Packers' stars take center stage during busy NFL Scouting Combine
With Aaron Rodgers' future still unclear, the Packers will come up frequently during important conversations happening in Indianapolis.
The 2022 NFL Scouting Combine kicks off this week with draft prospects engaging in more media and team interviews than at almost any time in their careers. Meanwhile, NFL executives and agents will meet in various backrooms and establishments in downtown Indianapolis to figure out where the biggest names on the free-agent market will land. For the Green Bay Packers, who continue to work through their salary-cap finances while awaiting a decision from Aaron Rodgers, this week will prove incredibly important.
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How believable do you find Brian Gutekusnt's claim that Davante Adams could make it to the open market?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: While Brian Gutekunst has shown more honesty than many of his contemporaries — recall his remarks when the Packers traded for Randall Cobb at Aaron Rodgers' behest — the team will not allow Davante Adams to reach free agency under any circumstances. Even if Rodgers tells Green Bay that he will retire or demands a trade, Gutekunst still has every incentive to use the franchise tag on Adams even if only to later execute a sign-and-trade deal.
Regardless, Adams offers value to the Green Bay offense regardless of who starts under center. Certainly, Rodgers would want his No. 1 receiver back in the fold. However, if Love ends up playing, having an All-Pro wideout on which to lean could make a tremendous difference. The Packers cannot let a player like Adams walk for nothing, and they won't.
Peter Bukowski: He has to say this. If Gutekunst said, “Nah, we will pay him whatever to make sure this doesn’t happen,” then he loses all his leverage. He’s already said on the record he believes Adams is worth the No. 1 receiver deal in the league and he wants the Packers to give it to him. He said they just don’t agree what the number is because of DeAndre Hopkins’ fake numbers extension a few years ago.
Reporting late in the year made it clear the Packers would be willing to use the tag. Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson said on a podcast this week Green Bay has made it clear Adams will be staying with the team, whether it’s on a new deal or an extension. They want Adams back and they want Rodgers to know if bringing Adams with him would be an incentive to leave, then that incentive doesn’t exist.
There are reasonable questions to ask about whether paying Adams a top-of-market deal to catch passes from Jordan Love makes sense for the Packers even if Adams is willing to take it, but with Rodgers likely to return, a new deal likewise feels like the most likely outcome here.
When do you expect the Packers will have a decision from Aaron Rodgers on the 2022 season?
JBH: The Packers should know Rodgers' answer well before the start of free agency, which officially kicks off on March 16. Perhaps the team already knows, a notion supported by the front office's moves to not only restructure multiple contracts but add void years to them in the process. Doing so further lowers the 2022 cap figures for the respective players and creates more room to help accommodate new contracts for Rodgers (and Adams).
But at least officially, the Packers continue to claim they await Rodgers' decision. Gutekunst said as much during Tuesday's press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine, detailing the process the reigning MVP goes through to prepare for a season.
"There's no new updates," Gutekunst said. "He's got a very tough process that he goes through to get himself ready to play every season. It's a big commitment. And he's done that for a long time and it certainly shows with the results. I think he feels he needs to do that, to play the way at the level he plays at. And so I know that that weighs on him, but I think he's going through that now."
Still, the Packers and Rodgers both have an interest in finalizing whatever agreement they need before March 8, the deadline to use the tag on Adams. That seems like the most logical time for a decision to reach the public.
PB: Ian Rapoport has reported each of the last two days the Packers and Rodgers are talking new deal with the caveat that it’s “if” Rodgers wants to come back, but if Rodgers wanted to be traded, no new deal would have to be worked out. Rodgers said he won’t drag the decision out, but with every sign pointing toward his return, what is he waiting for?
I assumed we’d have an answer yesterday on the usual Aaron Rodgers Tuesday. Not getting one is … weird. But as Jason says, the decision has to come before the new league year at the very least and better for Green Bay, before the franchise tag window expires.
The Packers can always take Adams and figure it out before the new league year kicks off, but that’s a sub-optimal outcome, and that’s assuming we trust the reporting (and Gutekunst) that the tag is in play despite Green Bay’s historical avoidance of it.
Which televised part of the NFL Scouting Combine will matter most for the Packers this year?
JBH: Given the probability that the Packers move on from Za'Darius Smith for cap reasons, the scouting department will keep a very close eye on this year's crop of edge rushers. Sure, Rashan Gary just delivered a stellar campaign and Preston Smith might sign an extension later this offseason, but Green Bay has never shied away from adding top-end pass rushers in the draft.
The 2022 crop includes plenty of intriguing prospects that, at least as of now, could fall in the Packers' range. Michigan's David Ojabo and Florida State's Jermaine Johnson II possess the length coveted by Green Bay, and USC's Drake Jackson could make sense as a project on Day 2. And, as in most years, other pass rushers will emerge after blowing away the combine tests. These measurements matter to teams like the Packers who favor athletic traits over nearly everything else at the position.
PB: The receiver drills. At this point, I don’t blame Packers fans feeling like Charlie Brown with the football and these receivers, but it doesn’t have to be a first-round guy. Green Bay cares about testing scores at every position and with Adams going to count a boatload on the cap, Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling free agents (though Lazard is restricted), the Packers are likely going to need to add some speed and playmaking to this group.
There are some speed guys who have to run fast to prove it, some slower guys (Hello, Drake London) who have to meet some baselines for Green Bay, and some gadget guys who have to just not look terrible. Over the last few years, there have been players the Packers could drafted, guys Packers fans wanted them to draft, who just never met their athleticism requirements. Tee Higgins is a great example.
If you want the Packers to draft a receiver, make sure he’s someone who runs fast.
JBH: In the aftermath of Super Bowl LVI and the ACL tear suffered by Odell Beckham Jr., countless fans and media members complained that the playing surface at SoFi Stadium and other NFL venues doesn't use natural grass. Those sentiments have come up frequently, with former Packers offensive lineman and NFLPA president JC Tretter pushing for changes as a matter of player safety.
The arguments make sense. Many of the artificial surfaces have higher rates of injury, and ACL tears increased in 2021 from their previous-year totals. The NFL has to take those factors into consideration given the impact on players and the overall football product.
At the same time, the league doesn't have full agency to change these surfaces. Many NFL locations must conform to local water-conservation regulations. That includes SoFi Stadium, located in a state that has endured a years-long drought. Other venues could have issues growing grass as well. Famously, Soldier Field and Heinz Field have used natural grass for decades, and both regularly become mud pits during the season.
So how does the NFL improve their playing surfaces given those limitations? The right solution might come from Green Bay. The Packers have used a hybrid surface at Lambeau Field that has the feel of natural grass but the sustainability of an artificial option. It might not work for every stadium — indoor venues present unique challenges — but the league has no reason not to consider the hybrid model where applicable.
PB: Also in Charles Robinson’s comments on The Athletic Football Show, the Yahoo reporter insisted Brian Gutekunst would not trade Jordan Love even if an interested team came calling. This was based on Gutekunst’s belief in Love and in spite of a team like the Colts who, according to Robinson, were enamored with Love in the pre-draft process.
The future of Love will be a topic of conversation until he’s made the full-time starter. Gutekunst said in Indy yesterday the next step in Love’s development is the play. When will that be? For now, it will be preseason games only, games in which Love showed exciting flashes last season.
When will it be as the full-time, preferred starter? That’s a question for Aaron Rodgers, at least for now.