If Brian Gutekunst wasn’t going over his free agent receiver scouting reports before, now they should be posted to his wall like the It’s Always Sunny conspiracy theory meme. Davante Adams’ early absence from the Green Bay Packers’ offseason workouts: precautionary. Randall Cobb’s walking boot due to an ankle ankle injury: nothing to worry about. Two UDFA’s behind them as the only receivers on the roster with NFL experience: Aaron Rodgers can make anyone look good.
Taken individually, the logic might track. Adams wasn’t really that hurt, Cobb should be ready for training camp, and the two UDFAs in question actually feature one player with legitimate experience and ability (Geronimo Allison) and another with outstanding upside (Michael Clark).
But when put together, the offseason for the Packers at receiver, now sans Jordy Nelson, appears flimsy despite the heavy investment on Day 3 of the draft. While J’Mon Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling may eventually become contributors, that’s unlikely to happen right away.
Last season, just four rookie receivers cracked the top 50 in Football Outsider’s DYAR metric among players who saw at least 50 targets. Only one came from Day 3 of the draft. Of course, none of those receivers were catching passes from the best quarterback in the league (no matter what the NFL Network says).
Even in a best case scenario where Davante Adams ascends as a superstar, Jimmy Graham looks spry, Randall Cobb stays relatively healthy, and Geronimo Allison looks competent, there’s still not much behind those players. And it’s not a GM’s job to plan a team based on “best case.”
Cobb hasn’t played 16 games in either of the last two seasons and his per-catch production has fallen off every year since 2014. Even a best-case scenario for Cobb is probably 14 games. We don’t know for sure if Adams can carry an offense, nor do we know what’s left in Graham’s legs. Expecting Allison or Clark to suddenly look like Sterling Sharpe would be a fool’s errand, leaving the Packers wondering where they’re getting production in the passing game for at least some stretches of 2017.
Green Bay doesn’t have to be resigned to this fate.
The 51st player by DYAR last season? Eric Decker, currently unsigned and a player with experience playing in the slot as well as on the boundary. Just for some perspective, Jordy Nelson finished 57th and Cobb 61st last season.
Dez Bryant and Jeremy Maclin also need homes, although neither had banner seasons in 2017. That said, either would likely provide more to this offense right away than any of the rookies and likely more than Allison or Clark. No one on in this trio of veteran names would require serious money to sign, nor would they require a long-term deal.
Worrying about how a veteran would impact the development in Year 1 of rookies who likely weren’t contributing much anyway would be cutting off the team’s nose to spite Ted Thompson’s face. A one-year deal as insurance against calamity is a worthy investment for a team with its sights set on a Super Bowl run. It wouldn’t require giving up on players like Moore, Brown, or MVS but rather being patient with them.
With Maclin and Decker in particular, simply given the likely price tag, the Packers would be making the roster better with essentially no downside. That’s the point of free agency. It’s the kind of move Ted Thompson rarely made, but Brian Gutekunst has already shown a willingness to explore.
No, the Packers don’t need any of those players. They’re not the catalyst to a Super Bowl season, but that’s not the bar to cross to justify a move. The only question we need to answer is would they make the team better? The answer is an unqualified “yes.” If all it does is provide a safety net for this offense, guarding against injury, that’s likely worth whatever low cost such a signing incurs. With little to no developmental cost, there’s no hidden cost to the development of the roster.
Plus, with the quarterback looking for a new deal, the team ought to be doing everything in its power to make him happy. Maybe the shine of Jimmy Graham has waned. A new toy to play with could be just what Rodgers needs.