Each winter, Acme Packing Company breaks down the Green Bay Packers’ roster from the previous year by position to examine the team’s performance and needs in the offseason. Today we continue this series by looking at the defensive line.
As the Green Bay Packers head into 2020, much of the focus on the defensive line will be around retaining the star player on that unit. Kenny Clark will play 2020 on his rookie fifth-year option unless he and the team can come to an agreement on a long-term contract extension before then. That is a primary priority for general manager Brian Gutekunst, but it may not happen until after free agency and the NFL Draft are behind them.
As for the remaining pieces on the line, only one has an expiring contract. That player seemed a bit miscast in some situations in 2019, but has shown enough that the team would be wise to retain him for next season, especially given the modest investment required to do so.
NFL Experience: 2 years
Free Agent Status: Exclusive-rights
Expiring contract: 2 years, $1.05M total
In his rookie year in 2018, Lancaster was an early season call-up who proved to be a solid run-stuffer in the middle. As he worked towards a bigger role in 2019, one of his primary goals was to improve his pass-rushing abilities. Lancaster did record his first career sacks in the fall with 1.5, but he did not generate much pressure overall, with just three recorded pressures in a total of 381 defensive snaps. That was good for about 37% of the team’s total defensive snaps, a nice bump up from the 26% he played as a rookie.
Given what he has demonstrated in his brief 28-game career, however, Lancaster is probably best suited to be a run-stuffing nose tackle rather than a starting 3-4 end, whether that be at either of the 3- or 5-technique spots. He holds his ground well but just does not generate a great deal of push in the pocket. Having him as the third man in the defensive line rotation for a 3-4 team — even one that uses a lot of two-man lineups — is probably setting him up to struggle.
Thus, the Packers may need to get more creative with Lancaster in terms of his usage. Perhaps moving Kenny Clark out to the end occasionally while in base would be a way to get Lancaster worked in at his best spot while Clark can act as more of a disruptor, a role he is much better-suited to playing. Alternately, there should be enough of a need for a reserve/rotational nose tackle to keep Lancaster around in 2020, particularly since the team would only need to extend him a league-minimum contract to keep him around.
Lancaster’s price tag makes him well worth bringing back for next season. But the Packers should hope for development out of Kingsley Keke or should work to add a more dynamic player to line up on the ends of the line and allow Lancaster to do what he does best — hold the point of attack in the middle.