A wild NFL season will culminate this weekend with Super Bowl LV, but the craziness that is the offseason is almost upon the Green Bay Packers who will face a myriad of salary cap dilemmas.
One of those price-sensitive decisions will revolve around Kevin King, an oft-injured player at a premium position. If the Packers can afford to bring King back is one of the major questions of the offseason, but perhaps the bigger question is if they can afford not to. Similarly, the Packers face a tender decision on one of their backup quarterbacks with two more highly-invested players at his position already on the roster. Tim Boyle’s future in Green Bay might just make up a more interesting storyline to watch this offseason than the future of Aaron Rodgers, and that thought is featured further in today’s musings.
Even before Kevin King’s struggles against Tampa Bay, the Packers needed to address cornerback in the offseason
If the NFC Championship Game was King’s final showing in a green and gold uniform, it certainly did not end the way he would have envisioned. Despite playing through an injury, King was burned on several occasions against Tampa Bay and had as rough a game as possible heading into free agency. Perhaps the most difficult decision the Packers will have this offseason on their internal free agents will involve King - not only because of his former draft status, the injury question marks, and the money involved, but because of his clear-cut standing as the team’s second cornerback despite the struggles.
Jaire Alexander is a stud and will soon be locked up to an extension. But beyond Alexander, the cornerback room is dicey. Chandon Sullivan was not the same player last year as in 2019 from the slot and was taken advantage of by opponents during the final stretch. Josh Jackson went from starting five games halfway through the season to just three defensive snaps from Weeks 11 to 16. Ka’Dar Hollman, Stanford Samuels, Kabion Ento, and KeiVarae Russell remain largely unproven players beyond special teams. The money will be tougher to justify for King, who is still a younger, up-and-coming cornerback. But can the Packers afford to let him walk without any surefire replacement?
Despite the issues against Tampa Bay, cornerback was already a pressing concern heading into the draft this year. It would not be shocking to see the Packers elect to use one of their first two picks on the position and it was very surprising Green Bay did not prepare for this scenario already in the 2020 draft. The Packers have done well at times in recent years to cover up for deficiencies at linebacker and defensive line with adjustments to their personnel and packages, but it is almost impossible to disguise issues at cornerback, especially on the boundary. It looks inevitable that significant draft capital will have to be applied to fixing the position once again.
The futures of Tim Boyle and Jordan Love this offseason may be more compelling than the headlines involving Aaron Rodgers
A disgruntled MVP will make for great drama and click-bait articles this entire spring. But the more interesting and notable quarterback storyline will involve the reserves.
Whether another team makes a play for Tim Boyle is fascinating in itself. As a restricted free agent, the Packers have the ability to match any offer sheet given to the former undrafted free agent. After showing some promise in preseason two years ago and then again in 2020 training camp, according to sources close to the team Boyle may draw some interest from teams that believe they can develop a 26-year old who has sat behind one of the greatest quarterbacks in the game. The notion is not too farfetched to believe, considering all of the capable quarterbacks that came and went under Brett Favre without playing meaningful snaps. Even to retain Boyle without outside competition, the Packers would have to budget for a $2.24 million restricted free agent tender — another consideration for the franchise in a year in which the salary cap is being reduced.
While a tender to Boyle will not necessarily break the bank, it would be quite the statement on Jordan Love. The investment of, essentially, first- and fourth-round picks for Love is made more difficult to justify if his second season is, once again, spent as a week-to-week inactive. The re-emergence of peak Rodgers so late in his career also makes the long-term outlook of Love much more difficult to predict. Green Bay would have to be wowed to trade Love this early, especially with the draft capital they already spent to acquire him. But with a number of quarterback-needy teams this offseason, it cannot be ruled out by a team or executive that may have been enamored with him during the draft process. Remember, Ron Wolf was not able to land Favre as a member of the New York Jets organization, but acted swiftly to trade for him as the Packers’ GM just a year after Favre was selected by Atlanta in the second round. A team with a lower-end first-rounder like Indianapolis or New Orleans could still be in the market - and the Packers have already done first-round business with the Saints in the recent past.
Regardless of how the offseason moves shake out, expect there to be much more of a legitimate talking point for each of Rodgers’ backups than for the MVP himself.
The Packers continued to explore all avenues of acquiring talent, even late in the season
Mainstream media may beat up Brian Gutekunst and company for not going all in to put weapons around Aaron Rodgers, and some of that criticism is warranted. But one has to commend Gutekunst for sticking to his mantra of exhausting all avenues of acquiring talent.
Although the trade deadline came and passed without Will Fuller or another wide receiver, the team tried out-of-the-box type maneuvers to add Jared Veldheer and Tramon Williams to the roster in the playoffs. The changes to the NFL’s practice squad rules during COVID were a strategy utilized by all teams during the regular season, but the Packers took full advantage of the adjusted policies during the postseason as well. Veldheer would have made history as the first player to play for two teams in a single postseason after the Packers strategically signed him to their practice squad from Indianapolis’s own squad. Although the Colts elevated Veldheer for their Wild Card matchup, a technicality in the NFL rules allowed the Packers to add him to their own 53. Of course, Veldheer did not pan out due to contracting COVID immediately after signing. However, he very well could have impacted the divisional and championship rounds as a starter at left tackle or in-game replacement against Tampa Bay’s speed rushers. Likewise, the Packers added Williams to the roster after Baltimore was eliminated from the playoffs and released the veteran. Green Bay saw an opportunity to add an experienced cornerback and return man, and quickly made a move.
Sure, neither player ultimately filled a critical role for the Packers in the playoffs, but give management credit for continuing to try to patch holes, even late in the season when they could have stuck with what they had on the current roster. Green Bay went down swinging, adding yet another method of adding talent to its repertoire.