The Packers have added an unprecedented four (!) players onto their roster for the upcoming season that didn’t spend time with the Packers in 2016. While adding four free agents is almost unprecedented for a Packers team guided by Ted Thompson, many national writers have lamented all the losses the team has incurred.
Gone are Datone Jones, TJ Lang, Micah Hyde, Julius Peppers, JC Tretter, and Eddie Lacy as key contributors. The additions of Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks, Davon House and Ricky Jean-Francois will be key. The two tight ends have the ability to transform the offense (not hyperbole) and Jean-Francois and House are veteran presences on a defense that needs them.
Whether you worry, like a lot of fans and writers, that the losses are too significant for the team to improve, or you feel (as I do) that you fix a bad defense by replacing the defensive players the Packers still don’t need to be done adding players.
Are Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez fine? Yeah, probably, but the depth there is worrisome. Is a four man pass rushing group of Matthews and Perry as Starters and Elliott and Fackrell as a second unit good enough? Yeah, maybe but what if one of those guys gets hurt? What if Fackrell doesn’t produce? Can Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins have their Davante Adams third year seasons and form a good cornerback group with physical outside corners Davon House and LaDarius Gunter? Yes, it could happen. It’s actually more likely than not that all three of the 2015 class of corners play better in 2017 than they did in 2016.
With all that said, both the top end of these position groups and the depth can be improved before the draft. So who can be acquired?
Perry Riley, ILB Oakland Raiders
I keep talking about the Packers needing to add one more “beef” inside linebacker. They have plenty of coverage linebackers and/or hybrid safety types. Blake Martinez, Joe Thomas and Morgan Burnett can all pitch in as the hybrid linebacker that covers. Jake Ryan is really the only linebacker that I trust against the run without having to move Matthews or Fackrell inside.
Riley had a rough go in 2013, 2014 and 2015, so his 2016 success could certainly be viewed as a one-hit wonder, especially for a seventh year pro. With that said, he ranked inside the top 10 at run defense for off the ball linebackers for Pro Football Focus, and was efficient as a blitzer. He gave Oakland 629 early down snaps last season. Riley would fit in as an early down smasher with Jake Ryan or quality depth at the “beef” linebacker spot, something Green Bay doesn’t currently have.
As with all of the players that I’m going to discuss, it’s March 24th, the big money isn’t coming. Riley could be had for a reasonable price.
Lardarius Webb, DB Ravens
Webb was once a highly respected cornerback for the Ravens. Injuries and the loss of “a step” have forced Webb into a more hybrid/safety type role. Didn’t the Packers just lose their hybrid guy?
Webb could carve a nice spot for himself in Green Bay’s sub packages. I could see him pitching in at deep safety with HHCD when Morgan Burnett plays inside linebacker. I could see him playing outside cornerback in an emergency situation if two of Randall, House and Gunter all have to sit out. Webb would probably give fans a little more confidence than Makinton Dorleant in a postseason situation.
The one issue of course, with Webb is that he’s an unrestricted free agent and his presence on the roster would affect the compensatory pick equation.
Byron Bell, OL Titans
Bell has actually already visited Green Bay, though it’s unclear whether or not he received a contract offer. Bell was an atrocious option at left tackle for the Carolina Panthers, but was better in Tennessee and ultimately should have been playing guard.
Bell suffered a gruesome ankle injury in training camp. Tennessee’s coach Mike Munchak was very clear that Bell was competing for a starting position somewhere across the offensive line. In limited time at guard Bell, who is a massive 6’5″ and 340 pounds, showed that he’s at least a capable player.
At best, a Bell signing would create a veteran option on the inside if Lucas Patrick, Kyle Murphy or some use of Bulaga/Spriggs. Bell could potentially provide league average to slightly above average play at a position that doesn’t really matter that much. At worst, he’s a better, bigger, more athletic version of Don Barclay.
1 year, $2 million, let’s go.
Dwight Freeney, OLB Falcons
Freeney is undoubtedly old. There is no question about that. The master of the spin move is 37. That is old. With that said, the Packers had a decent amount of success using an aging pass rusher for a specific number of snaps over the course of the past few seasons.
Freeney would provide a very different look for the Packers than Peppers did. Peppers was a tall, athletic freak. His ability to rush from the outside and play defensive tackle in Green Bay’s NASCAR package is not something that you would ever have Freeney do. He’s too short for that and it wouldn’t have worked when he was 25 years old. It certainly won’t work now.
What he can still do, though is cause enough problems for most left tackles in the league that he requires extra attention. Freeney could likely give Green Bay between six and nine sacks and open things up for Perry, Daniels and Matthews on third downs. I like Jayrone Elliott and Kyler Fackrell quite a bit, but Freeney provides pop and the top and depth.
Sign the old man for $5 million and give him 400 snaps. No problem at all.
Deandre Levy, ILB Lions
When healthy, Levy is one of the better off the ball linebackers in football. He was a bright spot on a Lions defense that often wasn’t very good throughout the course of his career. Levy was released by Detroit and therefore would be yet another addition to this class that would not count against Green Bay’s compensatory pick equation.
Levy makes sense for the Packers in all the same ways that Perry Riley does but comes with two added bonuses.
First of all, Levy is a Milwaukee native and a former Wisconsin Badger. That might not matter from an Xs and Os standpoint, but Wisconsin football as a state tradition is a big deal, whether it’s red and white or green and yellow. Bringing in a local guy is never a bad thing for the big club.
Secondly, Levy’s main issue isn’t skill, or really even at this point age (he’s only 29). It’s the ability to stay healthy. What makes him make sense for the Packers and the Packers make sense for him is that there are several players with meaningful snaps at the different ILB spots in Green Bay’s defense.
Levy can stay on a “pitch count” of sorts because Ryan, Martinez, Burnett and Thomas are going to take snaps in different situations. For what it’s worth, this would be my favorite potential signing that Ted would actually consider.