The Packers have a tough offseason coming up.
Their cap was already tight, they had to extend All World Left Tackle David Bakhtiari (aka the most expensive offensive lineman of all time), and now the salary cap may shrink amid looming profit shortfalls due to the pandemic.
Not only are they almost certain to be unable to re-sign stud Pro Bowler Aaron Jones and All Pro Corey Linsley, they may have to cut veteran starters like Preston Smith and Christian Kirksey just to get under the cap. Nevermind potentially losing vets like Marcedes Lewis.
So is this it? Are the Packers sunk?
Well, they would be if they were run by a lot of the short-term thinking GMs in the league. Luckliy, the Packers unique (and superior) ownership structure allows their leaders to look ahead and plan long-term instead of making ridiculous short-term moves like – for example – trading a ton of 1st round picks for an edge rusher to try to carry your terrible quarterback who you traded up from #3 overall to select at #2 overall.
The Packers aren’t like that. They thought ahead. They have plans in place for pretty much all their potential losses in what promises to be a very challenging offseason.
Let’s look at the biggest ones.
Corey Linsley – It’s tough to replace an All Pro. Luckily, the center position is easier to replace than, say quarterback or left tackle. When Linsley was out this year, Elgton Jenkins – looking like a superstar at every position on the line – filled in like a boss. If the Packers choose to slide him over, they could move Jon Runyan into his vacated left guard position. If they wanted to keep Jenkins at his guard slot, veteran Lucas Patrick could get a shot at center or see competition from 2020 draft picks Jake Hanson or Simon Stepaniak. In this case, the Packers have options as well as versatility.
Aaron Jones and Jamall Williams – Aaron Jones is a Pro Bowl dynamo and Jamaal Williams is a steady runner, great pass blocker, and fantastic receiver. Both could be gone this offseason when a tight cap makes re-singing players difficult. Luckily, the Packers thought ahead last year and drafted AJ Dillon. In limited reps this year, Dillon flashed skills that made him worthy of a high pick, averaging over 5 yards per carry and showing the ability to absolutely punish defenders with his running style. The Packers also re-signed 2019 draft pick Dexter Williams to add depth.
Preston Smith – While still technically under contract, Preston Smith – with a $16M cap number and declining productivity – could become a cap casualty. And wouldn’t you know it, this was the year that 2019 lottery pick Rashan Gary proved doubters wrong and showed he can be a full time starter. The Packers could potentially get better on the whole if Gary replaced Smith in the lineup.
Marcedes Lewis – The veteran tight end turns 37 this offseason and, even at the veteran minimum, the 15 year vet may prove too costly to bring back. A punishing blocker, his role could be filled by Josiah Deguara, the 2020 draft pick who flashed mobile blocking skills early before getting injured for the season.
Christian Kirksey – Another solid, but underwhelming, vet who may be cut to free up cap space. Kirksey played the end of the year next to UDFA Krys Barnes, who looked like the future of the position. Kamal Martin, who looked strong in camp and produced in games when he wasn’t hurt, is another option to man the middle. Together, they can be a formidable duo when they aren’t in sub packages.
Kevin King – One of the most polarizing Packers players of the last decade, King, a solid starter at a premium position, almost certainly will be priced out of the Packers range. While the Packers technically have players like Chandon Sullivan, Josh Jackson, and Ka’dar Hollman already on the roster, those guys would probably represent a steep decline from King (regardless of what you see on social media). This is the one hole the Packers almost certainly need to address in the draft. But having one hole to address in the draft is a pretty good position to be in.
In all, because of smart drafting and a long-term vision, the Packers are in great shape to weather a tough offseason of losses. Unlike the Saints, who went all in, didn’t get anywhere near the Super Bowl, and are now in cap purgatory with a wide receiver as their highest-paid quarterback and no hope for winning anything any time soon.
Oh, Just One More Thing – There’s one more position on the Packers that has received a lot of speculation this offseason. Quarterback. If, for any reason (no matter how unlikely), Aaron Rodgers isn’t the Packers starter… they have Jordan Love waiting in the wings.
Kevin King represents the biggest potential hole for the Packers to fill in the upcoming draft, but it’s not as simple as just drafting a cornerback in the first round and plugging them in. There’s so much more to draft strategy than that!
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