The Green Bay Packers finished the 2020 NFL season with a 13-3 record, and their season ended in the NFC Championship Game for the second season in a row. After releasing defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga, the Packers hired Joe Barry and Maurice Drayton to be the new defensive and special teams coordinators respectively.
The Packers have already begun their offseason process by releasing Christian Kirksey and Rick Wagner. With needs on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, Green Bay will have their hands full between the start of the league year on March 15 and the first week of training camp.
Pending Free Agents
The Packers currently are 11 million dollars over the projected cap. Although the cap is still a projection, Green Bay has some work to do. 14 unrestricted free agents will force Brian Gutekunst to make some key decisions about the future of the franchise. Aaron Jones and Corey Linsley highlight a free-agent class that played a large role in the 2020 season for the Packers.
Aaron Jones, RB
Jones has produced 3,017 total yards of offense over the last two seasons and 30 total touchdowns. These marks rank fifth and second in the NFL respectively, and Jones has been paramount to the success of a dynamic Green Bay offense under Matt LaFleur. Unfortunately, paying top-tier running backs is expensive in the NFL, and Jones will be commanding a contract with an average annual value similar to that of Dalvin Cook ($12.6M) or Alvin Kamara ($15M). With AJ Dillon waiting in the wings, the likelihood of Jones remaining a Packer in 2021 is slim. Given the success of undrafted running backs like James Robinson, it is possible for Green Bay to succeed in the running game without a top-paid talent in the backfield.
Linsley has been the Packers’ starting center for the last seven years, and Linsley was the top-rated center in the NFL last year. Yes, the Packers have decent depth at offensive line, and yes Elgton Jenkins started his last 26 games in college at center. Even with the ability to lose Linsley and still produce a quality offensive line, he should be the priority in Green Bay this off-season. Protecting Aaron Rodgers should be the Packers’ top priority, and that protection begins with Linsley. Additionally, re-signing Linsley would allow the Packers to utilize an “undervalued” running back and save money by letting Jones walk.
Robert Tonyan, TE (RFA)
Tonyan had the second-best season for a tight end in 2020, only behind the NFL’s leading receiver Travis Kelce. Tonyan exploded onto the scene in Week 3 against the Atlanta Falcons and seemed to always be wide open when Rodgers needed him most. Although Tonyan was extremely productive last year, the Packers can retain enormous value by playing this situation well. By placing a second-round tender on Tonyan, the Packers can either bring Tonyan back for a modest $3.2M or let him walk if a team decides to provide Tonyan with a lucrative offer. The cap-laden Packers would then receive a valuable and cheap second-round pick in return. With talented targets in Jace Sternberger and Josiah Deguara, Green Bay can afford to lose Tonyan more than they can afford to pay him.
Kevin King, CB
After the NFC Championship Game, most Packers’ fans want King to be out the door before the 2021 season begins. And while that is likely to happen, there is a case for King returning. He was the 99th ranked corner in the NFL, and by all measures, King was not a number two NFL corner. However, the Packers lack proven skill at the defensive back position, and they also lack promising depth. Unless Green Bay places immense draft or free agent capital into the defensive back position, they may be forced into bringing King back on a prove-it deal.
Marcedes Lewis, TE
Not only is Lewis one of Rodgers’ best friends, but he is one of the top blocking tight ends in the NFL. The Packers thrived in two tight-end sets last season, and the running game benefits tremendously when Lewis is on the field. There will not be high demand for Lewis in free agency, and he should want to return to Green Bay for another run at a title. Expect Lewis to return to the green and gold in 2021.
Potential Cap Casualties
The Packers are down $11M and need to clear cap space. There may be restructuring in the future for Rodgers, but for now, the focus will be clearing money by releasing players and making basic roster moves.
Preston Smith, EDGE (12M Post-June 1)
Smith is no longer worth the $12M cap hit that will be on the Packers’ books. Smith was a part of the dynamic edge rushers that drastically improved the Green Bay defense in 2019. Unfortunately, his extra step was lost in 2020 and the Packers defense suffered because of that. Due to the emergence of Rashan Gary, Green Bay can replace Smith with a much cheaper option, and use the money to improve holes in other areas of their defense.
Dean Lowry, DL (4.8M Post-June 1)
The Packers rushing defense struggled mightily in the first half of the season, and Lowry was one of the reasons why. Green Bay’s statistics were serviceable in the second half of the season, but given the average nature of the Packers’ run defense, there is no inherent reason to keep Lowry around in 2021. This is an expected cut for most Packers fans and analysts, and it would be a wise move towards upgrading their defensive line.
Devin Funchess, WR (1.2M Pre-June 1)
Funchess was supposed to be one of the weapons to save Rodgers last season, but the veteran wide receiver opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. There is little reason for the Packers to keep Funchess around after he essentially missed the entire last two seasons with Indianapolis and then Green Bay.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
The Packers need additional offensive line depth, defensive line help, and a plethora of defensive backs. The most likely route is for Green Bay to address the offensive line through the draft, and target some cheaper veteran help at other positions. With that in mind, here are a few potential targets for the Packers this offseason.
Josh Norman, DB, Buffalo Bills
Norman was the 17th ranked corner in the NFL last season, so he should garner some attention. Thankfully, with Norman being 33 years old he will not receive a long-term deal from anyone in free agency. Green Bay can offer a one-year, incentive-laden deal to Norman for 2021. With the chance to pair with Jaire Alexander and compete for a championship, Norman should take a look at Green Bay as a landing spot.
James White, RB, New England Patriots
Jones will be leaving, and the Packers need a speedy receiving back to compliment Dillon. White’s 49 receptions would be an amazing addition to the Green Bay backfield. Having Dillon as a power back on first and second down, then transitioning to White as the third-down back would open up some amazing dimensions to the Packers offense.
Marquise Goodwin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Goodwin had his last impressive season in 2017, so this deal would be a prove-it deal. Ideally, with Funchess being cut, Goodwin could come in and be the fourth option to begin the 2021 season. Behind Adams, Lazard, and Valdes-Scantling, Goodwin could provide additional depth for Rodgers and the Packers’ offense. Even providing the 395 yards he produced in 2018 with San Francisco would be a fantastic fourth option for the Packers.
K.J. Wright, ILB, Seattle Seahawks
Wright’s production fell off in 2020. For the first time playing a full season in his career, Wright fell below the 100-tackle mark. With the Seahawks struggling financially and dealing with internal issues relating to Russell Wilson, he may not be returning to Seattle. Wright should be expecting around $7M in free agency, a price that Green Bay could afford if they were to cut Preston Smith.
Willie Snead, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Take the reasoning applied to Goodwin and apply it directly to Snead. Add on much more reliability and the Packers could have a reliable slot receiver to pair with over 1,000 yards already produced from Green Bay receivers out of the slot. Snead’s ceiling would be the 90 receptions and 900 yards in his first two years with Drew Brees, but realistically Snead would give Green Bay about 400-500 yards if fully healthy and used correctly.
Previewing the Draft
The Packers have plenty of areas of need. Their focus should be on the offensive line, but Green Bay has had success in the past drafting later-round offensive lineman. Unless an elite prospect falls to 29, expect a similarly basic move at linebacker or on the defensive line. Wide receiver and defensive back are also needs, but those can also be addressed well through veteran free agency moves.
Round 1, Pick 29: Zaven Collins, LB
The Packers need help at linebacker, and they need help badly. With Kirksey now off the roster, the Packers lack depth and talent. Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin both have potential, but the run defense proves there is significant room for improvement. Collins is a highly-regarded linebacker prospect that can provide immediate relief in the middle of the field. Here is our scouting report on Collins.
Round 2, Pick 62: Jaylen Mayfield, T
The Packers need a versatile offensive lineman in case Elgton Jenkins, their current swiss army knife, is forced to play center full-time in 2021. Mayfield is a versatile prospect that can play tackle at a high level, and has experience playing interior line as well. With David Bakhtiari possibly needing to miss time to start the next season, the offensive line depth will be paramount to keeping Rodgers happy and healthy. Here is our scouting report on Mayfield.
Round 3, Pick 92: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR
The Packers have always done well drafting wide receivers in the second and third rounds. Although there may be confusion with Equanimeous St. Brown and Amon-Ra St. Brown being on the same team, the younger brother would bring the same qualities of an Allen Lazard-type receiver to Green Bay. The USC receiver has been praised as an incredible blocker, and has a knack for finding the end zone with a Pac-12 leading seven touchdowns in 2020. Here is our scouting report on St. Brown.
Early 2021 Expectations
The Green Bay Packers should be the NFC North Champions again in 2021. With the state of the division, Green Bay will again be title contenders. After two consecutive NFC Championship Game losses, the Packers should go all-in even further to push their reigning MVP quarterback to the Super Bowl. With the possibility of Rodgers leaving Green Bay in 2022, this may be their last shot at a title with Rodgers under center.
Follow MJ Hurley on Twitter @Mjhurleysports
Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images