The Packers edge rusher group has been surprising in a variety of ways this season. Rashan Gary took the leap and is playing like a top 10 edge in the league. Preston Smith has rebounded from a bad year to be one of the best force players in the run game in the league. Whitney Mercilus was productive for the first time in years on a new team. And, unfortunately, Za’Darius Smith has played just 18 snaps so far.
Now, the injury bug is further infecting the group: Mercilus is out for the year, there’s no telling when Za’Darius could be back, and Gary will, at best, be playing hurt. Let’s take a look at the Packers’ options, on and off the team, for replenishing edge rusher depth.
The Utah State product will get the first shot to help; the Packers signed him to the active roster this Week. Galeai has shown potential in the preseason as a speed rusher, but his lack of size (229 lbs.) may limit his ability to make a difference in real NFL games.
Look for Tipa to be used as the dropper often. This role has mainly been occupied by Preston Smith and Oren Burks so far this season so it will be interesting to see how the team uses Smith this week. Will he play most of the snaps moving around the LOS? Or will they use him like they normally do with Tipa spelling him?
Hamilton was released last week to make room for roster additions and then quickly added back to the practice squad once last weekend’s injuries hit. Hamilton is 6’2, 260 and had a few pressures this season in backup work.
It’s notable that he was added to the practice squad while Tipa was signed to the 53. But I don’t think that necessarily means Tipa beat him out; it could just be a body type thing. Smith, Gary, Hamilton, and last year’s seventh round pick Jonathan Garvin are all 260+pound edge rushers. It’s very possible the Packers just want a little diversity in body type at the position.
At this point I think Hamilton is more of an insurance policy. If Gary can’t go, Hamilton may get activated for a game or two but don’t be surprised if he’s released again once Za’Darius comes back.
Keke played on the edge in college and has taken some snaps there so far this season. Keke is a tweener. He isn’t quite big (288 lbs.) enough to play the run effectively inside, but his 4.95 40 and 7.55 3 cone are far from what you want from an edge player. I would guess the Packers will keep him inside where he is more effective as much as possible.
We’re sadly nearing the point of the season where free agent signings just don’t make sense. The team has just over $4mm in cap left and that number will drop each week. Meanwhile, any free agents who would make a significant impact have been scooped up or would be unlikely to have enough time to get into game shape or learn the playbook. That said, there are a few potential options.
Starting with Olivier Vernon. Vernon was a game wrecker earlier in his career who was miscast on the Browns. Vernon has the potential to be a home run signing. He was a legitimate pro-bowl player at times in his career and could be better than Mercilus. Unfortunately, he ended last season with a torn Achilles in week 17, and it doesn’t seem like he will play this season. You’d think the Chiefs, or Cowboys, or any number of other teams desperate for edge help have signed him at this point.
The only other significant name I could see Green Bay giving a call is Trent Murphy. Murphy was an above average athlete coming out in 2014 whose play has been average to above average. He also played for two years with Joe Barry in Washington.
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.