The Packers returned to the playoffs in 2019. A few more tweaks could get Aaron Rodgers back to the Super Bowl.
A year ago, general manager Brian Gutekunst swung hard in free agency, spending more in two hours than Green Bay had in the prior eight years on veteran talent from other teams. It mostly worked out, as Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith helped overhaul the defense. That took the pressure off Rodgers, who didn’t have his typical high-impact season in his age-35 season. The Packers haven’t been nearly as active through the 2020 free agent period — this time losing more than they’ve taken in.
Green Bay Packers (13-3), lost in NFC Championship Game
Rodgers suffered through a down year in 2019, despite his team’s success. Is he finally becoming mortal, or was that slight regression the product of an underwhelming cast of targets? Gutekunst’s priority will be to figure out if a better group of receivers can restore Rodgers to MVP status.
Before free agency:
- Wide receiver: Davante Adams was great in 2019, but he had little established support. Though Allen Lazard showed signs of life, Geronimo Allison has languished in free agency and the combination of Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling leaves plenty of room for improvement.
- Linebacker: Blake Martinez had 155 tackles in 2019, but his average stop came nearly five yards downfield. Green Bay needs an inside linebacker who can shoot gaps and upgrade the league’s 23rd-ranked rushing defense.
- Offensive tackle: Right tackle Bryan Bulaga is a free agent. Left tackle David Bakhtiari will be one in 2021. Having younger reinforcements in case of injury or departure will be vital for a team that has to protect an aging Rodgers. It won’t be easy to replace either one, but it may be time for Gutekunst to craft his exit strategy, just in case.
What Acme Packing Co. wants most this offseason: On offense, Green Bay needs another dynamic athlete who can create explosive plays in the passing game opposite Adams. Devin Funchess or Allen Lazard may fill that role, but neither is a sure thing. Defensively, all eyes will be on the inside linebacker position, where Green Bay needs an upgrade from Blake Martinez. Gutekunst attacked its three biggest needs in 2019 by landing free agents and high draft picks at edge, safety, and guard. The Packers will need to add talent at these three new positions of need to remain a valid Super Bowl contender in 2020. — Tex Western
After free agency:
The Packers returned to a more low-key approach to the open market, signing lineman Ricky Wagner, receiver Devin Funchess, and linebacker Christian Kirksey. Funchess may help Rodgers, though he made it through only one start in 2019 before being lost for the season due to injury. The Packers are hoping Kirksey can be a lane-clogger so they don’t get pantsed by an undrafted free agent tailback in the playoffs again.
- Wide receiver: Is the wideout position mostly set with Adams/Lazard/Funchess at the top of the depth chart? Adding another athletic target should be a priority for Green Bay at the draft.
- Linebacker: Kirksey has played in just nine games the past two seasons, and while the Packers clearly liked what they saw from his medical records before signing him, it’s not a stretch to wonder about whether he’ll be the same uber-productive tackler he once was.
- Defensive tackle: See the above statement about that time Raheem Mostert made Green Bay look stupid.
After the draft:
Rodgers made it crystal clear he wanted Green Bay to give him another weapon. Instead, the Packers traded up to draft his potential replacement in the first round, Utah State quarterback Jordan Love. Not only that, but they didn’t end up with ANY new receivers.
It was a curious decision, even if Love has high upside. Green Bay later drafted Boston College running back AJ Dillon (second round) and Cincinnati tight end Josiah Deguara (third round), neither of which will probably help Rodgers much this year in the passing game. After that, the Packers grabbed Minnesota linebacker Kamal Martin in the fifth round, but that was their only addition at that position. They did not select a defensive tackle, either.