The Packers end the 2019 season in a much better spot than at the end of 2018. Matt LaFleur and Brian Gutekunst provided a quick turnaround in terms of scheme, team chemistry, and overall talent level, but, alas, the work is never done. The Aaron Rodgers era is approaching its end, and it’s time to go all-in this offseason. What areas of the team need the most work to get the Packers to the Super Bowl in 2020?
This position probably looks familiar, because it’s a consistent need for the Packers. But with Blake Martinez hitting free agency and Oren Burks not yet proving himself, the need is particularly dire. There are plenty of opinions on Martinez and his value to the team. He’s a tackling machine, and the numbers support that (512 career tackles, 331 solo). On the other hand, he historically has struggled in coverage, with only 17 career passes defended (2 in 2019).
Regardless of what side of the Martinez fence one resides on, only one number matters for 2020: $16.4 million, his projected yearly average salary according to spotrac.com. That’s a pretty big number. One that, based on past behavior, Gutekunst and Russ Ball aren’t going to pay. And the team can’t count on a hometown discount.
If I’m wrong, the Packers still need a complementary figure to pair with Martinez. Someone with the speed and cover skills to compliment Martinez’s skillset. But if I’m right, the Packers will need to find two quality starters for the position. There aren’t any clear answers on the roster currently (though hopefully, Burks can take a jump). The Packers will likely need both the draft and free agency to solve the issue.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: Gutekunst didn’t make a trade for a wide receiver in 2019, and the current group of wideouts didn’t step up the way I’d hoped. But the wide receivers that did get traded really didn’t help their teams all that much (and it’s not like Emmanuel Sanders would have solved the whole “tackling the running back” issue that lost the NFCCG), and the Packers held onto a valuable draft pick.
The Packers clearly weren’t pleased with the group, as WR coach Alvis Whitted was fired shortly after the season ended. But the team brass should have a better idea of who to keep and who to move on from.
Davante Adams is Davante Adams. Allen Lazard is a promising young player to develop. Though his season was a disappointment, MVS has phenomenal physical gifts and likely gets more time to see if that can translate to tangible results. Equanimeous St. Brown had a promising rookie season and should have an important role next year. Beyond that, the team needs major upgrades.
Luckily, the 2020 draft class has just as much talent as the 2014 wide receiver class. Mock drafts (in all their infinite glory) project up to 7-8 will go in the first round. Even then, the Packers have excellent options in the first and second rounds. Free agency offers extremely enticing options as well, with Robby Anderson being a particular favorite from Packers fans.
Interior defensive line
Kenny Clark is going to get paid. The value he brings to the team is a no-brainer. Dean Lowry is a solid and often under-appreciated player. It often seems like the games Green Bay does best against the run or that the line contributes the most are the games where Lowry is at his best. Beyond those two, major questions exist.
Subbing in Za’Darius Smith or Rashan Gary as DEs is always a fun mismatch, but can’t be relied on. Montravious Adams, a former third-round pick who received the highest praises all offseason, was supposed to have a major year, but that never manifested. Tyler Lancaster is a hell of a guy with a tremendous story, but shouldn’t be starting.
2019 fifth-round pick Kingsley Keke showed a lot to like in limited snaps and could ultimately be the answer. But until then, free agency can offer answers. A good run-stuffer like New England’s Danny Shelton is one of many potential options out there (PackersWire has a lovely piece with a plethora of options). Shoring up the trenches makes life easier for the rest of the defense, makes it harder to double-team Kenny Clark, and can solve run game issues.Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.