The final stretch of a long offseason
In less than a month, rookies and veterans will have reported to Packers training camp.
The final stretch of the offseason has arrived. In less than one month, rookies and veterans will have reported to training camp for the Green Bay Packers. Accordingly, Peter and I will take a brief break from The Leap beginning next Monday, though we will reconvene for major news should any transpire. Otherwise, we will return before the start of camp fully recharged and ready for the 2022 NFL season.
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While the Packers remain all in on chasing a title now, they could still conceivably trade away a contributor at an area of depth for assets and/or cap relief to use elsewhere. Should Brian Gutekunst decide to go that route, which player could make the most sense to deal?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: Trading Dean Lowry could create multiple benefits for both the Packers and the veteran defensive lineman. Already this offseason, the Packers have added free agent Jarran Reed and first-round pick Devonte Wyatt to a defensive front that already featured star defensive tackle Kenny Clark and promising youngster T.J. Slaton. Between that depth and the frequency with which coordinator Joe Barry uses three or more linemen — less than a third of defensive snaps during the 2022 regular season, according to Pro Football Focus — Green Bay's dependence on Lowry has fallen considerably from previous seasons.
While the Packers don't have to trade Lowry, they would reap some benefits from doing so. His departure would open up opportunities for Wyatt and Slaton, each of which possesses the tools to develop into fixtures along the defensive line. Reed, who has rarely missed games in his career, should help fortify the unit should the younger players endure growing pains. Lowry still has value to the Packers, but that figure has diminished given the opportunity cost of providing more work to those other contributors.
However, arguably the most significant upside to a Lowry trade lies with the salary cap. Dealing him now would create a gain of nearly $6 million in cap space, giving the Packers a hair under $23 million in available funds. That would provide the front office enough room for a major swing on a veteran player such as a wideout unable or unwilling to sign an extension with his current team. Green Bay has fronted as though the receiving corps doesn't need any more work following the draft, and perhaps that will prove true. However, should Terry McLaurin, Deebo Samuel, DK Metcalf, or some other established pass catcher force his way onto the trade market, the Packers would look better positioned to handle the financial obligations of the new contract that would accompany a trade.
Peter Bukowski: Lowry makes the most sense from a financial standpoint, but I wonder what the value of a player like Royce Newman might be if the Packers rookies show well in camp. Newman started nearly all of last season, played tackle in college and guard in the NFL, and played in a system that half the NFL or more already runs.
It’s frankly not hard to imagine Zach Tom and Sean Rhyan getting up to speed quickly and outplaying him to earn that starting spot with Jon Runyan Jr. opposite him. The team already has Elgton Jenkins who, although he’s likely going to play right tackle this season, could play guard in a pinch if depth got perilous, particularly with Yosh Nijman waiting to step in at tackle.
Newman would be on a quality deal for this year and two more seasons after that and offensive linemen are not easy commodities to acquire. There are plenty of teams, even contending teams, who might consider trading for a young lineman with promise.
The Packers defense enters 2022 with as much talent as they've had in years. Where is the weak point?
JBH: In terms of personnel, the defense doesn't have any glaring hole among the expected starters. However, the depth behind Rashan Gary and Preston Smith presents some valid reason for concern. The Packers' coaching staff has expressed confidence in Randy Ramsey and Jonathan Garvin, and rookie Kingsley Enagbare offers some promise, but none represents a sure bet to perform well when called upon. Green Bay had concerns about the backups last season as well with Za'Darius Smith effectively missing the entire year which led the front office to sign Whitney Mercilus midseason. Fortunately for the team, Gary and Smith combined to miss just two starts.
The Packers can't depend on their top outside linebackers each playing so many games in 2022. While their young edge rushers will receive opportunities to prove their mettle, general manager Brian Gutekunst and his personnel department will monitor the free-agent and trade markets for a veteran to add to the rotation throughout the season.
PB: There’s a case for the coaching, which was precisely why Mike Pettine no longer coaches this group. That said, the Packers defense played its best when its best was needed last season, against the top competition. Defensively, Green Bay played stout, aggressive football against playoff teams last season and Joe Barry deserves credit for those moments. I didn’t always love how passive he was against bad QBs, but that’s not going to hurt you in the playoffs because the Packers likely won’t face one of those.
With that said, the run defense still has plenty to prove. Jarran Reed and Devonte Wyatt can help, along with Quay Walker, but going from one the 5 worst units in the league to even just an OK group would be a massive step. They have the talent, but they still need to prove it.
Last season, the Packers offense finished second in DVOA and third in EPA per play. If we assume David Bakhtiari is ready for Week 1 and Elgton Jenkins plays at some point, how far will this offense fall in the rankings if at all?
PB: For a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, losing Davante Adams will matter significantly less with Bakhtiari and Jenkins out there, though we can’t take the Bakhtiari piece for granted after the last 18 months he’s had post-ACL surgery. That said, the skill talent question persists. Among teams at the top of the league, the Packers will have by far the thinnest group of pass-catchers even if they have arguably the best duo of running backs in football.
Somewhere in the 6-10 range offensively makes sense and when you consider the Patriots finished 9th in DVOA last year with Mac Jones and a cavalcade of mediocrity at receiver, it’s hard to imagine the Packers falling too far from the top of the league simply because they have Rodgers and no one else does.
I’ve seen some make the argument the offense will actually be better without Adams because they’ll rely on one player less. I don’t buy those, particularly when combined with the loss of Marquez Valdes-Scantling who cannot be replaced 1:1 in Week 1 by either Christian Watson or Romeo Doubs. Those rookies show promise so far and can be valuable players by say mid-season, but the offense will take some time to find its footing with so many new pieces.
Expect this group to be somewhat like last year: slow-ish starting and then taking off around Halloween when the offensive line gets its two horses back in the saddle. Rodgers with time>weapons and he’s proven that throughout his career.
JBH: Oh no …
Peter, if you haven't moved already, it's too late. RIP.
PB: DID YOU HEAR THAT