In a year where the NFL will be lowering its salary cap, what better way is there to acquire talent for a lower cost than through the draft?
For the Green Bay Packers, this specific avenue of enhancing the roster will be perhaps more crucial this season than many others. With that in mind, today’s musings touch on the financial benefit of the draft to Green Bay and one first-round player to keep an eye on. In addition, the Packers have plenty of internal free agents to negotiate with this spring, but could one of the team’s more longer-tenured, but oft-injured, offensive linemen be a prime candidate to be re-signed?
It’s a good year to have draft capital to work with
While everyone eagerly awaits a possible union between J.J. Watt and the Packers, the fact of the matter is that Green Bay has a slew of financial decisions to consider. Certainly, the team could still make a play for Watt and restructure current deals (ahem, Aaron Rodgers) to make that happen. But in the midst of the many dilemmas posed by a league salary cap reduction, it is a great season to have draft picks available.
The Packers are primed to have one extra compensatory pick in each round from rounds four to six. Those extra picks will give the Packers 10 total picks and at least one selection in every round. Brian Gutekunst and company have not been shy about trading up during draft weekend, so there is a good possibility the Packers will not ultimately add 10 new selections. However, in a year with financial constraints, the Packers should be able to bring rather cheap labor to the roster, with a projected five picks in the top 145, including the compensatory fourth-rounder. Currently, Over the Cap estimates Green Bay’s top 10 choices to total $8,253,136.
Green Bay built for the future early in the 2020 NFL Draft, but finding some initial building blocks and quick contributors seems paramount this time around as the team tries to upgrade certain positions without having the typical free agent money means. Fourth-round picks have been a particular ammunition used by Gutekunst in the past two drafts to move up in the first round, but could be an instrumental way in an odd offseason for the Packers to find early rotational players without a significant cap hit both now and for the next four seasons.
Could Lane Taylor be back on a team-friendly deal?
It has been almost a foregone conclusion that free agent Corey Linsley will be too expensive for the Packers to keep around on a long-term contract. The Packers also started to prepare for this adjustment with their day-three offensive line selections in last year’s draft and saw meaningful contributions from Jon Runyan already in his rookie campaign. However, one of the team’s internal re-signings could very well be one of the most overlooked.
If Green Bay is looking to retain an experienced player on the interior of the line, and one who has a reputation as a good teammate, Taylor could be an excellent fit. The health concerns the past two years are both a pro and con in negotiating an extension with Taylor. Having played in just three games the past two years, it is hard to see Taylor commanding a significant contract on the open market, especially not another three-year, $16,5 million contract like he had previously signed. With two freak injuries (bicep, ACL), it is reasonable to believe Taylor could put together another healthy season in 2021, much like his earlier years would suggest. It is also possible the Packers could bring back Taylor to a team-friendly, one-year deal which allows Taylor to maximize his value heading into 2022 free agency and provides the Packers with a starter at guard and insurance while Runyan, Jake Hanson, and Simon Stepaniak can further develop another year.
It is easy to forget that Taylor has played an emergency tackle in the past as well, so there is some level of versatility that exists for the eight-year pro. While Green Bay should certainly be on the lookout for additional depth during the draft, Taylor represents an inexpensive and scheme-experienced option.
He might not fall to Green Bay, but Azeez Ojulari would be enticing
If one is to look at a mock draft, Georgia’s Ojulari is going as high as seventh overall to Detroit or as low as the early-to-mid twenties. However, the edge rusher could certainly establish himself as one of the top pass rushers in the pre-draft process and climb up draft boards.
However, if Ojulari were to drop to the Packers at pick 29 or Green Bay were to trade up to grab him, the Bulldog pass rusher would be an intriguing weapon to form a trio with Za’Darius Smith and Rashan Gary. Especially if Preston Smith does not return, the Packers should be eyeing up pass-rushing talent and Ojulari fits the mold. Still just 20 years old, he would bring a different element to the team’s group of edge rushers with his speed while contributing the same high motor displayed by Gary. Although a bit undersized at 240 pounds, Ojulari is far from a one-trick pony and surprisingly holds up well enough on the edge in run support with solid hand placement and power. Georgia asked Ojulari to drop back in coverage at times as a stand-up rusher and that kind of experience would bode well in a professional 3-4 scheme like the Packers will continue to run next season.
Azeez Ojulari's chop is a beaut' pic.twitter.com/KWw3ReKvpx— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) February 3, 2021
Not many OLB/DEs survive this contact from a pulling 350lb Deonte Brown...— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) February 23, 2021
Azeez Ojulari is a better run defender than given credit for https://t.co/nDzZMVirZw
Azeez Ojulari has more functional power than I thought. He’s the loosest speed rusher, best high side rusher in the class - but he can win other ways too!— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) February 5, 2021
Power rush vs Eichenberg
Ojulari is an advanced pass rusher & having hard time not calling him EDGE1 in 2021 NFL Draft pic.twitter.com/moLUaiqUpa
Ojulari improved all three seasons at Georgia, culminating his college career with 8.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, and an outstanding New Year’s Six game against Cincinnati to cap off the 2020 season. The Packers were burned by the speed rush of Shaq Barrett in the NFC Championship Game, but are in a position where they could benefit from adding more speed at outside linebacker as well as more depth in general. Ojulari may not make it to the Packers’ pick, but he would make for a high-upside, first-year contributor.