As of February 22nd, 2023, it’s difficult to imagine the Green Bay Packers bringing back wide receiver Allen Lazard. As an unrestricted free agent, Lazard will be free to sign with any team when the 2023 league year begins on March 15th, and it appears likely that his market will be strong.
Spotrac estimates Lazard’s market value at $12.5 million per year, which is even more than Marquez Valdes-Scantling received from the Kansas City Chiefs last season ($10 million per year over 3 years). Lazard does not have MVS’ breakaway speed and deep-threat ability, but he has been one of the NFL’s most efficient receivers throughout his career, frequently ranking among the league leaders in DVOA.
The Packers might be priced out of Lazard’s market, though a report on Wednesday afternoon indicated that the Packers are “making an effort” to re-sign Lazard to a new deal. If the two sides are unable to come to an agreement, however, the Packers will need to find a replacement for a player who is both one of the staples of their wide receiver group as well as a versatile contributor in multiple offensive phases.
One of Lazard’s most important areas of expertise is as a run-blocker, where he puts his massive 6-foot-5 frame to good use. From the slot, Lazard often serves as a de facto tight end, cracking down on edge players or blocking linebackers or defensive backs on the edges. Although the Packers would likely miss Lazard’s efficient receiving contributions, finding a willing and effective run blocker to help replace Lazard in that phase would be an equally useful and important addition.
Although 2022 rookie Christian Watson has shown the ability to be an impact payer in the run game, having a pair of quality run-blockers on either side of the line would be highly vaulable. To that end, enter Robert Woods, whom the Tennessee Titans released on Wednesday for salary cap purposes.
A 10-year veteran, Woods was a second-round pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2013 out of USC. After four years in Buffalo, he signed a free agent with the Los Angeles Rams before the 2017 season, a year that coincided with Matt LaFleur’s season as the Rams’ offensive coordinator. The future Packers head coach helped run an offense that saw Woods set career highs in per-game production, as he was on pace for a 1,000-yard season had he played all 16 games.
What stood out about Woods’ 2017 campaign, however, was his run-blocking. In tandem with rookie Cooper Kupp and veteran Sammy Watkins, the Rams’ offense had a trio of excellent blocking receivers, and Woods might have been the best of the bunch despite being just 6 feet and about 200 pounds. Woods earned an elite 88.8 run blocking grade from Pro Football Focus in 2017, the highest mark of his career and a truly impressive number for a wide receiver.
Indeed, Woods has maintained tremendous run blocking grades throughout his entire career, but especially with the Rams in the Sean McVay offense. With one exception, his grades have steadily been in great-to-excellent territory:
- 2017: 88.8
- 2018: 79.9
- 2019: 75.8
- 2020: 54.6
- 2021: 84.9
Even in 2022, his only season with the Tennessee Titans, Woods kept his grade above a 75. Aside from an odd dip in 2020 — from which he rebounded well — Woods has maintained his level of play as a blocker through his age-30 season.
As a receiver, Woods’ 2022 season was a disappointment. thanks at least in part to the move from Los Angeles to Tennessee. He averaged fewer than 10 yards per catch and fewer than six yards per target for the first time in his career, and his 31 yards per game was also a career-low by a significant margin.
That dip in production might work to drive Woods’ market down, however. Judging his market value is a bit difficult, but he is not likely to receive a deal in Lazard’s tier, as he is about to turn 31 years old and had the aforementioned drop in production last season. He was scheduled to receive a base salary in excess of $13 million in 2023, leading the Titans to release him on Wednesday to take a dead cap hit of just $2.6 million. Still, there’s reason to believe that he could rebound as a receiver in the right situation, and a complementary role alongside an explosive young wideout like Watson could be ideal for a bounce-back.
Last year, the Packers managed to sign Sammy Watkins for under $2 million late in free agency after a particularly disappointing 2021 season with the Baltimore Ravens. Watkins’ track record showed a player who had struggled to make an impact for several years, however, while Woods had been able to maintain his career receiving averages as recently as 2021.
Therefore, Woods’ price tag should come in significantly higher than Watkins, but a deal in the realm of $7 million average over two seasons seems plausible. That would put him a bit over the $6.25 million per year that a 31-year-old Marvin Jones received from the Jaguars in 2021 after he nearly posted 1,000 yards with the Lions the previous season.
That number would be a much easier pill to swallow financially for the Packers than $12.5 million per year or more for Lazard. The familiarity that Woods and LaFleur have together could be a factor here, and the fact that the Titans released him means that he can begin negotiating with other teams immediately rather than waiting for the start of free agency. That could provide an impetus for the Packers to get in on the conversation quickly, though any major acquisitions would likely still need to wait for Aaron Rodgers to shed some light on his future plans.
Still, whether Rodgers does or does not return, Woods is a player who would fit seamlessly into the Packers’ offense and who could come at a much more tolerable price tag than the number Lazard will likely draw on the market. That alone should be more than enough for the Packers to start making some calls to his agent immediately.