By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Green Bay’s General Manager needs to be better in free agency this offseason
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The NFL moves at a brisk pace – this year’s Super Bowl halftime show notwithstanding – and the Packers need to be quick and correct to win the NFC North.
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NFL experts put the Packers approximately $50 million beneath this year’s salary cap. That’s enough room in free agency to acquire two impact-ready veterans before the NFL draft.
That’s significant ammo, especially factoring in the Packers’ six selections among the draft’s first 112 picks.
The Packers have the means to forge a winner, perhaps a champion, between now and the regular season. That task begins in earnest with free agency on Wednesday, March 13.
Big name talents such as the Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney figure to be tagged/re-signed before they hit the open market.
However, there are several quality veterans who should be within Green Bay’s grasp in free agency. Here’s my wish list:
** No. 1 choice – The offense’s rebirth will be twofold. The first step is free agency, where I would love the Packers to add an adept slot receiver. The ideal free agent would be adroit at getting open, a legit threat after the catch, and most of a gifted ball catcher.
My top choice at receiver would be Golden Tate, III, whom I’ve admired from afar for years.
Tate, 30, played in a disappointing 10 games at Philadelphia this past season. He was hampered by nagging injuries, a factor the Packers must consider in finding Randall Cobb’s replacement. However, when Tate was healthy he was mega-productive.
Tate, 5-10, 197, has been among the NFL’s best the past few seasons in forcing missed tackles and YAC (yards after the catch), both qualities that suggest big success in Green Bay.
The other free agent addition would be a blast from the past, tight end Jared Cook.
The speedy veteran had a nice rapport with Aaron Rodgers. They combined on some of Rodgers’ all-time greatest connections despite Cook’s lingering injury issues.
A Tate-Cook infusion on offense would be dynamic to team with Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jimmy Graham (presuming he returns), Geronimo Allison, Equanimeous St. Brown, Ja’Mon Moore and the rest.
GM Brian Gutekunst should consider acquiring Cook regardless of the team’s interest in keeping Graham. Frankly, I believe there’s enough room for both tight ends in new head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense. Together, Cook and Graham could stretch the field and do enough blocking in the run game to be effective.
Meantime, Tate would be an immediate upgrade over Cobb, and he would be in the same ballpark salary-wise.
Here’s an added bonus: The Packers still would have room to add a quality veteran free agent in addition to Tate and Cook.
If the Packers somehow signed Tate, Cook AND a safety such as Earl Thomas or Lamarcus Joyner it would be incredible.
** No. 2 choice – A big-time pass rusher such as ex-Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr, who would eat up cap space and opposing quarterbacks with equal enthusiasm.
Barr, just 26, is an imposing 6-5, 255 edge rusher. Interestingly, the Vikings didn’t ask Barr to rush the passer nearly as much as they should have, which does more to explain his 13 ½ career sacks since 2014 than any perceived lack of ability.
Barr is a beast.
He would immediately upgrade the Packers’ defense.
A Tate-Barr one-two free agency punch would be terrific.
In defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme, Barr could flourish opposite Nick Perry – if he can manage to stay healthy – with Kyler Fackrell and a high draft pick backing them up.
Meantime, Tate would give the offense an instant boost.
** No. 3 choice – The downside of choices #1 and #2 is that neither addresses the glaring need at safety.
Perhaps the Packers could add Barr, Tate and a safety. In that scenario, a veteran such as Earl Thomas is intriguing. If Green Bay believes Josh Jones warrants more snaps, it could bring in a veteran such as Thomas to be a steadying influence.
Another option at safety might be the ex-Giants’ Landon Collins, who is more suited to playing near the line than on the back end of a defense. Although aligned anywhere he represents an upgrade at safety for Green Bay.
The Bears’ Adrian Amos could be an option in part due to the double-whammy effect. In this case Chicago’s loss would be Green Bay’s gain because Amos is an above-average player.
In other words, he’s an upgrade over Green Bay’s current crew.
Offensively, my curiosity is piqued by the Cowboys’ Cole Beasley, who would be an adequate second-choice to Tate. Beasley is reliable, gets open in the slot, and doesn’t wilt in the game’s biggest moments. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of shedding Cobb and adding Tate and Beasley. Give Rodgers reliable, proven weapons sprinkled amongst game-breaking youngsters (see Valdes-Scantling).
Packers’ fans should be emboldened by Gutekunst’s record in free agency. He didn’t hesitate to bring in Mo Wilkerson, Jimmy Graham or Tramon Williams.
I like that Gutekunst said he’d be vigilante in free agency and then went out and signed players. Further, I doubt he’ll be the type of GM who counts re-signings the same as new signings.
The Packers need to make key upgrades at numerous positions. That’s not easily done in two or three seasons, let alone one offseason. Then again, few teams have a quarterback like Rodgers, and few teams came within a whisker of beating the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots in New England (tied 17-17 entering the fourth quarter in a 31-17 loss) and at Los Angeles (a 29-27 loss that was close throughout).
The Packers aren’t that far away, especially if they add a pass rusher and a couple of offensive linemen in the draft.
With that in mind, the refurbishing begins March 13.