Taking a break from Aaron Rodgers
A look at the biggest questions and developments surrounding the Packers besides the plight of their four-time MVP quarterback.
For the next few days, all the NFL power brokers will share space in Phoenix as part of the annual league meeting. That includes the general managers of the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets, the principal decision-makers involved in the still-pending Aaron Rodgers trade.
Virtually every meaningful angle of the Rodgers saga has garnered coverage and, unless the two sides make steps toward (or away from) an agreement, the story remains on the back burner for now. Accordingly, today's edition of The Leap examines the non-quarterback developments affecting the Packers.
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What's your biggest non-Rodgers question about the 2023 Packers heading into the final week of March?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: Since Peter hits on the situation at safety and tight end below, I'll tackle the other parts of the receiving corps. The Packers already have two rising second-year players at the top of the depth chart that look like multiyear starters: Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. Both spent portions of their rookie campaigns as the biggest playmakers on the field and appear well positioned to take the next step in their development in 2023, providing the offense with the foundational pieces in needs for an effective passing game.
However, relying on two wideouts in their early 20s to carry the offense seems foolhardy. Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst acknowledged as much earlier this offseason, forecasting a veteran addition that the front office has yet to make.
That move doesn't need to involve a big name like DeAndre Hopkins or Odell Beckham Jr., but the Packers would benefit significantly from a crafty pass catcher who specializes in tough third-down situations and other niche roles that require veteran savvy. Watson and Doubs already do a lot well, but it could take another year or more before they begin to look like complete receivers (if they ever reach that point at all). In all likelihood, someone else will have to fill that specific need for Green Bay in 2023.
With Jordan Love set to take over under center, Green Bay needs to figure this out in the not-too-distant future.
Peter Bukowski: Who is playing safety and tight end for this team? The Chicago Bears sniped Robert Tonyan and reports link Marcedes Lewis to Aaron Rodgers in New York, though that has yet to happen. Josiah Deguara carved out a role as an H-Back/fullback type last season while trying to claw his way out of the Rodgers doghouse, and Tyler Davis provides nothing more than break-in-case-of-emergency offensive play with a splash of special teams.
Luckily, the 2023 NFL draft class offers myriad opportunities to improve that position, though tight ends rarely produce as rookies. It’s one of the most nuanced positions in the league to learn because a tight end has to know every blocking scheme and protection in addition to every route, hot, and adjustment.
Green Bay likewise lacks options at a position normally responsible for covering tight ends. Adrian Amos will likely not be back (as of this writing), and though Rudy Ford returns on a one-year deal, his up-and-down performance won’t guarantee him the inside track on a starting role.
Joe Barry could opt to return Darnell Savage to his safety spot in the deep half or play him in the nickel where he looked more comfortable last season. Rasul Douglas’ instincts and ball skills make him a candidate to change positions, a move that makes even more sense with a deep cornerback class (and a comparably light safety class), and the Packers’ relative depth at the position with Eric Stokes and Jaire Alexander coming back in 2023.
It’s surprising Brian Gutekunst hasn’t done more to meaningfully fortify either position in free agency, but there’s plenty of time left to make a move or two.
Which non-Rodgers departure will most significantly affect the Packers this season?
JBH: The combination of Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed leaving should have a significant effect on the Packers this season, and not necessarily in a negative sense. Lowry battled inconsistencies last season while Reed provided merely workmanlike play along the defensive line. Still, both racked up roughly 1,200 combined snaps from scrimmage, keeping younger linemen like Devonte Wyatt and T.J. Slaton limited to reserve roles for most of 2022.
With Lowry and Reed gone, Wyatt should see the lion's share of the snaps alongside Kenny Clark with Slaton positioned to see plenty of work as well. The door also opens for Jonathan Ford, the massive defensive lineman who spent his entire 2022 season inactive, to battle for a role during training camp. The Packers can and likely will add to the group via the draft as well as a value signing at some point later in the offseason.
But, one way or another, Green Bay's defensive front will look considerably different in 2023.
PB: If the Packers get a player like Corey Davis back in any Rodgers deal, I think Green Bay will be in a good position to replace what Allen Lazard gave them last season. Until we actually see that trade, Lazard would be my answer.
But because not only do I think that will happen and because the trade hasn’t yet, I’m going to say the aforementioned Amos for many of the reasons I mentioned above. His departure leaves the Packers with no established options at safety and while Amos’ play fell off significantly in 2023, his steady play was the ballast for a ship that often felt like it was teetering on the brink of capsizing.
Even a depreciated version of Amos would seem to be meaningfully better than any option the Packers currently have and the safety market isn’t exactly booming. Unless Green Bay can add a guy like John Johnson III who played for Joe Barry in L.A., Gutekunst and Co. will not be able to add a player with the kind of reliability and institutional knowledge Amos gives this defense.
With most of the Packers' offseason additions coming on special teams and Rich Bisaccia adding assistant head coach to his title, do you expect a change in the team's approach to the third phase?
JBH: The title bump Rich Bisaccia received came largely as a way to acknowledge that the veteran special-teams coordinator garnered head-coaching interest for the second straight year. Bisaccia's actual role won't change as he already held sway with the front office on how to construct the parts of the roster from which his units pull. Keisean Nixon never lands in Green Bay if not for Bisaccia's influence, and the same probably applies to Pat O'Donnell, Rudy Ford, Dallin Leavitt, and several others.
Accordingly, I don't anticipate much of a change in 2023. Rather, Bisaccia's presence will continue to push the Packers to make meaningful investments in their special teams for another year. They've already signed long-snapper Matt Orzech to a three-year deal, one of the larger investments the franchise has made at that position in recent memory. As of this writing, Mason Crosby remains unsigned, leaving the door open for a change at kicker for the first time in well over a decade. All of these developments and possibilities seem tied to Bisaccia.
All of which to say, there won't be a change in 2023. That shift happened a year ago.
PB: I don’t want to make too much out of what is mostly par for the Packers course when it comes to free agency. Gutekunst took the Ted Thompson route to free agency so far this season, only signing fringe roster players who mostly contribute on special teams.
Still, this offseason feels different.
The addition of Rich Bisaccia brought with it an investment in players he wanted like Keisean Nixon and Dallin Leavitt, players who helped bring this team into the modern age of special teams. Leaving Bisaccia’s promotion aside, the steps to buttress this special-teams unit with useful NFL players and retain key contributors stands in contrast to much of the Thompson regime and Gutekunst’s early tenure when their version of building the special teams was, “Let’s hope the young, athletic guys we drafted on Day 3 can be good enough.”
Kassidy Hill wrote a piece for Packers News that provides a scathing indictment of the team’s approach to special teams over the years, and it stands in stark contrast to what we’ve seen the last 15 months. I talked to Kassidy in a terrific interview for Locked on Packers.
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