The Green Bay Packers bolstered their special teams and defense in the latter half of 2022 with the addition of another seasoned player. Eric Wilson, a sixth-year linebacker, was signed by Green Bay in October off the practice squad of New Orleans. In 78 regular-season games with 27 stars, the former undrafted free agent recorded 278 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and four interceptions. Since Krys Barnes, the Packers’ regular starter, was put on injured reserve on September 13 due to an ankle injury, the team has been in need of a player in that position for some time.
Cleveland-born Wilson enrolled at Northwestern to begin his undergraduate career before switching to Cincy in 2013. For the Bearcats, Wilson started 24 of his 38 career games, and he led the defense in tackles both of his junior and senior years. He had a career-high 126 tackles and three sacks, which earned him first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors and the Claude Rust Award as the team’s MVP. At his Cincinnati pro day, he ran a 4.53 in the 40 and a 39.12 in the vertical.
The big linebacker joined the Vikings after the 2017 NFL Draft and, as an undrafted free agent, ended up making the 53-man roster that summer. Before obtaining a starting position in Mike Zimmer’s defense, Wilson spent his first two seasons mostly playing on special teams. In 2020, Wilson was the only NFL player to play in all 16 games with 15 starts and record 100 or more tackles, 3.0 or more sacks, and three interceptions. In addition, he caused a fumble, recovered two fumbles, and recorded a team-high eight stops for loss.
During the course of his five NFL seasons, he has earned 26 covering tackles and two blocks on special teams. During the Vikings’ first regular-season game against the Atlanta Falcons in 2019, Wilson deflected a punt from Matt Bosher. He stopped a kick by Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein for an extra point the following season.
In the Saints’ 20-10 loss to Green Bay, Wilson had four tackles. Wilson was the second-leading tackler for New Orleans throughout the preseason, but he was one of the last players cut by the Saints at the conclusion of training camp. He used the first month of the season with the team’s practice squad. In the Vikings’ first game of the season against the Green Bay Packers in 2020, Wilson was also given credit for a forced fumble.
Wilson joined the Philadelphia Eagles in April 2021 as an unrestricted free agent after spending four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. In seven games, he started twice, made 46 tackles, and one interception for the Eagles. The Texans used Wilson on special teams for seven games before Houston claimed him off waivers on November 4. In 2022, he signed for the Packers and has impressed them ever since.
Naturally, there will have been many around the country that have watched the Packers play that will have been impressed by Wilson’s efforts, especially as many found that they could enhance their overall experiences by placing wagers on the action that takes place on the gridiron.
There were more eyes than ever with a sports betting interest throughout the season just gone, too, with residents in locations like Ohio able to have placed bets legally. Due to recent changes in the law, a number of Ohio Sportsbooks have been made available, which have allowed punters to place wagers on the games he plays.
Indeed, many will have noted that he was an appealing option, too. Wilson made 17 tackles in all during this season. He received 35 defensive snaps as well (only 4% of the team’s defensive plays), largely against the Buffalo Bills. He registered a sack against the Bills.
Early in October, the New Orleans Saints cut Wilson from the practice squad, but he quickly established himself as a key player on the Green Bay Packers special team. Wilson finished second on the team in total tackles despite missing the first few weeks of the season due to injury. He also had a blocked punt and was not accountable for any missed tackles. In fact, Wilson had the best special teams grade in football among players who played at least 85 special teams plays in 2022. Wilson was instrumental in the Packers’ special teams unit improving from one of the worst in football during the previous five years, to one of the best in just one season. Of course, other factors too also played a role.
In addition to bringing on Rich Bisaccia, Brian Gutekunst signed a number of players specifically for the Packers’ special teams, including Wilson. Then, following the campaign, he stated that the organization intended to adopt a similar strategy in 2023, which would seem to include bringing back a significant player like Wilson. Wilson earned $1.035 million in 2022. Even for the Packers, who are tight for cash due to the salary cap, it should not be difficult to fit his contract into the books because of his performance.
This offseason, the Green Bay Packers must make a critical decision that will affect their future for many years. The issue with Aaron Rodgers needs to be addressed. The decision-making process, however, goes far further than just their quarterback. They need to decide fundamentally how they will approach the following seasons. Green Bay has three options: go all-in on a rebuild, make adjustments as they go, or go back in time and gamble on the squad as it is right now. Each option has advantages and disadvantages that the front office must assess.
No matter whatever path the Packers take, they must comply with the law regarding their salary cap. That requires touching almost all of the roster’s non-rookie contracts. Any of Green Bay’s veterans could be restructured, traded, or released, but it is anticipated that the organization would restructure the contracts of several of its veterans.
In 2022, Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed, who together played about 1,200 defensive line snaps, are expected to be free agents. Rashan Gary’s recent ACL injury necessitates the search for depth at outside linebacker. De’Vondre Campbell at inside linebacker needs to get back to his All-Pro level of play, while Quay Walker needs to show maturity in his second season. After a sophomore dip and a season-ending injury, Eric Stokes at cornerback needs to revert to his freshman form.