Top 3 offseason needs for the Green Bay Packers

PFF analyst Mike Renner assembles the offseason to-do list for the Green Bay Packers.

| 9 months ago
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Top 3 offseason needs for the Green Bay Packers

The 2015 version of the Green Bay Packers wasn’t too dissimilar in talent from the 2014 version that was a collapse away from a Super Bowl appearance. Offensively, Jordy Nelson and Andrew Quarless’ injuries were the only differences, while on defense, A.J. Hawk, Tramon Williams, and Davon House were contributors lost from the previous season. The tragic irony here is that the offense became a shell of its former self with the loss of really one player, while the defense turned into a top-10 unit.

Those results make it a tad difficult to get a handle on the Packers’ true offseason needs. Do they focus on rebuilding an offense that will again in 2016 have almost the exact same personnel as the 2014 team that was second in points-per-game? Or do they beef up their defense in an effort to emulate the strong defenses we’ve seen in recent Super Bowls?

Whichever they choose, there are definitely positions that won’t need to be addressed any time soon. Obviously quarterback is one of them, with two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers signed through 2019, and his backup, Brett Hundley, drafted in the fifth round last season. Defensively, it’s unlikely that the Packers make any additions to their secondary, even with the possible departure of Casey Hayward in free agency. They go three-deep in quality safeties, with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett developing into one of the highest-graded safety tandems in the NFL. Then at corner, they already spent their first and second-round selections on Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, respectively, and both put up promising rookie seasons, grading at or above average.

There are certain positions, though, that Ted Thompson has been content in recent years with having average or below-average production from, and I believe this is the year we see him address those units. And the question on every Packers fans’ mind is, once again: Is this the year Ted Thompson makes a splash move in free agency? I think it’s a strong possibility. The following list names Packers with meaningful snaps that are set to hit free agency:

– CB Casey Hayward

– NT B.J. Raji

– OLB Mike Neal

– K Mason Crosby

– DE Letroy Guion

– LB Nick Perry

– RB James Starks

– FB John Kuhn

– WR James Jones

Only Hayward will command big money, and then only Crosby, Perry, and Starks performed well enough that you’d want to have them back. With a healthy $21.9 million in cap space at the moment, and a potential $8 million cap casualty in Julius Peppers, the Packers have enough wiggle room for a high-priced free agent. Now let’s see where they should prioritize.

1. Inside Linebacker

This is one that fans have been calling for for years and went inexcusably unaddressed last offseason. I understand that Clay Matthews brings versatility to their defense on the inside as a blitzing threat, but they are paying a player who has graded out as average against both the run and pass almost $1 million more a year than Luke Kuechly makes with Carolina. They need to let Matthews do what he does best, and that is rush the passer. The problem is that no other inside linebacker on the roster has ever graded positively for a season.

That means that the Packers will need at least one, if not two, inside linebackers this offseason to replace him. In free agency, there are some intriguing options. Derrick Johnson has been a top-three graded inside linebacker in his last two healthy seasons, but at 33 years old, he’d be little more than a stop-gap. Jerrell Freeman is a tad younger at 30 years old, and is coming off a career year in Indianapolis that saw him as our second-highest graded inside linebacker. On the younger, and likely cheaper, side of things there is Danny Trevathan and Rolando McClain. Both of whom would be huge upgrades over what the Packers currently have at the position. In the draft, Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland seems like a pipe dream with the Packers picking 27th, but Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame) is liable to make it that far after his ugly knee injury and the ultra-productive Scooby Wright III (Arizona) could be an option in the second round.

2. Tight end

Ever since Jermichael Finley’s career was tragically cut short by a neck injury, the production from the tight end position in Green Bay has been non-existent. They drafted Richard Rodgers in the third round in 2014, and while he’s a sure-handed safety-net, he’s far from the dynamic player that Finley was. Defenses were unafraid of anything going up the seams and over the middle of the field with Rodgers in the game; his 1.19 yards per route was 27th-best among tight ends this season.

This is a position that could easily get upgraded through free agency, and likely for cheap. Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Larry Donnell, and Ladarius Green are all talented players that won’t command big money on the open market. In the draft, Hunter Henry (Arkansas) is a name to watch at the end of round 1, while Nick Vannett (Ohio State) and Jerell Adams (South Carolina) could be upgrades later on.

3. Edge rusher

Even if Clay Matthews does transition back to outside linebacker, and Julius Peppers isn’t cut, this is still a pretty glaring need. The Packers’ “NASCAR” package lost some of its luster last season, and it could use a boost. Their OLB’s combined for a pass rushing grade of -8.3 in 2015 (0.0 is average). With the impending free agents, Jayrone Elliott is tentatively penciled in for a bigger role. While he flashed at times with a 10.1 pass rushing productivity that was second on the team behind Peppers, it’s not a great sign that he couldn’t steal snaps from Mike Neal (7.0 pass rushing productivity).

The problem with this position is that it never comes cheap. It’s easy to say, “Go get Von Miller or Olivier Vernon,” but it’s not so easy to make their $15+ million per year salary work under the cap. The draft seems like a much more realistic option here, but yet again, at 27th overall, they’ll be left with some afterthoughts. This might be a position the Packers take a couple of late-round gambles on; a couple of my favorites are Joe Schobert (Wisconsin) and Kyler Fackrell (Utah State).

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • Adam LeClair

    Don’t forget about Barrington at ILB. I’m guessing they’ll start him with Jake Ryan (who could make the 2nd year leap), unless they finally draft one early or grab a FA

    • Ryan Maas

      Barrington is hardly worth mentioning. All the Packers inside linebackers (Matthews aside when he plays there) are not even average and wouldn’t start on almost any other team.

      • PackersNation36

        We need a guy like Danny Trevathan who can produce now not later two or 3 years and possibly not. Aaron Rodgers is not getting any younger and we need to at least to get one or more Super Bowl title before we be in that struggle where teams are trying to find a franchise QB.

        • “Penned” In

          Yeah…Ted Thompson is all over that. huh?

      • Adam LeClair

        But he’ll start. So he’s worth mentioning.

      • SkolBro

        When it was Brad and AJ, yeah. But Sam is a solid two down linebacker and Jake Ryan is solid. Could use a better coverage guy than Joe Thomas, but still – their Linebackers are better than trash.

  • “Penned” In

    I think it is cute that the author mentions free agency. Thompson will take his draft picks, his 12 free agent that were not drafted and attempt another season based on Aaron Rodgers lifting the whole team. Free Agency and the Packers are like oil and water

    • GBPFan12

      So he should of signed Steven Jackson instead of drafting Lacy, he should of signed Jarius Byrd instead of drafting Ha Ha? Remember when he signed Jeff Saturday and Cedric Benson and those two guys were busts?

      Signing a FA for the sake of signing one is idiotic, I’d rather trust a scouting department that produced the likes of Ted, John Schneider, Reggie McKenzie and John Dorsey.

      • “Penned” In

        You just have Ted…and his 2012 first round pick is ready to be traded in for 6th round comp pick. Perry. The problem with solely using a draft and develop method is a when you miss on draft picks…there are nothing but developmental guys left

        • Cant FixStupid

          I agree. You don’t need to use free agency to get the best players on the market. You use it to take risks young guys who have been stuck behind others and haven’t gotten their opportunity, Emmanuel Sanders and Delaine Walker for example, or older vets who can provide better quality depth. You don’t have to get the best players who cost the most money, but you do need to take risks at times to upgrade your weak starting spots and your depth. Somebody like Ladarius Green this year would be perfect for Green Bay. He has flashed in limited work, exactly the athletic pass catching TE they need, and because he’s not gotten that opportunity to be a #1 yet, his cost won’t be extreme like a Julius Thomas. Problem is though, Thompson’s 4th or 5th round comp pick is far more important than a guy like Ladarius Green who could come in and help right away. I don’t think we’ll get over that hump until Thompson changes his philosophy a little bit, that’s why i wouldn’t mind seeing him step down and let Elliot Wolf take over. Wolf would keep Thompson draft and develop as the foundation, but he’d bring a little more of the NFL today, using free agency and making roster moves when you have very weak areas, like Barclay last year. I’m worried Thompson is just too stuck in his ways, forgetting the NFL isn’t just drafting and developing anymore, that there is another avenue to get quality players. I only hope somebody is talking him into taking some risks this year, sacrificing those 4th and 5th round comp picks in 2017 for guys who could actually help this team today. I personally would be happy if we just added Ladarius Green this year and used the draft to upgrade the front 7. Maybe go after a couple of vets later for better depth and some leadership.

      • Corey

        Saturday was awful, but Benson was actually playing well until he had that Lisfranc injury.

  • Faris

    Really good article. Hard to argue with any of these. I might add WR as a really close #4 to this list though. Although Jordy is returning, he’ll be 32 coming off ACL surgery, so it’s possible his best days are behind him. If Adams doesn’t bounce back from his poor season, he could possibly be cut and then they’ll be extremely thin on the outside going into 2017, even if Janis develops.

    • PackersNation36

      Finding a WR will be easy. Its just finding them guys who actually can run routes and get quick separation. I say we worry about WR next year. Right now continue to build a defense. The two best defenses from each conference are in the Super Bowl. I am sure Rodgers can pick up the offense again like he did last season. If though Jordy may be slower, he is still a big target, hands great hands and get quick separation, which is why he is Aaron Rodger favorite target, Jordy making plays down field is a bonus.

      Even though I say this. We need to at least get a deep threat later in the draft who run there routes. Could still use the competition in training camp. Our WR’s has gotten soft(Cobb and Adams), need to get them to preform better.

      • Faris

        My argument is that they’ve spent the past 3-4 years focusing early picks on the Defense. We just saw what happens to this offense if they suffer a single WR injury. Who’s to say Jordy and/or Cobb doesn’t get hurt again next year? This team will only go as far as Rodgers takes them. They cannot afford to risk not having enough weapons for A-rod again next season.

        • Cant FixStupid

          But it wasn’t a single injury. We lost Jordy in preseason. Cobb sprained his shoulder the next week and dealt with that the 1st half of the year. Bulaga was lost for 3 weeks after week 1. Adams suffered an ankle sprain week 2, then a high ankle sprain week 3 and was lost for weeks. Lacy started the year overweight and suffered an ankle sprain week 2 on his 3rd carry. He might as well have been out half the year vs what he was in 2014. Then we lost Ty Montgomery week 6 for the season. We then pretty much lost our #2 TE for the year week 3, and our starting TE might as well be playing injured, as probably about 15-20 TE’s in the NFL could probably play at a higher level at 50% than Rodgers can at 100%. Then for almost the entire 2nd half we had our entire starting 5 on the injury report. There was much more going on with this offense than just losing Jordy Nelson.

          • Rossonero

            Anyone who thinks Ted Thompson is going to spend a 1st or 2nd rounder on an ILB needs to forget that pipe dream. They do not value that position highly and will hope Barrington returns to form. The dime and nickel packages do not feature ILBs either.

            Thompson will not be signing any free agents either, even though that frustrates many of us.

            This draft is very deep on the D line — where we also need some help. That is where the best value will be come draft day.

          • Brian Dugan

            Thank you Cant FixStupid. I came here to post the exact same thing and you saved me the trouble. Looks like the author didn’t follow the Packers closely this year and/or do their research:

            “The tragic irony here is that the offense became a shell of its former self with the loss of really one player” is such an over-simplification that doesn’t do the Packers offensive injuries any justice. While I think he nailed the Packers needs, it was hard to get past that line.

        • PackersNation36

          Like Jordy will be injured again? Build on the up and coming defense around Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers will get it done on offense.

    • Corey

      Carrying 6 WRs is going to be difficult. 2015 and 2014 we carried 5 WRs on the final roster. Right now I would see us carrying Nelson, Cobb, Adams, Montgomery and Janis for sure. That’s 5 right there. Now, it sounds like we’ll carry 2 QBs rather than 3 so you get an extra spot perhaps for a WR. Do you keep Abrederris in that final spot? If you do, you can’t really afford to draft a WR in the early rounds. Not likely they would last on the practice squad for long.

      For these reasons, I just don’t think we go after a WR in the first 4 rounds. Maybe a later round guy we can stash on the PS.

      • Faris

        Agreed – I think they could add a guy to compete with Abby, who should be on the bubble with all his injury concerns. The fact that Janis has so much Special Teams value (particularly as a gunner on punt coverage) makes it easier to justify carrying 6 if they have to, IMO. I’d say it’s 90% that Adams makes the team, but if he has a bad camp, it wouldn’t be inconceivable for him to get cut (assuming they draft someone else they feel can fill his shoes).

    • Cant FixStupid

      Jordy is still 30 right now. He’ll be 31 at the start of the season and before injury was coming off his best season as a pro at 29. There’s really no reason not to think Jordy will continue playing at a high level into his mid 30’s as long as he can stay healthy. And if Adams doesn’t bounce back, if Janis and Abbrederis don’t develop much better this year, if Montgomery doesn’t step up, we have 2017 to address the issue. Can’t focus on issues that could be when you have actual issues that need to be addressed today. As far as we know, Jordy could be just as good, Cobb could bounce back just as strong as 2014 and better. Adams could finally get his head right and start making play. Montgomery could end up being a stud when he finally gets out on the field, and Janis and Abby could both take strong steps this year in development. then what good would drafting a WR have been??? We know what we have at TE. Richard Rodgers is a sure handed. slow, lumbering TE who is very weak after the tackle. Odds of him becoming more than that are slim. We know our ILB position is a liability. We know our DL could use some upgrades, and we know our OLB is currently thin with 2 guys free agents and one nearing the end of his career. Those are issues that need to be addressed now.

    • disqus_4W6glc6T7B

      Exactly right about WR, it may have looked like a position of strength but the sample size from Abby & Janis is still too small and you always add to a position of strength if possible, either a fast deep threat guy or a 6’4-5″ big bodied guy and absolutely a major TE upgrade.

  • Alex K

    The more I look at the Packers roster it seems really bare. People love to give them so much credit for building through the draft but the truth is the Rodgers has been carrying a weak team the last few years. His contract makes things hard but still they should be better than this.

    • Jason

      Packers have the #1 guard tandem in all of football – Josh Sitton and TJ Lang. He gets a clean inside pocket to throw from on every play. Stop making excuses for Rodgers.

      • Ryan Maas

        He doesn’t have a clean pocket. Yeah, Sitton and Lang are good, but if you watched any Packers games this year you’d see that Rodgers was harassed a fair amount more than last year. He got sacked 45+ times this year. Heck, in the Cardinals Week 16 matchup he got hit on 1/3 of his dropbacks,

        • Ryno4

          The problem was the receivers weren’t getting open and the offensive line was beat up

        • Jason

          Rodgers takes coverage sacks because he holds the ball too long in the pocket like a deer in headlights all the time.

    • Jason

      And Rodgers has never “carried” a team. Ever. Plus, the Packers DEFENSE was extremely underrated this past year.

      • equals91

        It was good for about 10th best. Reality is Packer fans have watched trash for so long that a 10th best defense feels like it’s elite.

        • Jason

          Having a top 10 defense out of 32 teams is pretty darn good. What is your point?

          • equals91

            That it wasn’t really underrated at all. It was good, everyone knew it was good.

            If anything the offense was underrated. People act like it was trash when it was really at least average or a little better.

            Rodgers has carried the Packers since 2011 about as hard as any player in the NFL can carry a team also.

      • Lunky

        totally disagree, the Packers go as Rodgers goes and he can’t go without protection.

    • ZD

      Other than ILB and TE, where are the Packers bare?

      QB – check
      RB – questionable I guess, depends how you feel about Lacy getting back to the form he showed for 2 years or last year’s version
      WR – I don’t think Packers are bare here with Jordy Nelson. If you remove the #1 WR from almost any team, the group is not going to look good. With Jordy back, Cobb moves to #2 and you can have Adams, Montgomery, Abbredaris, and Janis duke it out for the rest of the spots. They all have game experience at this point. That more game experience than most WR groups could say.
      TE – Definitely bare
      Oline – Bare at depth, but good starting unit. The worst games were a result of injuries to the tackles, though it looks like Tretter might be a viable backup tackle

      On offense, I really only think TE is bare.

      Dline – this depends on offseason. Bare if Packers don’t resign anyone. Fine if they do.
      Oline – Lots of OLB on the team and resign opportunities
      ILB – Definitely bare
      Secondary – Tons of depth, way more than most teams. Let go of 2 guys last offseason and managed to improve

      Still just one group that is obviously bare.

      Rodgers had his worst season and the WR’s were terrible and yet the Packers won 10 games and a playoff game. I don’t think a bare roster gets those results.

      • equals91

        Exactly. WR1 goes down, outside receivers in his place are both bad all season. The elite RB is out of shape and plays just okay all season, and you’re still an OT loss from the NFC championship.

        If Rodgers is healthy it’s pretty hard to imagine another season without 11+ wins, given that they play the AFC south and NFC East.

    • equals91

      Not seeing this. They should go into 2016 as one of the top 3 in the NFC again short of an injury to an elite player.

      – QB
      – WR 1
      – G1
      – G2
      – DE

      Very Good:
      – SS
      – FS
      – CB 1
      – OLB
      – slot WR

      – C
      – C 2 / G 3
      – LT
      – RT
      – OLB 2
      – CB 2
      – CB 3
      – DE 2
      – RB 1 (could be very good or elite if in shape)

      – WR 3
      – TE 1
      – NT 2
      – FS/SS 2
      – CB 4
      – OLB 3
      – G
      – ILB 1
      – QB2

      – ILB 2
      – ILB 3
      – WR 4
      – TE 2
      – LT 2
      – RT 2
      – RB 2

      This is before counting any free agents re-signed, any draft picks, or any FA addition (realistically 1 max).

    • SeattleSteve

      Odd, Rodgers did nothing against my Seahawks and his team dominated for 50+ minutes against a loaded squad that should of won the Superbowl (Stupid pass!). That team didn’t look weak when they almost beat the Patriots with Matt Flynn in at QB. The whole “He carries them, it’s an awful team!” myth kind of annoys me.

      • Corey

        Well, he was playing on a bad calf. Couldn’t really move very well, and that’s a big part of his game.

  • Justin

    Great article man. I’m glad someone finally acknowledged that we need another pass rusher. Peppers is likely to come back but at age 36 he’ll see reduced snaps which means we’ll need another great pass rusher at DE on the left side to pair with CM3 and Mike Daniels. One option that no one is talking about is Mario Williams, the Bills plan to cut him and if they do then Ted should jump to sign him. He’ll come at a cheaper price and will make a huge impact. Another option is Malik Jackson, having either will allow Peppers to drop back in coverage more where he has proven to be effective. In terms of inside linebacker I think picking up Demario Davis in the second or third wave of FA would be good for us as well and he should come fairly cheap.

  • disqus_4W6glc6T7B

    Fackrell won’t be a late round pick, he’s a 1st-3rd rounder, no later. Schobert probably 4th-6th.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Was it just a coincidence that the season started to unravel for Green Bay right after Rodgers made his public proclamation that “God was a Packer fan”?

    • Nate Buchner


    • Cris

      Rodgers did that in Week 2, they started 6-0. So I would say it had nothing to do with it.

  • Marko

    The offensive tackles need a dramatic upgrade, especially if they continue not to get help in the Packer protection schemes. They have consistently graded at the bottom of the league. Rodgers needs far better protection

  • Isit5pmyet

    Danny Trevathan, lardaruis green and trade what you need to to go up and get noah spence.