By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Offensive line, defensive front seven must be Gutekunst’s top priorities
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Now that first-year head coach Matt LaFleur has assembled his staff, the Packers can begin revamping the roster in free agency and the draft.
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The March 11 “legal tampering” date is fast-approaching with the signing date to follow March 13.
Between now and then, the Packers must finalize their determinations of players currently on the roster.
Based on salary and/or lack of production, the Packers should move on from Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Randall Cobb.
To do so, the Packers need to sign at least one pass rusher in free agency and select another in the draft. They also would be wise to replace Cobb with an impact free agent such as Golden Tate, and to add a veteran safety such as Earl Thomas.
This is do-able under the Packers’ salary cap.
Top pass rushers such as the Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney and the Seahawks’ Frank Clark won’t be allowed to test free agency. That doesn’t mean significant upgrades aren’t available.
Za’Darius Smith is one name to remember.
The Ravens’ outside linebacker is attractive as a replacement to Matthews. The 6-foot-4, 272-pound edge rusher had a modest 10 sacks in his first three seasons.
However, he came up big in his contract year with 8 ½ sacks in 2018. He also had 25 quarterback hits and 60 pressures on a strong Ravens’ defense.
Smith, 26, has more sacks than Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr (13 ½) since 2015.
Landing a pass rusher is critical in free agency for two reasons.
First, there is the glaring need on defense.
Second, acquiring a veteran pass rusher in free agency affords GM Brian Gutekunst a measure of flexibility in the draft. The same can be said of the safety position.
Thomas, the former Seahawks’ star, turns 30 in May. While he has been sidelined by injuries the past two seasons, it would be premature to describe him as “injury prone.” Breaking a leg qualifies as, well, a bad break.
If Thomas can run, he can play at a Pro Bowl level.
It’s that simple.
On the offensive line, the Packers should bring back right tackle Bryan Bulaga and left guard Lane Taylor for another season. Then, they should use two of their first six picks in the top 112 on offensive linemen.
Interestingly, Mel Kiper, Jr.’s most recent mock draft has the Packers selecting neither a pass rusher nor an offensive lineman in the first round. ESPN’s resident draft expert has the Packers selecting a receiver with the 12th pick and an inside linebacker with the 30th pick.
If that happens I’ll be shocked.
It’s more likely that Gutekunst will trade into the Top Ten to acquire one of a handful of high-end pass rushers. Sitting tight at No. 12 and hoping for your player of choice to fall is risky. If the Packers are going to draft a top college pass rusher there isn’t going to be a better time than now.
The 2019 draft is top-heavy with pass rushers. I doubt the Packers plan to be picking as high as 12th again any time soon.
ESPN’s Kiper has the Packers taking Oklahoma receiver Marquise Brown at No. 12. If it were Antonio Brown, rather than Marquise, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Otherwise, it’s no way.
Kiper also has the Packers selecting Michigan inside linebacker Devin Bush with the 30th pick. Bush is considered a strong tackler who can run sideline-to-sideline and make plays.
With other, much greater needs, executing the 30th pick on an inside linebacker makes little sense.
OTHER PACKERS-RELATED TOPICS
** The American Alliance of Football has been greeted by positive reviews through two weeks.
On Sunday, three former Packers made contributions for their respective AAF teams.
San Antonio’s Jayrone Elliott registered a sack and forced fumble in the third quarter of the Commanders’ 37-29 loss to Orlando Sunday. Elliott’s strip sack was recovered by another former Packers’ defender, Joey Mbu, who returned it 8 yards for a touchdown.
In the same game, Orlando’s Charles Johnson caught seven passes for 192 yards and a touchdown. Johnson was a 2013 seventh-round pick of the Packers.
** The NFL’s Super Bowl LIII commercial “The 100-Year Game” has been widely praised since its airing.
Frankly, I wasn’t impressed.
The two-minute commercial featured more than 50 current and former NFL players, as well as the league’s first female official and a highly talented teenage girl who dreams of being the first woman to play in the NFL.
For inclusiveness, I’d give the NFL an A-plus, except for one glaring omission: Where was the Packers’ presence?
How can the NFL talk about its “100-Year Game” and not mention the Packers, the Lombardi Trophy or Lambeau Field?
Packers’ fans had to stomach watching not one, not two, but THREE ex-Bears linebackers (Dick Butkus, Brian Urlacher and Mike Singletary) in the commercial’s first 27 seconds.
They also had to watch Marshawn Lynch dive into a cake to kick off the scramble for possession of a golden football.
Here’s a thought: How about LeRoy Butler doing a Lambeau Leap into the cake instead? He could’ve lateraled to any of a number of former Packers’ greats, including Charles Woodson.
Perhaps the NFL asked ex-Packers to be in the commercial – Brett Favre would’ve been nice – but they couldn’t make it. At any rate it was a ridiculous oversight by a league that owes much of its success to the little old Green Bay Packers.