It’s been rare that NFL draft talks start before the Divisional round of the postseason for Packers fans, but here we are. Exactly 14 weeks from today the process will begin again for Brian Gutekunst and staff. And it will be yet another very important draft for Brian Gutekunst. With their continued cap obstacles, finding contributing players on rookie contracts is even more vital. The Packers have many free agents of their own to decide whether to bring back or not before the draft. But that won’t likely change the overall needs on the roster much, barring any shocking moves. And if the Packers want to get back to contending in 2023, these positions will need upgrading.
This looked to be a position of strength for the Packers just over a year ago. Adrian Amos was an assignment sure playmaker, and Darnell Savage had shown flashes of brilliance. But those flashes grew much dimmer after yet another disappointing season for Savage. A position change to the slot was a last ditch effort to tap into his physical gifts. And Amos is set to be a free agent after a bit of an underwhelming season himself. The Packers may be interested in bringing him back on a short deal, but he’ll also turn 30 in April.
The rest of the depth at the position is unproven at best. Tariq Carpenter established himself as a core special teamer, and Innis Gaines spent the majority of the season on the practice squad. The Packers have shown they are willing to spend high capital at the position – with HaHa Clinton-Dix in 2014 and Savage in 2019 both selected in the first round. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them go that direction again.
This one feels a little better after David Bakhtiari was able to return to his All-Pro form in 2022. Nonetheless, his contract starts to get interesting over the last two years of his deal – with cap hits of $28.8 mil and $32.9 mil in 2023 and 2024, respectively. On the other side, Yosh Nijman will likely be tendered as a restricted free agent, tying him to Green Bay for at least one more season. But his play over the last two years could land him big money if he hits the open market in a year. Money Green Bay would be unable to afford.
And while he was working his way back from major surgery, Elgton Jenkins struggled when on the outside in 2022. Optimally, he stays at guard next to Bakhtiari to solidify the left side. And the Packers have to feel good with what they saw from utility man Zach Tom, who could be a solid swing tackle and eventual starter. But he could also challenge Josh Myers at center, a position Tom played at Wake Forest. And Gutekunst has shown he is never satisfied with his depth up front. He’s taken 10 offensive linemen over his four drafts as GM. He hasn’t used a first round selection on one yet, but depending how the board falls – that could change this year.
It’s hard to believe Kenny Clark is only 27 years old – coming off his 7th season in Green Bay. He continues to play at a high level, though he did have his own disappointing stretch in the middle of 2022. But veterans Jarran Reed and Dean Lowry are both free agents, though they will still count for a combined $4 mil in dead cap in 2023. And while TJ Slaton and Devonte Wyatt are both young, ascending players – they’ve yet to show the consistency to be every down players.
Watching many of the wild card games this past weekend, it was clear what many of those teams had in common. Jacksonville, the Giants, San Francisco, Dallas… all showed how important a disruptive interior can be. The Packers have continually been gashed in the middle, and having a stable of interior defenders to not only stop the run but affect the passing game could elevate their defense.——————
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.