It doesn’t seem long ago that the Packers were a favorite in the NFC. I made wagers on the team’s record back in August, thinking there was no conceivable way they’d win less than 10. That hope flew by the wayside awful quick, and they’ve now secured their worst record with Aaron Rodgers under center since 2008 and ended with an absolute dud against Detroit. Of the nine losses, six were by a single score, and the tie should’ve been a win. Point being, a few changes and they could be back to respectability next year. If the offense can be one score better per game and the special teams play gets cleaned up they could be back to a 10+ win team. Of course that entails Aaron Rodgers playing like the quarterback we’ve come to know and not the shell of himself he was at many times in 2018. They’ll of course need to add a capable head coach and make some wise moves in the draft. They’ll also need to use free agency wisely. With more cap space than they’ve had in recent memory, there are plenty of players that they’ll be in conversation for.
As things stand, the Packers are set to have roughly $37 million in cap space to sign free agents, and they could free up more with a few cuts. The players who could be looking at outright releases or contract restructures are primarily Jimmy Graham, Nick Perry, Bryan Bulaga, and Mason Crosby. Cutting those four players would free up a collective $19 million, though replacing the four of them with equal value for just $19 million could be quite difficult. The primary positions of need for the team are offensive line, outside linebacker, safety and tight end, though a few signings to shore up the defensive line, inside linebacker position, or wideout group wouldn’t be terrible. Here’s a few names to consider and keep an eye on.
Jadeveon Clowney – Age in 2019: 26
Clowney would be a dream signing for Green Bay this offseason. The former No. 1 overall pick is entering the prime years of his career and will be at peak age for the duration of his next contract. While he hasn’t been the defensive player of the year caliber player he was pegged as in the draft, he’s compiled 18.5 sacks the past two seasons combined and has the size and speed to play both outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or defensive end in a 4-3. The only problem with Clowney will be getting him out of Houston. The team wants him back and the Packers will likely have to pay good money to get him. Khalil Mack set the market for outside linebackers by signing a $23 million per year deal with Chicago early in the year. Clowney won’t get near that number, but he’ll get paid well. A more realistic figure is the deal Clay Matthews is coming off of, one that averaged $13 million per year. Houston currently is slated to have much more cap space than Green Bay, so the price may rise closer to $15 or $16 million. Whether Brian Gutekunst will fork over that kind of money remains to be seen, but it would be a prime time addition to the team.
Dee Ford – Age in 2019: 28
Ford was drafted in the same class as Clowny and is in a similar boat. He had an injury shortened 2017 season, but has averaged 11 sacks over his last two healthy campaigns, including 12 sacks in 2018. He’s likely looking at a similar contract to that of Clowney. The Chiefs are also looking at about $40 million in cap space and won’t likely be keen on one of their best defensive players leaving. If Gutekunst wants to shoot for the moon and add a key defender, Ford and Clowny are two of his best bets.
Other OLBs to consider:
Za’Darius Smith – Age in 2019: 27 – 8.5 sacks in 2018
Clay Matthews – Age in 2019: 33 – Some people don’t like him in Green Bay, but Matthews on a cheap deal is far from the worst for the Packers
Shane Ray – Age in 2019: 26
Tyrann Mathieu – Age in 2019: 27
Why the Cardinals cut Mathieu last offseason is anybody’s guess. He signed a one year, $7 million contract with Houston and went on to have another solid season as a Texan. The safety market dried up a bit last season, but the Packers struggles at the position should make them keen to buy at the position. An offer of $18 to $12 million per year could be enough to entice Mathieu to come to Green Bay, where he’d instantly become the top safety and one of the top defenders overall.
Landon Collins – Age in 2019: 25
Collins was the safety partner of Haha Clinton-Dix for a time at Alabama. The young defender has had a down year in 2018, but at his peak he’s one of the best safeties in football. He may end up pricing the safety market this offseason given the promise he’s shown for the Giants the past four years and his age. A long-term deal averaging out at $8 to $12 million isn’t out of the ballpark, though the down year this year may drop the price. Again, Brian Gutekunst should at the very least be in on the conversation if Collins doesn’t re-sign with the Giants.
Earl Thomas – Age in 2019: 30
Thomas was in the headlines early in the year while he tried to orchestrate a trade or a new contract from Seattle. When healthy, he’s one of the best safeties in the NFL. He’s a smart, fast, hard-hitting ball hawk and would be a tremendous add for the Packers. There’s some concern over his injury (broken leg) and his age, but safeties traditionally can play well into their early 30s and Thomas likely has at least a few good seasons left in him. He may be the highest priced free agent this offseason, as he has the pedigree to get paid and the track record of fighting for a sizeable offer. It may take making him one of the highest paid safeties in the NFL to reel him in, putting his mark around $12 or $13 million per year on average.
Other Safeties to consider:
Eric Reid – Age in 2019: 27
Kenny Vaccaro – Age in 2019: 28
George Iloka – Age in 2019: 29
Mike Iupati – G – Age in 2019: 33
The oldest player on this list, Iupati is coming off a 2018 season for the Cardinals that’s seen him end on IR. After refusing to address the guard position in the 2018 offseasons, the Packers struggled big time. Iupati would bring experience to the group and would likely be cheaper than some other options, coming in between $5 and $7 million per year. Regardless of who it is, the team needs quality players along the right side of the line, primarily at guard. The tackle position is only a concern because of Bryan Bulaga’s injury history. Gutekunst should at the very least look into a deal for Iupati.
There aren’t many marquee guards this offseason, but here’s a few in the vein as Iupati:
Matt Slauson – Age in 2019: 33
Tom Compton – Age in 2019: 30
Chance Warmack – Age in 2019: 28
DJ Fluker – Age in 2019: 29
Jared Cook – TE – Age in 2019: 32
Brian Gutekunst has a chance to overturn a terrible decision by Ted Thompson to let Cook walk two years ago. Cook just set career-highs in Catches (65), yards (868), and touchdowns (6) in 2018 with the Raiders (not including his Week 17 numbers) and could be great again with the Packers. A swap of Graham for Cook would be a huge plus for the Packers.
Tyler Eifert – TE – Age in 2019: 29
Eifert burst onto the scene with 13 touchdowns in 2015 but he hasn’t been able to equal that production ever since, playing just 14 games over three injury riddled seasons. If he parts ways with Cincinnati he could be a cheaper option at tight end and have high upside. He’s likely looking at a contract in the range of $5 to $7 million a year on a short term deal given his injuries.
There are far more deals for the Packers to consider, but a few of these players at couple positions could radically change the team’s prospects and set them up for a rebound in 2019. This is of course still early, and there’ll be a clearer free agent picture as players re-sign with their current teams and the free agency period approaches. At the very least, there’s reason to be hopeful that things turn around, starting with the first day of the 2019 league year on March 13th.