The Packers Have a Pass Rusher Problem
Despite the higher profile issues in the secondary, highlighted by late season meltdowns in Dallas and Atlanta, the Packers have a bigger problem brewing on defense: they don’t have any reliable pass rushers.
This issue manifests itself throughout the front seven, from the high profile names to the bottom of the roster guys. Unless the Packers devote serious resources to shoring up the pass rush, the 2017 defense won’t be any better than what we saw in 2016.
Perry was great in 2016, but that might not mean anything
As Gary astutely pointed out, Nick Perry is one of the biggest questions the Packers must answer this offseason, and his situation is emblematic of the entire pass rush group. Those that have produced haven’t done it consistently, and those that have in the past aren’t living up to the salaries that they’re being paid to continue their success.
Perry is about to get paid a lot of money, because general managers like to pay for sacks. It’s something easy to point to as an evaluator. The general manager says “Look! Player X got a lot of sacks and I was right to sign him! I am good at my job.” Or, if Player X ends up not getting sacks, the general manager says “Hey, he got a bunch of sacks before. Can’t blame me! I am good at my job.”
It’s true that Perry was excellent in 2016, but his performance was extraordinarily different from anything in his career to date. Even if one argues that sacks can be fluky and aren’t necessarily a good measure of pass rushing success (which they’re not), it’s concerning that Perry never had more than four in a single season prior to 2016. Which, then, is the outlier? The four sacks or the 11 he produced this year? Such is the Packers’ dilemma.
Other big names have pitfalls too
Along those same lines are the Packers’ other premier pass rushers: Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. Neither pressures the quarterback the way he used to, and the Packers have to weigh their expense against their performance.
Matthews, particularly, is expensive. He tailed off so extremely in 2016 that it’s tempting to call his decline an anomaly, but it’s still concerning.
Peppers, meanwhile, may not even be interested in playing football any more. As a profession, football pays extremely well, but at a certain point the opportunity to avoid the grind of a long season has to become quite appealing.
If Peppers does decide to return for next season, the Packers would have to decide if it’s worth their time to bring back a player who’s been playing professional football for nearly as long as some of this season’s draft picks have been alive.
Pass rush depth is lacking
Beyond the big names, the Packers’ pass rush is virtually bereft of talent. Other than the three big names in the first section, Mike Daniels was the only member of the front seven to record more than three sacks in 2016.
Morgan Burnett had more sacks than Datone Jones, Kyler Fackrell, LeTroy Guion, or any other Packers linebacker or defensive lineman. That’s a pretty astonishing lack of pass rush depth.
The most promising of the young pass rushers has to be Dean Lowry, but it’s hard to count on consistent pressure from a lineman in a 3-4 scheme. Kyler Fackrell is next on the list, and he had his moments in 2016, both good and bad.
The most disappointing performance from the Packers’ second tier pass rushers has to be that of Datone Jones. The 2013 first round pick totaled one measly sack last season, and his production has steadily trended downward throughout his first four seasons.
All options have to be on the table
This year’s draft class is reportedly stocked with pass rushers, but the Packers can’t stop there. Assuming the Packers select a pass rusher at some point in the draft (preferably early), they’ll still need to keep creating and developing depth.
This is the sort of situation where a veteran free agent signing makes perfect sense. While it’s unlikely the Packers will be serious bidders for a top end free agent pass rusher, finding someone in the middle to lower end of the market who can contribute four to six sacks per season would be ideal. Green Bay need not break the bank, but depth has to be a priority.
Who could the Packers target in free agency?
If the Packers do choose to dabble in free agency, there are a few options out there.
Jabaal Sheard will be just 28 at the start of next season, and though he doesn’t put up eye-popping numbers, he’s a versatile player who could provide depth at multiple spots.
Mario Addison, similarly, is no superstar, but he’s been a mainstay along Carolina’s front for the past few seasons. He could be expensive, though, having posted the best sack total of his career last season.
Finally, if the Packers are still in the market for an aging-yet-productive future Hall of Famer, DeMarcus Ware is also hitting free agency this offseason. He’ll be a year older than Julius Peppers was when he came to Green Bay, but even in limited time, he was relatively productive in Denver last season. In the right situation, Ware could still be of use to a team.