round pick Khyri Thornton was injured the entire season, so the team can’t count on him. It’s important to get a quality NT in the 3-4, and they don’t have one on the roster.
ILB: A.J. Hawk, Sam Barrington, Jamari Lattimore (UFA), Brad Jones, Carl Bradford
OLB: Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, Mike Neal, Nick Perry, Jay Elliott, Andy Mulumba
Ninth year vet A.J. Hawk had enjoyed a small resurgence in 2012, but he has been in the bottom quartile of ILB’s each of the last two years. His inability to defend the run has been the primary reason for this rating, as he continues to get blown up by linemen on second level blocks. He is signed for one more year, but his spots probably won’t change. Considering he lost many snaps to 2013 7th round pick Sam Barrington and was left out of the nickel package before that, the Packers should consider releasing him and saving $3.5 million to re-sign players like Bulaga and Cobb. Likewise for former starter Brad Jones ($3.7 million cap space). Barrington is not that great against the run either, but at least he provided some semblance of pass defense. Unless UFA Jamari Lattimore takes an unexpected pay cut from last year’s $1.4 million, he is probably gone. The ILB position continues to be one of the strongest areas of need.
Outside, however, is just fine. After a sub-par 2013, Julius Peppers was thought to be washed up. One year later, he was rated the 6th best pass rusher at his position. His cap number is $12 million for 2015, but the Packers need to remember the troubles they had at OLB and find cap space some other way. Matthews was not dominant because of some problems stopping the run to his side and his limited pass coverage skills, but he got more pressure on the QB than the previous year. The other outside guys made a few plays here and there; Neal and Perry each got a few sacks. PFF scored Neal as the worst 3-4 OLB in the league by far. I can’t say I agree. However, releasing him would create $3 million in cap space. No additions necessary here, even without Neal.
CB: Tramon Williams (UFA), Sam Shields, Micah Hyde, Casey Hayward, Davon House (UFA)
S: Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo
Other than Casey Hayward, the corners all graded out around average by PFF. Hayward even struggled a bit during the eyeball test. Whether to re-sign Williams is the biggest question for the Packers, it seems. The other prime UFA’s had good years and deserve their dollars. Williams may not deserve $10 million annually. Shields already makes $9 million. Can the Packers survive with Shields and Hayward on the corners, with Hyde in the slot and a re-signed House or Richardson in the dime? Yes, I think so. Hayward is not particularly fast, but he’s a strong, aggressive ball hawk and can play the run. Playing man with him might require safety help, but the Packers can’t sign everyone. UFA Jarrett Bush is a special teams leader, but made $2 mil last year and is not worth the expensive re-sign.
Morgan Burnett played the run well, but is just average in coverage. Rookie Clinton-Dix started off slowly, but had some success later in the season. Together, the Packers are set for three more years. Sean Richardson got some dime snaps this year and did not show much, but didn’t embarrass anyone. Green Bay should be able to extend him cheaply. Chris Banjo is worth re-upping at the ERFA price. Status quo here.
Kicker Mason Crosby seems to have a stronger leg on FG’s than kickoffs, which is a concern for the special teams unit. However, he had a good year. His percentage is lower than some, but McCarthy trusts him for FG’s of any length. He has one year left on his contract and could present $3 million in cap savings, but I’d be surprised if they cut him. During the offseason, the Packers have to figure out how so many kicks were blocked in 2014, and how much Crosby is to blame.
The answer to that, though, might lie in the fact that punter Tim Masthay had 2 kicks blocked, as well. Other than that, being the Packers’ punter is a dream job. He only had 48 punts in 2014, the least amount for any full-season punter. If that’s the case, he can’t blame his poor net punting average on being tired. It might start with the gross punting average of 43.2 yards, 4th lowest in the NFL. He’s not a great directional punter, so a lot of his punts get returned. The Packers should find some competition for him in the offseason.
The Packers did not have much of a kickoff return game with DuJuan Harris. Punt returns were fairly bland for a while as well, with Randall Cobb only averaging 8 yards per return. Once the team switched punt returners from Cobb to Micah Hyde, the unit took off. Hyde scored 2 TD’s and average 15 yards per return.
Initial cap space: $23.7 million
Re-sign: Flynn ($1.2 mil), Tolzien ($800K), Kuhn ($1.2 mil), Harris ($585K), Cobb ($6.5 mil), Bulaga ($6 mil), Barclay ($1.3 mil), Guion ($870K), House ($745K), Richardson ($1.3 mil), Banjo ($585K) – with a net $2.8 million needed to sign draftees, these are projected to leave approximately $2.9 million in cap space.
Let walk: Boykin, Raji, Lattimore, T. Williams, Bush
Best cap cuts to clear up room, if desired: Brad Jones ($3.7 mil), A.J. Hawk ($3.5 mil), Mike Neal ($3 mil), Andrew Quarless ($1.6 mil)
Biggest Team Needs: NT, ILB, DE, TE
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Other team analysis reports and depth charts can be found in the archive.