Dread it, run from it, the offseason still arrives. And it did, officially, on Sunday. The final game of the 2018 season is over, and now the rest of the league has joined the Packers in the long dark of the offseason.
This is almost certainly the most important offseason for the Packers in quite some time. With a new coach at the helm and a second-year GM ready to flex his cap space and extra draft picks, the Packers have to be well on their way to making their return to the playoffs, right? Right??
Maybe not. We have a few concerns about this offseason. Here they are.
Paul Noonan: Too Many Concerns
It’s easy to tell if your team is bad by how many things have to go right for them to actually be good. I see this a lot with baseball fans, who say things like “if x improves, and y and z stay healthy, and the pitching takes a step forward, and the rookies hit a bit, we’ve got a chance.” The fact is that at best, you will have an average number of things go right, and an average number go wrong, and so if you need more than an average number of things to go right, you are in trouble.
While I’m not against change, the Packers have WAY more uncertainty than I care for this year. Start with Rodgers himself, who played very poorly last season, after mostly playing brilliantly with McCarthy. Maybe he improves with LaFleur. Maybe the young receivers develop? Maybe Graham bounces back? I’m sure Kyler Fackrell will repeat his double digit sack season. They just need Daniels and Clark to get healthy. And to hit on some linebackers in the draft. And some safeties. Maybe Bulaga hold up for an entire season. The Bears have to come back to earth, right?
So in short, I’m worried about everything.
Bob Fitch: the team’s reaction to Matt LaFleur’s presence
As Paul mentioned, there are only a certain number of things that are known quantities with the Packers right now. Nobody knows that personnel moves will be made via free agency and the draft, and nobody knows if rostered players will improve, decline, or miss time to injury. The biggest, and most pressing known quantity, is that the team will be coached by Matt LaFleur.
My concern is that this known quantity might not be able to hold his own in the locker room, and that if the team doesn’t perform well out of the gate, players might start to tune him out and play to the beat of their own drum. LaFleur could be the rejuvenating shot in the arm that Green Bay needs; he could also be an inexperienced voice that doesn’t garner the proper respect and authority that the head coaching position should.
Shawn Wagner: Aaron Rodgers’ willingness to adjust
More or less, I agree with Paul that there are way too many concerns for my liking this offseason. Perhaps one concern that encompasses many of them is Rodgers.
Rodgers and LaFleur may get along well and all of this is a moot point. But reports indicate that Mike McCarthy was trying to spruce up the playbook as the 2018 season went along and Rodgers would revert back to plays at the line that took five seconds or longer. Film review from the season, especially when analyzing Jimmy Graham’s fit, revealed an unwillingness to get the tight end involved even when he had a step on defenders. And while Green Bay’s receiving cast surely was an inexperienced one, there was not enough adjusting to the personnel overall, especially on third down.
Add in the fact that Rodgers has dealt with several injuries over the past few seasons, along with a noticeable hesitation to release the ball, and there is a significant concern that the franchise quarterback will return to his once-godlike form. I’m willing to give him a pass for last season with his knee injury. But if he is still struggling with accuracy, footwork, and timing next season, it will be a sign of something bigger to overcome. Hopefully, LaFleur can point out these issues in a way Rodgers takes kindly to; LaFleur’s experience with Matt Ryan should help in this regard. But I’m holding my breath because the Packers go as Rodgers goes, no matter what improvements they make on defense.
Jon Meerdink: Mid-level free agents
This is an offseason flush with opportunity for the Packers. Given their cap space, draft picks, and the number of players on the cusp of taking a big step forward, there’s a legitimate chance that a solid offseason could put the Packers back in contention sooner rather than later.
But a big part of that equation comes down to adding outside talent through free agency. The Packers’ cap space, while pretty considerable, really doesn’t lend itself to a ton of marquee talent. That’s just as well, since the team could probably use quality players at several spots as opposed to one big name.
That gets tricky, though. Nailing one free agent signing is hard enough. Brian Gutekunst tried several last year and it’s hard to offer more than mild praise for any one of them. I’m concerned that the Packers will have a hard time getting it right with this particular brand of talent infusion.
Evan “Tex” Western: Safety and right guard
Personally, I’m pretty well sold on LaFleur and his offense at this point, and with Aaron Rodgers ready to participate fully in the offseason program (which starts two weeks earlier thanks to the new head coach) I believe in him getting acclimated quickly to a new offensive scheme.
No, my biggest concerns are personnel-related, and they’re not even at the one position I feel to be the team’s biggest need (which is outside linebacker). I’m not worried about that spot, because I am confident in the Packers landing one of a few excellent rookie pass-rusher prospects with the 12th overall pick in the draft. Jachai Polite, Clelin Ferrell, or Montez Sweat would all work nicely there.
Instead, it’s two other positions that keep me up at night. The Packers’ roster is suspiciously devoid of safety depth right now, and that’s not a position where a Mike Pettine-coached defense can afford to be weak. Tramon Williams should be able to fill in at free safety for one more year, but there’s no long-term option available; meanwhile, Josh Jones still strikes me as being better as a Deone Bucannon-esque moneybacker than a true strong safety. Are the Packers going to pony up big money for a free agent like Earl Thomas or Landon Collins? I’m not confident they’ll go there. Meanwhile, there’s nobody at the position in this year’s draft class who is worthy of a top-15 pick, so the Packers will need to look to free agency, pick 30, or day two of the draft to find a solid player at that spot.
Then there’s right guard. If Cole Madison had reported to training camp in 2018, maybe this wouldn’t be an issue, but he didn’t and it is and now Brian Gutekunst has to deal with it. Where do the Packers go here? It’s pretty clear Jason Spriggs won’t be an answer there, as he exclusively played tackle in 2018. Justin McCray and Lucas Patrick are fine backups, but I’m not comfortable with either one as a full-time starter. With few quality veteran options available on the free agent market this year, perhaps the best option would be to land a player like Wisconsin’s Michael Dieter around the third round of the draft — Dieter has experience at left tackle, guard, and center, and he brings the nasty as well as some sneaky athleticism.
Ultimately, I think the Packers have lots of options to bolster the other positions of need at their roster. These two, however, have slimmer pickings, and that has me more worried about them by far than improving the talent level elsewhere.
Matub: Will the Horse Collar ever return?
I’m not talking about the dangerous form of tackling that is known to cause knee injuries. I’m talking about this big sumna that once adorned the concessions at Lambeau Field.
This 22-inch monster kielbasa slathered in beer-cheese was officially retired prior to the 2016 season. That was the year the team got stomped in the NFCCG by the Falcons.
The Packers have not been back to the postseason since. COINCIDENCE? I think not.
Bring it back, Lambeau Field. It’s what we need to bring the Lombardi trophy home.