The Green Bay Packers suffered one of the most awful collapses in NFL history, making mistake after mistake to blow a 19-7 lead with under three minutes to go against the Seattle Seahawks to miss the Super Bowl. Such an ignominious loss left a bitter taste in the mouths of every Packer fan, and many of us don’t want to accept that the season is over. But, like it or not, it is, and the Packers need to make the right moves if they want to make another run. The opportunity is there, as the two teams that have bedeviled the Packers in the last few seasons, the 49ers and the Seahawks, look to be weakened. Here are what I believe the top priorities should be for Green Bay in the offseason.
Sign Randall Cobb. Cobb is the team’s most high-profile free agent, and is crucial to the offense continuing to hum like a well-oiled machine. After a one-year drop-off due to injury, Cobb made his first Pro Bowl this year, rolling up 1,287 yards on 91 catches and 12 TDs, all career highs. Cobb is especially important to keep because of his versatility. While he has excellent hands, he also has an extra burst of speed and elusiveness that our other receivers don’t have, and he can help stretch the field and take pressure off our other all-star wideout, Jordy Nelson. Cobb can also be used as a change-of-pace runner out of the backfield, which he has done with some success. I think the Packers would do well to increase his carries a little and see if he could add another dimension to the offense. Unless he or his agent makes untenable contract demands, he needs to remain on the roster.
Take a measured approach with the other free agents. There are many others on the list that could be viewed as essential parts, but Green Bay shouldn’t move heaven and earth to sign them like with Cobb. Probably the closest to Cobb in importance is left tackle Bryan Bulaga. The Packers’ offensive line did a much better job of protecting Aaron Rodgers than in past years, and Bulaga is a key cog of that unit. While he has been prone to injury in the past, he has been a solid performer when healthy.
The Packers shouldn’t feel obligated to keep any of their other free agents if they can’t be had for the right price. Fullback John Kuhn has been a nice power runner in short-yardage situations, and has made several Pro Bowls during his time with Green Bay. He’s a good piece but it wouldn’t break my heart if he left. Cornerback Tramon Williams has had his moments, such as this awesome interception in the NFC Divisional Playoffs against Atlanta the year GB last won the Super Bowl. But he’s 31 and was part of a secondary that was victimized several times by the Seahawks en route to their comeback win.
Defensive end BJ Raji has had his moments too, but if I’m the Packers, I only re-sign him if he’ll accept a one-year “prove it” deal. His career has also been injury-marred and not quite as consistent as someone like Bulaga. Letroy Guion had looked like a competent replacement for Raji, but his recent arrest for marijuana and firearm possession casts that into doubt. Aside from those, running back DuJuan Harris has been a decent if unspectacular kick/punt returner, wideout Jarrett Boykin regressed after a solid 2013, and backup QB Matt Flynn has filled in well at times, but he is replaceable if need be.
Shore up the secondary. As previously mentioned, the Packers’ secondary was shown to be soft when it mattered in the playoff loss to Seattle. The Packers could make a move to sign corner Byron Maxwell of the Seahawks, as the draft doesn’t appear to be flush with secondary talent and we would be stealing him from a chief rival. We could also potentially improve our secondary by letting Williams walk and slotting Davon House in his place, who could be signed for less and has shown promise as a young corner. That’s probably the likelier scenario, given that GB is rarely a big player in free agency, with the exception of the Julius Peppers signing last year. I would also hunt around for safety help in later rounds of the draft, cause I’m not sold on Morgan Burnett.
Pick up a linebacker or two in the draft. Since shifting Clay Matthews to the inside linebacker spot, the Packers’ defense has played a lot better. AJ Hawk and Brad Jones aren’t getting any younger and have been trending downward. Having another versatile threat would be great for the defense. SI’s latest mock draft has GB taking Eric Kendricks out of UCLA, and it describes him as having “a nose for the ball and adept [at] dropping into coverage.” So he could help our pass defense as well as supplementing Matthews’s superior pass rushing and run stopping. There appears to be a lot of first-round talent at linebacker in the draft this year, so another high-rated talent could fall into Green Bay’s lap in the first or later rounds. The Packers’ offense is superb, and if they can just get the defense to be good enough, this team could be damn near unstoppable.