The Green Bay Packers appear to need help desperately on the edge. Through eight games in 2018, the team has 9.5 sacks from their outside linebackers, a pretty abysmal total for a team that runs a base 3-4. Making matters worse is that the two starters on that unit, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, have combined for just four sacks between them.
It was shocking to see the Packers and new general manager Brian Gutekunst skip over that position group when making changes to the roster this spring. Admittedly, the team’s top two draft picks, cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, appear to be at worst solid picks for now. However, the pass rush continues to fail to get home off the edge while too often opposing teams are able to get to the edge.
However, there is a player coming available on Monday afternoon who could be a shot in the arm for this group if the Packers elect to put in a waiver claim for him, as the Raiders are set to waive veteran edge rusher Bruce Irvin. It sounds like a player who has 18 sacks and 11 forced fumbles in his last 40 games would be a no-brainer acquisition for the Packers, so let’s break down reasons why his addition may or may not be a good idea.
In his seven years in the NFL, Irvin has played a variety of positions, playing both 4-3 outside linebacker and rush end in Seattle and then moving to 3-4 rush backer for two years in Oakland before moving back to end when the Raiders switched back to a 4-3 this season. Mike Pettine likes to use his pass-rushers in a variety of ways, so setting Irvin up either with his hand in the dirt or out of a two-point stance and telling him to pin his ears back and rush the passer should not be a difficult transition.
Irvin also has a steady, if unspectacular, track record of getting to the quarterback. In the four seasons from 2014 to 2017, he had between 5.5 and 8 sacks each season, and he only missed two games in that time span. He also has not missed a game since arriving in Oakland in 2016.
Finally, Irvin was a physical freak when he entered the NFL. At 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds (roughly Clay Matthews size), Irvin ran a ridiculous 4.50-second 40, destroyed the 3-cone drill in 6.70 seconds, and had a short shuttle of 4.03 seconds. Who are his two closest comparisons at outside linebacker? Von Miller and Matthews, the latter of whom was actually a few ticks slower in all of those drills. Admittedly, Irvin likely could not match those numbers if tested today, but he still looks like a very good athlete at 31 years of age.
The roster implications here are simple as well. The Packers just added a punter on Saturday, signing Drew Kaser in the event that JK Scott’s wife went into labor on Sunday. She did not, Scott played, and with her being induced this week Scott should be available moving forward. Claiming Irvin and waiving Kaser would be an easy swap.
First of all, there is the contract. If the Packers were to claim Irvin on waivers, they would inherit his contract, which is set to pay him about $4 million for the rest of the year and has a $9 million base salary in 2019. Of course, that next year is not guaranteed, so the Packers could cut him in the offseason with no money owed. However, the $4 million he would add would essentially offset the amount the Packers saved against the cap in last week’s trades.
If the Packers are interested but not at that price tag, they could elect to gamble that nobody else would want to take on Irvin’s contract either and choose to not put in a claim. They could then try to sign him as a free agent for closer to the league minimum if he does clear waivers. However, with Green Bay sitting at 15th in the current waiver order and teams across the league likely needing pass rush help as well, odds of Irvin clearing seem to be low.
As for Irvin himself, his play this season has been fairly quiet. He does have three sacks, but he has not recorded multiple tackles in a single game all year. His snap totals are also down significantly from a year ago, when he led Raiders linebackers in snaps with 880 — a full 84.6% of the team’s total defensive snaps. This year, he has been down around 50% or less in most games, with his lowest workload coming last Thursday night with just nine snaps.
However, that reduced role for Irvin may simply be because his in-between size and position makes him a poor fit for a conventional 4-3 like the one the Raiders run under Jon Gruden.
NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero reported last week that the Raiders would have traded Irvin for a late-round draft pick before the trade deadline, but that the contract was a problem. With that in mind, it is entirely possible that Irvin will end up clearing waivers and hitting the free agent market, and if that happens the Packers should be on the phone immediately to bring him in for a visit.
Still, one could easily argue that Irvin’s ability and the added depth he could bring to the Packers’ edge group would be well worth the price tag. Stay tuned on Tuesday to see if Gutekunst does indeed put in a claim for him.