Over two weeks, Acme Packing Company will break down the Green Bay Packers’ 2018 roster position-by-position, providing our grades for each spot and looking ahead to free agency. Today, we continue with the defensive line.
The defensive front appeared to be the Green Bay Packers’ biggest strength heading into the 2018 campaign. But, by the end of the season, the Packers’ line was just trying to get to the end of the 16-game schedule.
Depth was tested significantly, with the Packers losing a stalwart in Mike Daniels in addition to its biggest offseason acquisition at the the position, Muhammad Wilkerson. But injury led to opportunity as Green Bay received contributions from former undrafted free agents Tyler Lancaster and Fadol Brown. Kenny Clark continued to ascend while Dean Lowry was once again a stable presence on one end of the line. However, the Packers will have some decisions to make regarding their defensive personnel, especially for two of its own free agents.
NFL Experience: 8 years
FA Status: Unrestricted
Expiring Contract: 1-year, $5 million with $1.5 million signing bonus
2018 Stats: 3 games played, 3 games started; 5 total tackles
The low-risk nature of the one-year deal with Wilkerson seemed like a bargain if the Packers could get the same player that was dominant at times within Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme in New York. The former Jet had had a monstrous 2015 season with 12 sacks but had declined steadily in his final two seasons in New York before arriving in Green Bay. The 2018 season was supposed to be a prove-it timeframe for Wilkerson to cash in on one more lucrative contract before turning 30 years old.
Unfortunately for both Wilkerson and the Packers, the veteran was unable to overcome any of those doubts. His season was cut short after just three games, fracturing his ankle and landing on injured reserve. There was thought initially that the severe injury could be career-threatening, but Wilkerson should be back in action in 2019 and will once again be on the free agent market. When healthy, Wilkerson gave the Packers versatility along the defensive line.
With Green Bay bringing Pettine back on Matt LaFleur’s staff, Wilkerson could be another one-year prospect for the Packers. The ankle injury should prevent Wilkerson from earning multi-year offers and may actually reduce his asking price on a single-year level. There have been no reports as of yet indicating which way Green Bay is leaning, but its early actions in free agency and the draft should provide a clearer sign of Wilkerson’s future in Titletown.
NFL Experience: 1 year
FA Status: Exclusive rights free agent
Expiring Contract: 1-year, $480,000
2018 Stats: 4 games played; 3 combined tackles, 2 quarterback hits
After appearing in eight games for the Oakland Raiders, Brown was signed in early December and gave the Packers depth along the line as a first-year player. He was one player that may have earned an opportunity for 2019 with his high effort, energy, and quickness off the snap. Brown showed signs of promise on a limited amount of snaps on defense and special teams, especially in a late-season game in Chicago.
As an exclusive rights free agent, Brown may get a second shot with the Packers in training camp to fight for a final roster spot. Surely, he will face plenty of competition from new acquisitions and returners such as Lancaster. The decision on Wilkerson could also affect Brown’s chances. But regardless of his status in Green Bay, Brown’s flashes of potential should land himself on an NFL roster.