Wednesday marked the beginning of the new league year in the NFL. Thus, the Packers salary cap woes had to come to a head. They were able to tender many of their exclusive rights free agents, ensuring that contributors like Yosh Nijman and Krys Barnes will return for 2022. They were also able to buy themselves some time by not yet filing De’Vondre Campbell’s extension – keeping his salary off the books for now. But sacrifices were made – namely cutting major pieces Za’Darius Smith and Billy Turner. It also looks unlikely that they will be able to bring back Marquez Valdes-Scantling. This makes this year’s draft even more important for Brian Gutekunst.
He’ll need to fill the remaining holes on the Packers roster through the draft. They simply don’t have the money to wade into free agency, and compete for players against 31 other organizations. The rookie pay scale makes it much more manageable to find contributing players given their financials.
And to his credit, Gutekunst has had strong drafts. In his last 3 drafts, Gutekunst has found 4 of the 5 starters along the offensive line, defensive stars in Rashan Gary and Eric Stokes, along with major contributors likes AJ Dillon and Josiah Deguara. His drafting resume can go toe-to-toe with any GM in the league.
The phrase “best player available” has been widely (over)used when it comes to the NFL draft for years. The premise is sound – drafting based purely on talent versus need. But that is never the reality. This is why you see quarterbacks like Daniel Jones drafted in the top 10 every year. And every team does it – the Packers included. The Packers first 3 picks a season ago: CB, center, WR. If you had looked at any “team needs” chart leading up to the draft, those likely would have been all 3 for Green Bay. And Gutekunst has even shown he’s willing to double-dip for needs: Jaire and Josh Jackson, Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, the interior o-line recently.
The Packers likely will go into the draft with some clear needs. Help along the offensive line – especially after cutting Turner and losing Lucas Patrick to the Bears. They also need to bolster depth considering the health of their two best linemen in Baktiari and Elgton Jenkins. They will also need another deep threat to replace MVS. There will be plenty of options, as 15 WR ran faster than a 4.45 40 at the combine this year.
Now, no doubt that the Packers will be relying upon internal growth from younger players to step into bigger roles. Players like TJ Slaton, Josian Deguara, Amari Rodgers will all look to have expanded roles. But the biggest way for the Packers to make up for the salary cap casulties will be for Brian Gutekunst to have his strongest draft yet.——————
Jared is a rogue Packers fan from a Steelers family and an overall football junkie, including playing 4 years at Ithaca College. You can follow him on twitter at @JPrugar.