What Does a Perfect Offseason For The Packers Look Like?
The Green Bay Packers came up one game short of the Super Bowl in 2016, and face significant choices this offseason that will determine the long-term success of their team.
Most of these decisions will be made within the next 100 days. While journalists and bloggers do a great job of diving into the micro view of the offseason — what players the team should re-sign or target in free agency — those decisions aren’t made in a vacuum.
Let’s look at the big picture for a few minutes for the Packers and lay out a path for the perfect offseason.
1. Plan for the long-term as a coaching staff and front office
Offensive coordinator Tom Clements left the team after the conclusion of this year. Front office executives Brian Gutekunst and Eliot Wolf both interviewed for general manager posts elsewhere, receiving salary bumps in exchange for staying in Green Bay. Unless Ted Thompson retires, both Gutekunst and Wolf have most likely reached their career ceiling in Green Bay.
After the defensive collapse against Atlanta, many cried for 66-year-old defensive coordinator Dom Capers to be replaced, though it looks like his job is safe. I wrote earlier last week that I’m not quite sure what Capers could have done differently this postseason, and that’s precisely the problem with his defensive scheme.
The successful organizations have a strong culture developed at the top that flows down throughout the front offices, coaches and players. Now, the Packers appear to be at a crossroads on organizational culture. Do they abandon their draft and develop strategy and push the chips in on risky free agents to accelerate their pursuit of another Super Bowl?
A perfect offseason would most likely mean Green Bay pivots slightly from their draft and develop strategy and pursues veterans at a bit more aggressive pace than they have in the past. Just one or two free agents could have made a big difference in this year’s team, and the same holds true for next season.
2. Make tough decisions on expiring contracts
Eleven Packers are set to hit free agency this offseason, and there’s a strong case to be made to bring each back to Green Bay. The hardest decisions the front office will have to make are around the offensive line, where Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang and starting center J.C. Tretter are both seeking a new deal.
Fan favorite and running back Eddie Lacy is also free to sign with any team. Ty Montgomery made a successful transition from wide receiver to running back in Lacy’s absence, and figures to be in the mix for a starting role next year. If Lacy — who’s missed significant time in each of the past two seasons — comes back in the fold for the Packers and stays healthy, his running style complements Montgomery’s quite well.
Another position group where free agency will dictate the Packers’ future is linebacker. Pass rushers Nick Perry and Julius Peppers are both free agents. Perry is certainly looking to cash in after a breakout year, while Peppers is 37-years-old and still chasing his first championship.
It would be perfect if the Packers retain Lang, Perry, playoff hero Jared Cook and defensive back Micah Hyde. From there, low-cost deals with Peppers and Lacy would benefit the team.
3. Selectively enter free agency
If the Packers have a bugaboo, it’s how overspending on free agents would change the dynamics of the locker room. Green Bay has traditionally pushed the players they’ve drafted and developed to sign contracts slightly below market value to ensure they can keep the group together.
Aiming big in free agency isn’t foreign for general manager Ted Thompson. While Charles Woodson’s signing in 2006 has been the team’s only big ticket signing under Thompson, the Packers were rumored to be in on cornerback Darrelle Revis last year and the team had conversations with defensive tackle Terrance Knighton’s agent in March of 2015.
Let’s dream big. Two major free agent targets that may fit the Packers defensive scheme include Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell and Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler. Both will command big contracts, as they both were ranked by Pro Football Focus as elite players at their positions. Campbell, at 30-years-old, may be had at a lower price because of his age but Butler at 27-years-old is primed for a huge paycheck.
A perfect offseason includes Green Bay aggressively pursuing defensive free agents, and ideally landing more than one that can make an immediate impact next season. If high-profile players like Campbell and Butler are priced out of the Packers range, there certainly will be veterans at value prices who at the least can make an impact in training camp.
4. Hope the draft delivers playmakers
If free agency is the road less traveled for the Packers, the draft is a well-worn path. Last year, the team found a starting inside linebacker in Blake Martinez in the fourth-round, and first-round pick Kenny Clark was a force at defensive tackle in the playoffs. The future looks bright for the Packers’ 2016 draft picks.
The Packers have used their first round pick the last two years on developmental projects. In 2015, they selected a college safety in Damarious Randall and moved him to cornerback. This year, Kenny Clark was only 20 years old and at times during the season looked physically smaller than his counterparts.
One target that should intrigue the Packers is edge defender T.J. Watt from Wisconsin. In his lone season as a starter for the Badgers, Watt led one of the best defenses in the nation with 11.5 sacks. He profiles as a 3–4 outside linebacker, and would be a welcome addition to the pass rushing corps in Green Bay and an instant fan favorite.
Because the NFL Draft is dependent upon the selections of 31 other teams who are all looking for the best players available, finding a playmaker in the draft is like winning the lottery. The Packers do a great job of hoarding their draft picks — let’s hope this is the year they hit it big.
This post originally appeared on Medium.