The countdown to Thursday’s 4 p.m. (ET) NFL COVID opt-out deadline could be compared to an ominous hovering black cloud. Some teams such as the New England Patriots have taken an especially hard hit in terms of lost veterans in the midst of the pandemic, creating a very strenuous lead-up to training camp across the league. While one cannot fault any player for making a decision on his own health and the health of his family members, the opt-outs certainly have dampened the excitement of the upcoming season.
Fortunately for the Green Bay Packers, only one player has opted out thus far in wide receiver Devin Funchess. While the loss of Funchess surely affects an already inconsistent receiving corps, the Packers could potentially have a competitive advantage this season if their current roster position is maintained.
While losing established stars such as Aaron Rodgers, David Bakhtiari, and Davante Adams would be extremely detrimental to the Packers’ upcoming season, the team could also be hurt if any of its unsung core players choose not to play or go down with injuries. Here is a look at five of those perhaps less-obvious players whose losses would leave a little bit more sting.
A budding playmaker in the back end of the secondary, Savage should be expected to continue to ascend in his second year with Green Bay. Adrian Amos’ steadiness at the other safety position potentially gives a more experienced Savage increased opportunity to be aggressive and utilize his great speed to create takeaways in 2020. He could even see added time as a slot corner, giving the defense even more flexibility. An opt-out from or injury to Savage would be a severe hindrance in those aspects, but also for the hole his loss would create. While Raven Greene returns from injury to provide some depth, the Packers defense gave up some big plays with Savage off the field last season. Counting on players like Greene, Will Redmond, and a number of unproven young players to replace Savage would be a legitimate setback, while also taking away another developmental year for the former first-round pick.
The drop-off in replacing Blake Martinez with Christian Kirksey at inside linebacker may not be steep or even noticed at all. But the drop-off between Kirksey and the next middle linebacker on the current roster is startling. There are few knowns in the group of Ty Summers, Oren Burks, and Kamal Martin, but their competence with increased snaps would be tested in Kirksey’s absence. Green Bay would have to get even more creative with its third-down packages to provide assistance in coverage. Losing Kirksey is a scary proposition for this Packers team, almost comparable to losing Allen Lazard at wide receiver.
Jaire Alexander could be considered an irreplaceable star on this Packers team, but Sullivan flies under the radar as a valuable member of the cornerback unit. With Kevin King’s spotty injury history and plenty of apprehension about the younger bodies behind him, Sullivan’s surprisingly consistent play a year ago becomes a strength the Packers are relying on. Sure, the Packers could elect to re-sign Tramon Williams in the event of an emergency, but age is creeping in on the long-time veteran. Sullivan is a glue piece as the vital nickel back on defense.
This might be a cheat as Wagner is the team’s starting right tackle. But alarms would be sending throughout 1265 Lombardi Avenue if Wagner was lost. Even though Bakhtiari would be manning the left side, Green Bay’s backup tackle options are thin at best. A shuffling around of the line with Billy Turner sliding over to tackle is a real possibility. While Lane Taylor has started at guard before and could step in once again, Turner was average at best as a tackle in his pre-Packers career. Such a loss to Wagner would create limited depth at tackle, but, even worse, across the entire offensive line. A further future loss to Bakhtiari in that case would be catastrophic. Green Bay is already counting on a healthy season from Wagner and an opt-out would be crushing.
While the wait continues to see Deguara’s impact on the Packers’ offense and his fit within the Matt LaFleur system, it is safe to assume he will play a large role as the H-back immediately. Green Bay valued Deguara’s skillset enough to take him well above slot value in round three of the draft, and if he does come close to the Kyle Juszczyk-type of fit for Green Bay, Deguara will be a versatile factor in both phases of the offense. In some ways, Deguara’s loss to an opt-out could perhaps be felt more than losing Jace Sternberger with the Packers having a group of reserve tight ends with experience.