We are only four weeks into the Packers offseason and there has already been a lot of changes at 1265 Lombardi Avenue. Mike Pettine replacing Dom Capers as defensive coordinator. Mike McCarthy bringing back a familiar face in Joe Philbin as his offensive coordinator. Then the biggest change, Ted Thompson moving into a senior advisory role, and Mark Murphy naming Brian Gutenkunst as the team’s new General Manager.
As Gutekunst gets settled into his new office and filling out his staff with the departures of Alonzo Highsmith and Eliot Wolf, he has some major personnel decisions to make as he attempts to retool the roster. He is definitely not lacking for work to get the Packers back to the playoffs and be a Super Bowl contender after a dismal season that saw the team finish third in the NFC North.
The team’s last trip to the Super Bowl was in 2010, which was 7 years ago. With Aaron Rodgers clock ticking and McCarthy in basically a prove-it year, Gutekunst hopes to have an aggressive role in his first offseason to bring a fifth Lombardi Trophy home. We have seen teams like the Rams, Eagles, Jaguars among others completely transform in a single offseason and make a run at the trophy. This Packers team isn’t that far away themselves, a healthy Rodgers and a strong offseason in adding talent could playing deep in January.
What is the top priority for Gutekunst to return the Packers to prominence? Last week I wrote about Jordy Nelson and Randal Cobb and how he should keep them at least this year. Not to mention, he also needs to add another WR to stretch the field to replace those two in the future, and a playmaking tight end.
I want to focus on the defense, as I feel that is where the priority should be as that is my number 1 action item. We have seen in the playoffs what a great defense can do and how a defense can change the game. Imagine a great D paired with Rodgers? With my top priority the defense, here is what I feel Gutekunst should focus on.
With the Packers in a win-now mode, resigning Morgan Burnett makes sense even with the drafting of Josh Jones last year. Burnett is 28 years old and has had some injuries but that should not scare the team. When Burnett has been on the field, he has been one of their leaders and the defense has a different look and feel to it. Burnett would be a key to new coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense, which would need plenty of experienced talent to be successful. During his introductory press conference, Brian Gutekunst stated that he would be more aggressive in acquiring talent, to me that includes re-signing key free agents on their own team instead of letting them walk like his predecessor Ted Thompson did with Micah Hyde and Casey Hayward.
Draft a Pass Rusher
If there is one position group that needs a major boost, it’s the outside linebacker/pass rush group. Clay Matthews seems to have an injury every year and can no longer be considered your best player on defense. To me, he seems to have become a rotational player similar to the role the Julius Peppers played. Plus, he hasn’t posted double-digit sacks since 2014. Nick Perry can’t seem to stay healthy. Granted, he had 7 sacks this past year it is nothing to write home about. With the highest draft pick since selecting B.J. Raji with the 9th overall selection, this might be the perfect opportunity for Gutenkunst to draft an impact player on that side of the football. I would like to see him draft an outside pass rusher with the 14th pick and also sign a veteran pass-rushing free agent.
Sign a Top Flight Cornerback
As I was watching the divisional games this weekend, I was drawn to the Jacksonville defense and how they signed free agent corners including, A.J. Bouye, to improve their defense. They were a top defense because they were ranked as one of the top passing defenses in the league. That was no mistake either. They not only drafted well but they signed cornerbacks who were difference makers. Former GM Ted Thompson did draft defensive backs in the past few drafts, Kevin King, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins but we have no real idea if they are going to be quality starters or not. They have shown flashes but they have been injured, so they need to be more consistent. I would draft another defensive back at some point in the draft, but one of my free agent signings would be at this position.
Aaron Rodgers covers up a lot of holes, and with him healthy, the team is essentially a lock to make the playoffs. But if Gutekunst can sign a couple free agents and draft difference makers that will make an impact immediately, this team can be playing late in January.