What do the Packers still have at stake in 2022?
Following Week 11's loss to the Titans, the Packers probably don't have a playoff berth for which to contend. However, the rest of the 2022 season could determine Green Bay's future.
For the first time this season, the Green Bay Packers did not take the field on Sunday. Instead, they managed to leave their fans disappointed a full three days earlier, falling 27-17 to the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau Field.
Without a fresh game to break down -- we covered the fallout from the Week 11 loss in Friday's newsletter -- today's edition of The Leap will instead address what the Packers can still accomplish this season, what the future might hold, and a look ahead to draft season.
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Jason's question: Assume the Packers miss the playoffs. What could they do or show that would make you feel they can make a run in 2023?
Peter Bukowski: The combination of Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson shows progress beyond what we’ve seen to date. Defensively, the Packers never played to their potential, but that looks more like a coaching and schematic problem than personnel. Whether or not the Packers make a move in the offseason—at the moment I believe they will—probably won’t be affected by what happens down the stretch of the season in games that don’t actually matter.
Doubs and Watson demonstrating chemistry with Aaron Rodgers and/or Jordan Love will go a long way to encouraging us to believe there are reasons for improvement for this offense, the side of the team that has underperformed far more than the defense even if we assumed Joe Barry’s side of the ball would be better.
Watson’s ability to play at all three levels paired with Doubs’ route-running and feel offers the potential for a special tandem. If they show that this season, there’s good reason to believe the offense will be able to pick them up even if the defense doesn’t materially improve. That’s a potentially monumental shift in ‘23 and beyond.
Peter's question: With Aaron Rodgers' age, contract, and Jordan Love's status, what's the best course of action moving for the Packers moving forward with this QB group? And is that the same as what you think the Packers will do?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: The Packers don't control much about this situation. If Aaron Rodgers wants to play in 2023, he does. If he decides to call it a career after 18 seasons, that too remains out of their hands.
But despite the less-than-stellar play of late, Rodgers still offers the best path to contention in 2023. He might no longer have the ability to perform like an MVP on a consistent basis, and he hasn't hit that level for a full game yet this season. However, he also doesn't resemble end-stages Drew Brees or Peyton Manning either. With a capable supporting cast, he can lead a functioning, high-scoring offense.
If Rodgers returns, that almost certainly means the team will not pick up Jordan Love's fifth-year option. That says more about the Packers' cap situation than it does the former first-round pick. If exercised, Love's option would cost the average of the third to 25th highest salaries at the position over the previous five seasons. That figure will fall in the $20 million range, more than the already cap-leveraged Packers can likely afford.
Of course, if Rodgers does retire, the Packers probably do pick up Love's option. For as little as he has shown so far, getting an extended look at a quarterback for which the front office traded up in 2020 seems like an easy call. Perhaps that situation gets messier if Green Bay ends up with such a high pick that general manager Brian Gutekunst can take one of the top signal-callers in a deeper rookie class, but the team hasn't reached that stage yet.
As for the second part of your question, Rodgers has 59.5 million reasons not to walk away this offseason. Given that the Packers functionally cannot trade him on his current contract before June 1 due to the cap ramifications, a trade doesn't seem likely either. For those reasons, I expect Rodgers to lace up the cleats for Green Bay next season.
With draft season fast approaching, what player has the inside track to become your "draft crush" in 2023 regardless of projected round?
JBH: Devon Witherspoon. The Illinois cornerback has the size and physical style to handle the NFL and has played the past two seasons in the defensive system of Ryan Walters, a coordinator who has garnered NFL interest. Witherspoon emerged as a full-time starter in 2021 but has come into his own this year, allowing only one reception of 20 or more yards and zero touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus.
While Witherspoon will probably get his first crack playing along the boundary, he could also operate in the slot as well. He has already played over 100 snaps there in 2022 and can help shore up run defense on the edges.
As with all corner prospects, athletic testing will play a major role in determining where Witherspoon goes in the draft. But if he performs as expected, he could end up a top-100 pick.
PB: I have a thing for USC receivers and it doesn’t matter what shape or size or speed they have. I’m in. I loved Robert Woods, Nelson Agholor, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Michael Pittman and only god knows how many other Trojan receivers.
Jordan Addison is not going to break the mold. Though he’s undersized by Packers standards at 175 pounds, his dynamic playmaking ability will reel me in once again. He’s a different type of receiver for Green Bay and if he shows up to the combine more like 185, he may just convince them he’s the kind of player who fits perfectly with the aforementioned Doubs and Watson from a body-type standpoint.
Addison started his career at Pittsburgh but transferred to USC and continued to show out. He’s an extremely talented player who can play in the slot or out wide and although he’s not the prototypical Packers receiver, he’s someone I just click with. He’s not No. 1 in the program (He’s No. 3), but he’s No. 1 in our hearts.