The Packers experienced a terrific offseason last year by being more aggressive in NFL free agency. General manager Brian Gutekunst’s moves to support rookie coach Matt Fleur, especially defensively, sparked the team to a 13-3 season after going 6-9-1 the year prior.
The unrelated “Smith Brothers” were a sensation, as both Z’Darius and Preston delivered as massive edge-rush signings and locker-room leaders. Adrian Amos and rookie first-rounder Darnell Savage made safety a strength, too. Gutekunst also hit on second-round guard Elgton Jenkins, and both first-round linebacker Rashan Gary and fourth-round tight end Jace Sternberger are in line to be much bigger contributors in 2020.
Now the Packers need a strong encore of personnel moves to maintain their edge in the NFC North and remain in the mix for a conference title. Sporting News takes a deep dive into the Packers’ to-do list through NFL free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft.
NFL FREE AGENCY 2020: Ranking top 50 players
Packers’ top priority: Help Aaron Rodgers more
Rodgers had one of the signature lines early in the Packers’ turnaround last season: “We’ve got a defense.”
Reinforcing that side of the ball for coordinator Mike Pettine gave Green Bay a strong foundation, taking major pressure off Rodgers and allowing the team to have a more prolific complementary rushing attack led by Aaron Jones. Now it’s Rodgers’ turn to receive some help.
Although a healthy Sternberger and an improved Allen Lazard can boost the receiving corps away from Davante Adams, Rodgers doesn’t have enough reliable non-running back targets. The Packers need to settle on a bona fide No. 2 and a top slot option, especially with Geronmio Allison going into free agency.
Rodgers has David Bakhtiari still protecting his blind side at left tackle, but right tackle is a concern with aging Bryan Bulaga (soon to be 31) going into free agency along with swing backup Jason Spriggs and veteran reserve Jared Veldheer (33).
There is some outside noise that the clock is ticking on the 36-year-old Rodgers’ career, when in reality, in the current NFL landscape, he has several high-quality years left. He has had a couple off years because of limited support, but last year restored confidence that the window for him to get a Super Bowl ring has been reopened. Now it’s time to help put him back over the top.
Packers free agents 2020
Here’s a look at the Packers’ key unrestricted, unsigned players for next season:
While the Packers weigh how to address wide receiver and offensive tackle, they have concerns between and behind the Smiths. Gary is a bit of a wild card in terms of whether he fits best inside or outside. Martinez has been solid and productive, which should get him a big deal on the open market, but the Packers won’t splurge on him.
The depth will need to be replenished everywhere else in the back seven.
Packers salary cap space
The Packers are limited with about $20 million left under the cap, putting them in the bottom 10 in the NFL.
The easiest targets to cut and create more cap space, thanks to Sternberger and Jenkins, are tight end Jimmy Graham ($8 million) and guard Lane Taylor ($4 million).
Packers team needs
Packers free agent targets
Green Bay won’t be able to go nuts in free agency again this year, but Gutekunst can still make some effective bargain moves. If there’s a big splash, however, it could be either tackle Jack Conkin or tight end Austin Hooper.
At wide receiver, viable cheaper targets are Rashard Higgins (younger but a bit unproven) and Emmanuel Sanders (established but older). For right tackle, Darryl Williams is a potential replacement. At defensive end, they can take a 3-4 reclamation shot at Derek Wolfe.
To help at defensive back, Brian Poole and Mackensie Alexander have some nickel appeal in relation to the budget.
Packers draft picks 2020
NFL MOCK DRAFT 2020:
Packers get stronger with a defensive playmaker
The Packers are not expected to receive any compensatory picks, but it’s impressive how Gutekunst still has nine selections even though four come in the final two rounds.
In the first round, wide receiver, linebacker and offensive tackle should all get consideration, because the best player available at that point can line up nicely. It might be wise for Green Bay to try again with multiple wideouts in the draft despite the limited returns when Gutekunst took three in his first draft as GM in 2018. There’s a drop-off at linebacker after Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray and LSU’s Patrick Queen, so either would be a nice strike to top the draft. Tackle, like wideout, features more high-quality depth in this class.
Receivers who would fit nicely with the Packers in various capacities are Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr., Baylor’s Denzel Mims, Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk and Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool. At tackle, Washington’s Trey Adams and TCU’s Lucas Niang are good non-first round considerations.
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