the Green Bay Packers are finally opening up their checkbook in free agency. No, they aren’t throwing around record-setting offers, but after years of Ted Thompson focusing all efforts on internal development and drafting, Brian Gutekunst has opened up Lambeau Field to free agents.
While the quarterback moves and big-money offensive linemen signings have made headlines, the Packers have very quietly added two former Pro Bowlers to their roster and changed the way teams will have to approach them in 2018.
Bye-bye Jordy, hello Jimmy
Jordy Nelson is a Packers icon. His 550 catches are third in franchise history, his 69 touchdowns are second. In three seasons from 2013 to 2016 he posted a ridiculous 280 catches, 4,090 yards, and 35 touchdowns all while fitting a torn ACL in that cost him the 2015 season.
But, approaching 33 and after struggling to create separation last year the Packers decided to save $11 million on their cap by cutting him. Now, you can’t just get rid of Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target without replacing him, and deep down what does every quarterback really want? That’s right, a massive tight end who can out-jump everyone. Cue Jimmy Graham.
The former All-Pro hasn’t been as wildly productive as hoped since moving to Seattle, but it is clear he is still a threat, especially in the red zone, where Green Bay have been relatively disappointing in recent years.
Adding Graham to the threats of Davante Adams and Randall Cobb is only going to give opposing defenses some impossible choices to make. If you send help to the outside over Adams then you leave yourself shorthanded over the middle against Graham. If you keep two safeties high to defend the deep field you leave open underneath routes for Cobb and running lanes for Rodgers.
The Packers offense has always been tough to defend with Rodgers under center, but in 2018 it is set to be even trickier for defensive coordinators to slow down.
Bringing the heat
The Packers pass defense has not been great in recent years. It has been a systemic problem due to both an inconsistent pass rush and a poor secondary. While adding cornerback talent takes a lot of investment, giving a player a second chance does not.
In June 2016 the New York Jets sign Muhammad Wilkerson to a five-year, $86 million contract extension with $53 million in guaranteed money. It seemed like a good investment after five years of stellar play that included 36.5 sacks and two second-team All-Pro appearances.
Unfortunately for them, Wilkerson’s effort levels and drive to maintain a high level of production dried up as his bank balance grew. Over the last two years he has averaged just four sacks. The All-Pro performances disappeared, and after suspending him for the final game of the 2017 season the Jets released him from his mammoth contract to clear cap space.
So what did the Packers do? Scoop him up on a one-year, $5 million deal that offers Wilkerson a path back to the big time. Wilkerson at his best is a space-eating run stuffer that can also rush the passer with authority. Pairing him with Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark could give the Packers one of the best inside pass rushes this side of the LA Rams and Houston Texans.
Improving the pass rush naturally helps the secondary as quarterbacks have to get the ball out quicker, and by improving the interior rush rather than the outside the quarterback will have difficulty stepping up and maintaining accuracy.
With two small additions the Packers have completed altered their team for 2018. They were always going to be a power in the NFC with their quarterback, but now they could be a true force. Don’t sleep on Green Bay.
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