Marqise Lee would be in an unwinnable situation. Green Bay Packers fans will light their Zoom chats on fire if Brian Gutekunst can’t find a way to bring a top pass catcher to Green Bay by the end of the week. But it’s not as if Gutey and his front office can control what happens to the board above them in the 2020 NFL Draft, or what other teams ask for in trades. Drafts can go off the rails. A top offensive tackle could fall, and so could one of the stud linebackers.
A smart team will have a backup plan if they can’t justify taking a receiver until the fourth round. Lee can be that plan, providing more than enough ability to justify playing over some players already on the roster. He wouldn’t bring scintillation, but it’s the kind of roster churn move the Packers, or any team, can always use.
In a conference call with reporters Monday, Gutekunst mentioned multiple times a desire to move around in the draft to extract value at the fat parts of the draft. Get to where the good players will be to make sure you get as many as possible. In that conversation though, he mentioned a deep receiver class could create one of two scenarios: a run early where they all go, or teams wait on them, believing they can get someone later.
What if they all go? Green Bay sits at 30 with myriad teams hoping for pass catchers. What happens if CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Justin Jefferson, Jalen Reagor and Denzel Mims are all gone by the mid-20’s and now there’s a rush? The Bengals trade up for Brandon Aiyuk. The Ravens snag Michael Pittman Jr. to complement Hollywood Brown.
In all the commotion, Houston offensive tackle Josh Jones falls inexplicably to 30. Green Bay’s future right tackle slots in 15 picks later that he rightfully belongs to go, and Aaron Rodgers benefits.
Between 30 and 62, the question mark players go off the board. K.J. Hamler, Laviska Shenault, Donovan Peoples-Jones, even the injured Bryan Edwards finds a home as teams panic to snag a pass catcher. By the time 62 rolls around, the cupboards are bare and there’s Texas A&M Justin Madubuike sitting there ready to anchor the middle of the Packers run defense. The best Green Bay can do is Antonio Gibson at 94, but he’s going to play more running back as a guy who can split out and kill linebackers.
On Day 3, the Packers take a shot on Boise State’s John Hightower in the fifth round. There’s potential there, another bite at the deep threat apple to push Marquez Valdes-Scantling for that role in the offense, but hardly a lock to be an early impact player.
At this point, Gutey has a decision to make: did the offense improve enough or are there players out there who could add something to the offense? He told reporters Monday the team works year-round on an emergency board of free agents. Guys like Tramon Williams, Damon Harrison, and Marqise Lee would theoretically be on such a board just for such occasions.
Before even accounting for fit or experience with Nathaniel Hackett from their Jacksonville days, Lee would be a more proven, capable player than guys like Jake Kumerow, Darrius Shepherd, or even MVS, Equanimeous St. Brown or Allen Lazard. That latter group could be better, but they haven’t proven to be, not yet. Dropping Kumerow off the list to bring in a more gifted player doesn’t upset the apple cart of the offense — Kumerow only played out of emergent necessity, the football version of exigent circumstance — but it does improve the overall talent of the roster.
And there is the fit to consider, with Lee’s two best seasons coming under Hackett’s watch in Duval County. The former USC Trojan never matched his downfield prowess from college in the NFL, and injuries robbed him of playing time over the course of his career, but that would also likely make him cheap. Signing him would not necessarily block a young receiver from emerging, nor would it likely create a financial burden if he doesn’t play well enough to make the team.
Even if they do draft someone, Matt LaFleur’s mindset makes Lee worth a shot. LaFleur showed last season he’s willing to play the best players. Some coaches want the veteran no matter what, not trusting young players. Aaron Rodgers, for that matter, could also feel that way. But Rodgers also sees the practices, he knows who can do what and knows where to be when. Bringing in Lee bolsters the overall talent level on the roster, but if EQ or a rookie play better than him, they will play. The same is true for Devin Funchess. These veterans are useful and talented enough to help the team if necessary, but not so good they keep young players from earning playing time or emerging in the offense.
Lee doesn’t fundamentally alter the fortunes of the 2020 Green Bay Packers, but he does bring the reliability of veteran experience and scheme knowledge. The talent gap between him and the bottom receivers on the team closes the knowledge gap of this specific offense and whatever rapport they’d created with Rodgers. These are the types of roster churn moves Gutekunst long since proved he’s willing to make, ones Ted Thompson avoided at all costs. It’s the kind of move that only barely rises to the level of needing a blog post to discuss the potential implications, but could ultimately mean a more proven player takes the field than otherwise would have in a critical situation in 2020.