Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company will break down each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provide insight into how they performed during the 2018 season. Today, we examine the inside linebackers.
The Green Bay Packers never received the opportunity to see their full linebacking corps play in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme. Veteran Jake Ryan suffered a torn ACL -- the second such injury since 2013 -- during the first week of training camp. The ruptured ligament ended his season and forced the team into a heavier linebacker rotation throughout the season.
With Ryan’s rookie contract expiring, the Packers have to make a decision on whether to bring back the dependable-if-unspectacular linebacker or allow him to depart, creating opportunities for younger players.
NFL experience: Four years
Free-agent status: Unrestricted
Expiring contract: Four-year, $3.9 million ($456,676 guaranteed)
2018 stats: None (injured)
Ryan appeared in many games for the Packers over his four-year career, but he never developed into a centerpiece of the defense. Ryan’s run defense made him a useful player in Dom Capers scheme, though opposing offenses exploited his weaknesses in pass coverage when possible. By 2017, Blake Martinez had surpassed Ryan as the team’s featured off-ball linebacker. That likely would have continued under Pettine who took over as defensive coordinator last offseason.
Because of Pettine’ creativity, a larger linebacker like Ryan could serve the team well should he re-sign. The Packers rotated linebackers throughout 2018, using the run-focused Antonio Morrison and box safeties in various sub packages to attack the offense. Ryan could also offer valuable depth should something happen to Martinez, who wears the radio helmet on game days.
At the same time, the Packers didn’t trade up to select Burks in the third round to let him ride the bench. A preseason shoulder injury and inexperience hampered him throughout 2018, but linebackers often take the leap during their sophomore campaigns. Clearing a path for Burks and Green Bay’s other young defenders might make more football and financial sense than bringing back Ryan.