Much virtual ink was spilled on the Green Bay Packers’ shortfalls at the wide receiver and tight end positions in 2019. Plenty of virtual ink was spent talking about how Green Bay needed to improve their production at those spots in 2020. Free agency came and went and Green Bay only added pseudo-TE Devin Funchess. With a group that already has a lot of big and not very fast guys, Funchess adds a level of redundancy that they probably could have done without. But, at least he’s almost certainly better than Geronimo Allison.
The off-season is not over! Hopefully we get a season at all, but if we do, there will certainly be implications from our current crisis that extend beyond 2020. NFL teams are unsure how the salary cap impacts of this will play out in future years, but the best guesses currently are that the cap will be flattened and growth will be borrowed from future years to avoid a cap catastrophe. If the cap were to drop 25%, a good chunk of the league would be over the cap immediately with little way out. Neither the NFL nor the NFLPA wants this, so spreading out the pain throughout the 2020s is more likely.
To help create more cap space in the next few years to increase cap room rollovers, to open cap space for this year, or to move on from a player who is surplus to requirements, we may see more cap-casualty cuts in training camp this year than most. That can provide an opportunity for teams that are looking to get players for very little, whether that be claiming them off waivers, acquiring them in a trade for very little compensation, or getting them as a street free agent. For a Packers receiving corps that is light on proven bodies, there are a few options that may be on the table this August.
Wilson has had a rough two years in Miami after a promising start to his career in Kansas City. In a very strong 2017, Wilson posted a 21.4% DVOA, good for eighth in the NFL. He also ranked a solid 26th in yards-per-target. According to Next Gen Stats, he also was the NFL’s leader in average yards of separation-per-play at 4.1 yards.
Wilson followed up that solid season with a 3-year, $24 million contract from Miami. In his first year he posted another solid DVOA at 10.8%. He improved his yards-per-target to 11.2 from 8.9, and if he had qualified, would have been tied for third in the NFL. Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough targets to qualify because he suffered a pretty severe injury. In late October Wilson was diagnosed with a small fracture and a labrum tear in his right hip that ended his season.
Hoping for a bounce-back year in 2019, Wilson certainly did not deliver. His DVOA was abysmal at -23.7%. His yards-per-target ranked 134th at just 5.7. Never a player that made his living down the field, his targeted air yards remained low, but his average separation dropped from his peak in Kansas City of 4.1 down to 3.5 yards.
By cutting Wilson, Miami could create just under $3 million in cap space and move on from someone who became a disappointing player. For Green Bay, acquiring Wilson would be a bet on a bounce-back player nearly two full years on from his hip injury. There’s no doubt the cost on Wilson would be quite low, and he would fill the role as a slot player that Green Bay doesn’t really have in their current group, but it’s possible that the injury has just ruined the player.
Bill O’Brien is something. He took a receiving corps that had Deandre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills and turned it into one with Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller, Randall Cobb, and Kenny Stills. He made it more expensive and worse. Impressive.
There’s no guarantee that Houston will move on from Stills, but the actions of this off-season speak pretty loudly. Houston signed Cobb in free agency to a sizable contract, traded for Brandin Cooks, and have Will Fuller on a fully guaranteed deal for this season. That likely leaves Stills as the odd-man out with no cap hit if cut/traded. Houston could create $7 million in cap space.
That fact is kind of amazing when you figure out that Kenny Stills is good. Not even fake good, but actually good. In 2019, Stills ranked 5th in the NFL in DVOA at 24.7%. In 2018, he ranked 22nd at 12.6%. In fact, the only year in his career where wasn’t at least above average was 2015. He also has a first place finish. Kenny Stills is good.
I think the perception on Stills must be warped from playing with some bad quarterbacks in Miami. While dealing with pre-breakout Ryan Tannehill and the carcass of Jay Cutler, Stills was more of a solid-to-good WR in terms of his raw statistics. When he’s had legitimately above average quarterback play in New Orleans and Houston, Stills has been great. His yard-per-target in 2013, 2014, and 2019 were 12.8, 11.2, and 10.2, respectively. All of those numbers would have been in the top-10 last year.
While Stills efficiency is fantastic, his volume has never approached incredibly high numbers. He only has three seasons with more than 80 targets, but he doesn’t have any season with fewer than 50. The trade-off for lower volumes has been the vertical threat. Stills has also spent much of his career as a field stretcher. In 2019, that role was largely left to fellow speedster Will Fuller, but in 2018, Stills was fourth in the NFL in average depth of target at 16.4 yards. He ranked 14th in 2017 and 10th in 2016. Green Bay desperately needs a reliable target down the field, and Stills fits that bill perfectly.
I honestly do not know why Houston did what they did this off-season, but essentially pushing Stills out of the receiving corps is a bizarre choice. If I’m an NFL GM, I’m sending O’Brien trade offers regularly trying to get away his productive wide receiver.