The Super Bowl is over, in what was a bitter event for Green Bay Packers fans to watch as many felt it should have been green and gold confetti falling in SoFi Stadium on Sunday. Instead, it was royal blue and sol raining from the Los Angeles sky in merriment of the home team Rams capturing the Lombardi Trophy. That tart scene shouldn’t last too long in the minds of Cheeseheads, though, as the quest for a championship in 2023 has already begun. The first event on the docket: free agency. Here are three needs, three free-agency fits for the Packers.
Note: The players listed aren’t primary options, but options that are good fits schematically and would likely comply with the Packers’ limited available cap space.
The Packers appeared to have an embarrassment of riches once All-Pro Jaire Alexander returned from a shoulder injury in time for the playoffs. The Louisville product played exclusively on third-down in the divisional round, but it was quite a sight watching him fly around in the star position while Rasul Douglas, an All-Pro in his own right, and rookie Eric Stokes secured the boundary receivers.
Entering 2022, Alexander – although expecting an extension soon – and Stokes are still under contract, leaving the secondary in good hands for another season.
But Douglas is a free agent and his breakout season lead him to secure a hefty bag.
Douglas has hinted he might not ask the Packers to break the bank to bring him back, but money talks and cornerbacks are paid at a premium in free agency. It would be hard for him to turn down a lucrative offer, even if it’s not from a contender.
If he leaves, the secondary will have a hole to fill as Kevin King’s $3M cap hit will be voided and Chandon Sullivan isn’t a guarantee to return either.
The Packers might feel players like Shemar Jean-Charles or Kabion Ento can take a step, but if the team is, in fact, “all in” again, a cheap, reliable veteran to fill the hole might be the route they take.
Free-agency fit: Chris Harris Jr.
Some may scoff at the idea of a 32-year-old cornerback, but I can’t help but think about the season Casey Hayward just had with the Las Vegas Raiders at that same age. Let’s look at the fit too.
Remember why Matt LaFleur decided to hire Joe Barry as his defensive coordinator? He wanted the Vic Fangio scheme, which worked so well for his mentor Sean McVay, to revamp his defense.
In Denver, Harris Jr. solidified himself as the league’s best nickel corner across a seven-year period, and maybe even of all-time. When Fangio arrived, he continued to play well, despite him growing older.
Now after two seasons with the Chargers, in the same Fangio scheme, this time under Brandon Staley, Harris could be open to taking a lot less if it means he gets to ride off into the sunset with a ring.
His versatility is key in this idea, as he plays well at inside and outside corner.
Rotating two veterans in Harris Jr. and Alexander at the star position could be a lot of fun for Barry as he enters his second year with the team.
Harris Jr. isn’t quite the player he used to be – he hasn’t held a PFF grade above 70.0 since 2018 – but he could be a trustworthy and cheap option and a great fit in this defense.
Need: Wide receiver
If you’re reading this, you likely already know that Davante Adams’ future as a Packer is in the air.
Randall Cobb, Amari Rodgers, and Juwaan Winfree make up the top three receivers on the roster, as it stands. Whether it’s Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love, or Nick Mullens (if you know, you know) under centre this season, that just won’t cut it.
Cobb seems destined to be a cap casualty this offseason, holding a $9.5M cap hit entering his age-32 season. Allen Lazard, an RFA, should be back in 2022 but even that won’t leave fans too happy without a number one receiver in the mix.
Of course, if Adams is franchise tagged or miraculously extended, this position slides much lower on the “needs list.”
But in the meantime, it’s near the top, and there are always plenty of available options on the market.
Free-agency fit: DJ Chark
The only reason Chark is an option is because I believe his fractured ankle in 2021 will lower his price tag.
Chark is an interesting case because it’s yet to be seen if the Jaguars will even let him get to the market. The Jags have been in this situation before with a receiver Packers fans know all too well: Allen Robinson.
Robinson, drafted by the Jags, tore his ACL in 2017 before the team opted to let the talented receiver hit the market. The Bears took a chance signing him, and from a personal production standpoint, it paid off in spades.
Chark, fortunately, didn’t suffer a soft-tissue injury, but one could argue he’ll take a short-term deal this year to try raising his price tag in 2023.
A former second-round pick, Chark has been nothing short of spectacular since getting his opportunity to shine in 2019.
From 2019 to 2020, he posted more than 1,700 yards receiving, 13 touchdowns, 126 catches, and over 13 yards per catch — again, while playing for the Jaguars.
Matt LaFleur loves big-body wide-receivers (see Lazard and MVS) and Chark fits that bill at 6’4” 200lbs.
Seeing what he did in a teal uniform, there’s no telling what his potential would be catching passes from Rodgers.
Marcedes Lewis, although very loveable, is very old and not a guarantee to return in 2022.
Josiah Deguara has shown flashes as an H-back, but hasn’t been consistent enough to suggest he is a number one tight-end.
Tyler Davis filled in nicely last season but can’t be looked at as the future right now.
Robert Tonyan Jr., the team’s number one tight-end the past two seasons, has void years in his contract and will hit free agency if he’s not extended.
This could leave the Packers in a predicament after the position finally seemed to have found some stability following years of experimenting.
Free-agency fit: Robert Tonyan Jr.
Don’t let him hit the market.
“Bobby” isn’t the sexiest name on the free agency list, especially for an exercise like this, where the imagination can run wild.
But he fits and he will be cheap.
Tonyan Jr. was set to back up his monster 2020 campaign with an encore that would catapult him to the top of the 2022 tight-end free agency class.
Instead, he was quiet in the first seven games of the season, then tore his ACL in week 8.
He’s no guarantee to be back in the green and gold next season, but it makes a lot of sense from both sides.
If you’re Tonyan Jr., why not return to a system you know you can thrive in and try to prove yourself again in time for the 2023 offseason?
If you’re the Packers, why not bring back a proven player, who you know fits well in your scheme, on a cheap one-year deal to fill a need?
The downside to this move is that Tonyan wouldn’t return until late in the season, making him a piece to incorporate amid a playoff run.
All these picks are either old or coming off an injury, yes. But as a cash-strapped team that is trying to make a run, this can be what it comes down to. The Rams grabbed Andrew Whitworth when he was 36 years old and signed Odell Beckham Jr., knowing he has battled a series of recent injuries. Both proved to be crucial in the team’s run to the Super Bowl.
With the advancements in sports science, injuries are becoming something teams can be less afraid of. And when you have a chance to win it all, age can really just be a number.——————
Joshua Frey-Sam is a journalism student and aspiring sportscaster hailing from Winnipeg, Canada. A Packers fan since 2005, Josh has worked to master the financial and scouting aspect of the NFL over the past few years. Josh remains a firm believer that Dez did not, in fact, catch the ball. You can follow him on twitter at @jfreysam.