The Green Bay Packers filled the biggest holes on their roster on Tuesday. General manager Brian Gutekunst was aggressive in the lead-up to the start of free agency, landing impact players at edge rusher (Za’Darius and Preston Smith) and safety (Adrian Amos) while adding a versatile offensive lineman in Billy Turner to the mix.
Furthermore, Russ Ball’s salary cap management kept the Packers flexible for the next wave of free agency, able to add a few more pieces if necessary. The team currently holds about $15 million in cap space for 2019 (not accounting for Marcedes Lewis’ new deal), and although they will need about $4.5 million of that space to sign their draft picks, there’s still a little wiggle room to add another significant player or two.
Here’s a look at some realistic targets for the team in the coming days and weeks, along with a few names that are less realistic but who could still be exciting or intriguing additions.
On this week’s APC Podcast, Ben Foldy and I discussed Breeland being the team’s biggest priority in the next phase. Breeland brought stability and a veteran presence to the Packers’ young cornerback room, something that was sorely needed once Tramon Williams moved to free safety full-time. He’s a sticky player who possesses both good ball skills and coverage ability.
A four-man cornerback group of Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Josh Jackson, and Tony Brown oozes physical ability, but lacks significantly in experience (as well as reliability). With Williams still likely to play some combination of safety and slot corner — assuming he remains on the roster — Breeland would round out the group nicely and provide additional insurance against the seemingly inevitable injury to King.
Depending on Breeland’s price tag, however, the Packers may need to free up a little extra room to leave themselves enough wiggle room under the cap to feel comfortable heading into the season. Cutting Williams would do it — that move would free up nearly $5 million in extra cap space — but that leaves a hole at that hybrid slot/safety role. In that case, the Packers could potentially use Brown or Jackson there, or draft a safety like Mississippi State’s Johnathan Abram, Virginia’s Juan Thornhill, or Iowa’s Amani Hooker to play that role.
The former Washington inside linebacker was released on Wednesday to open up some cap space, and could come at a bargain. He has plenty of experience in a 3-4, and his position coach from the last two years in DC — Kirk Olivadotti — is now in Green Bay.
With Oren Burks still working his way into the lineup, the Packers do not have a sure thing next to Blake Martinez on the inside. Brown provides a proven track record, solid ability both in coverage and as a blitzer, and some familiarity with the coaching staff.
Like Breeland, Wilkerson would be a re-signing for the Packers. He also would not be able to sign until he could pass a physical, and given the severity of the broken ankle he suffered in September, that might still take some more time. However, there appears to be mutual interest in a reunion, and Wilkerson was starting to come on when he was injured last fall.
Luckily, Wilkerson probably won’t break the bank — he should certainly come with a lower price tag than the $5 million he got last season. Bring him back for one year at $2.5 million, for example, and see if he can do what he was signed to do a year ago: rush the passer a bit, stay stout against the run, and get his career back on track.
Hear me out here. If Clay returns to Green Bay, it will be probably be in a different role than his traditional pass-rushing outside linebacker spot. However, if he’s willing to play the weak-side inside linebacker spot, I think he can still have some value. Matthews still moves pretty well, but it’s his functional strength as a pass-rusher that has dragged him down in recent years. Bringing him back on a relatively cheap one-year deal to play off the ball and blitz from the inside isn’t a crazy idea.
Let’s Get Weird
How bizarre would it be to see the guy who stomped on the legs of Packers players suiting up in Green and Gold? Suh could fit right in next to Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels, however, and he would bring the nasty that Daniels and Mike Pettine love.
Bringing him in on a one-year ring-chasing deal could be fun, though it would probably require freeing up some space to pull it off. But just imagine being a quarterback who drops back on third down to see Suh and Daniels rushing from the interior with the Smiths coming from the edge and Blake Martinez blitzing up the middle. Yikes.
Let’s just triple down on the edge, shall we? There should still be enough playing time to go around if Houston joined the Packers’ revamped pass-rushing group. After all, with the Packers playing so much nickel, they rarely put three defensive linemen on the field at once. And since the Smiths Za’Darius and Preston both are able to put their hand in the dirt and rush the passer from the interior, Houston can keep his snap count in check a bit and maximize his effort on those snaps.
Furthermore, you can never have enough pass-rushers. Injuries will surely strike someone at some point, so bringing yet another top pass-rushing talent into the fold would make the Packers’ edge unit even more ferocious.
Cost will be the consideration here, however, and the Packers would almost certainly need to open up some additional space to make room for Houston by releasing Tramon Williams or Jimmy Graham.
This would be another tough pill to swallow for Packers fans, seeing as Tate was the player who “caught” the Fail Mary in Seattle in 2012. However, despite his abysmal 2018, Tate could still have some usefulness remaining from the slot. His catch rate dipped to about 65% last year, but he caught an impressive 77% of his targets in 2017 and had four straight years with 90 receptions. No longer a big-play threat, Tate would be able to serve as a reliable option out of the slot to help move the chains and work underneath while the Packers’ bigger, faster, younger receivers work down the field.