Packers Free Agency: 3 Players Connected to the New Coaching Staff
Now in his second offseason as Packers general manager, Brian Gutekunst has overseen significant change so far.
First, he overhauled the team’s roster. Gutekunst’s most dramatic move might have been releasing fourth-round pick Vince Biegel after an injury-plagued rookie year. Biegel’s departure was a sign of things to come, as the bottom-half of the Packers’ roster and the practice squad seemed to turn over on a weekly basis – a stark change from the end of Ted Thompson’s tenure.
Second, he oversaw the hiring of a new coaching staff. Green Bay fired their second-longest tenured coach in franchise history, Mike McCarthy, and jettisoned all but six of his assistants.
The 2019 offseason may very well be the marker where the team began to significantly change – for better or worse. Gutekunst has devoted significant energy to free agency, and the influx of new coaches and front office executive Milt Hendrickson certainly adds fresh perspectives.
With free agency near, what players have connections to the organization? And might any of them be a good fit for the Packers?
SS Johnathan Cyprien
Drafted 33rd overall by the Jaguars in 2013, Cyprien played four years with Jacksonville before signing a four-year, $25 million contract with the Tennessee Titans in March 2017. After missing six games his first season in Tennessee – two more games than he had missed in his career while in Jacksonville – the safety tore his ACL in early August 2018.
The Titans released Cyprien in early March, and have expressed interest in bringing the veteran back if the price is right. New Packers head coach Matt LaFleur was with the Titans last season, while offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was with Cyprien in Jacksonville during the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
Initially expected to be a mid- to late-round pick, Cyprien soared up draft boards after a strong performance at the combine. Agent Drew Rosenhaus said it was “the greatest draft rise that I’ve seen of any of my clients in my 25-year career.”
Jacksonville preferred to play Cyprien close to the line of scrimmage. He earned a reputation as one of the best run-defending safeties in the league, but struggled at times as a tackler. Local reports cite Cyprien missed as many as 21 tackles in 2015.
The safety will be 29 by the start of the regular season, and has just two career interceptions. By the start of the regular season, it will have been nearly 1,000 days since he last caused a turnover.
RB Tevin Coleman
A common refrain when LaFleur or Gutekunst has met with the media this offseason has been the team’s renewed commitment to the running game. Falcons running back Tevin Coleman may be one of the league’s best backs on a play Green Bay expects to use more next season, the outside zone.
“[The Falcons] run that wide-zone play well,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said in 2016, when Matt LaFleur was Atlanta’s quarterbacks coach. “It suits [Tevin Coleman’s] skillset and then he can get the play outside even and circle the defense. He's got tremendous speed and athleticism."
"In terms of him like running in the outside zone, seeing his reads and making his cuts, he was really on point," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said in April 2016.
He started right away as a rookie, but fractured his ribs in the second game. While he healed, backup Devonta Freeman burst onto the scene and earned a Pro Bowl berth. When they were both healthy, Coleman and Freeman split playing time and frequently lined up on the field together.
Coleman’s triumphed over adversity – he was born 10 weeks premature and was given a 20 percent chance of survival. He also suffers from sickle cell disease, a blood disorder (Ty Montgomery has the sickle cell trait too).
None of that has slowed him down – teammates believe he may be the fastest player in the NFL. In 2018, 11.5% of Coleman’s carries were explosive runs (defined as a rushing attempt gaining at least 12 yards) – only two backs had a higher percentage of explosive runs on more carries.
"It's the explosive plays that Tev is able to create, and it's the 3-yard run that all of a sudden turns into a 25-yard run," Quinn said in 2017 when asked what stands out about Coleman. "It's the explosiveness, it's the speed that he has when he can get on the edge or get to the second level."
EDGE Dante Fowler Jr.
Dante Fowler was the third overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, and tore his ACL in his first practice as a professional. It’s hard to get worse from there, but Fowler ran into trouble on and off the field in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars were able to receive third- and fifth-round draft picks from the Rams for an edge rusher who had started just one game over three and a half seasons.
Fowler improved with the Rams, but notched just two sacks and five knockdowns over the regular season’s final eight games. He saved his best performances for the end, though – he was one of the best defenders on the field in the NFC Championship Game against the Saints.
There is no position more in demand in today’s NFL than a pass rusher, and Fowler has the look. Just ask Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, who recruited Fowler when he was the defensive coordinator at Florida.
“You saw all this raw talent,” Quinn said of Fowler as a high school prospect, “And there was zero fear. Sometimes guys go from high school to college and there’s that feeling-out period, but there was no doubt with him that he was ready to play.”
Quinn and Fowler have stayed in touch and remain close. Recently, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur mentioned Quinn as one of the mentors he relies on for guidance and advice.
As the elite pass rushers eligible for free agency have been taken off the market with the franchise tag, the Rams remain unlikely to use it on Fowler. With about $23 million in cap space, the Rams would be dedicating $15 million on a one-year deal for Fowler. Instead, it appears Fowler will hit the market.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Packers were close to landing Fowler in a trade this October. That suggests Gutekunst and Green Bay’s front office has done its due diligence on the pass rusher. It may not mean the team will make an offer in free agency, however.