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As the new league year approaches and free agency begins, the biggest question many Packers fans have is how aggressive will new GM Brian Gutekunst be? Will he play it conservative and risk-free similar to his predecessor Ted Thompson? Or will he swing for the fences and attempt to make a statement in his first offseason?

After a disappointing 2017 season plagued by injuries and lack of youth development, it’s clear the Packers need a major roster revamp. They will most certainly look to add talent via their 12 picks in the upcoming NFL draft. However, they have whiffed on several of their recent draft picks and their championship window is closing fast. To avoid missing out on a prime opportunity it’s important that front office finds a way to open up the checkbook. Adding a couple surefire veterans to boost the roster immediately could be all this team needs to make another playoff run.

The Packers have just south of $16 million dollars to work with this offseason. With that in mind, it seems highly unlikely that they will go on a free agent spending spree. Not to mention about half of that money will be allocated to the incoming draft class.

Gutekunst will need to be creative if he plans on being aggressive in free agency. Green Bay must free up additional cap space if they want to become players on the market. If they’re able to do so, look for them to bulk up their depth, specifically on defense.

Cornerback

The Packers biggest needs reside on the defensive side of the ball. The team lacks elite talent on all three levels but cornerback must be addressed first and foremost. In 2017, they were among the league’s worst in defending against the pass. As a matter of fact, they ranked last in the NFC allowing an opponent passer rating of 102. When opponents targeted their top receiver, Green Bay ranked last in the NFL in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) efficiency.

What this team lacks and desperately needs is a shutdown cornerback they can isolate on an island. A player that can man up with an opponent’s number one receiver and be trusted to get the job done.

When healthy, rookie Kevin King showed promise and looked like he could be groomed into that kind of role. Bringing in a proven veteran to start opposite of King would not only help expedite his development but would also allow Damarious Randall to slide into slot coverage where he is better suited to excel.

Given the team’s current cap situation, don’t expect them to go wild and spend big here. However, if they manage to create some cap space, look for them to make a splash by targeting a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback. The type of player with the ability to come in and change the culture of this defense from day one. Potential candidates include:

Trumaine Johnson

At 6’1″ 205 pounds, Johnson is a big and athletic corner similar in size to King (6’3″ 200 pounds). He is a true number one CB with the ability to match up with anybody in the league. He’s versatile, but excels in press-man coverage. Johnson would provide new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine an elite playmaker on the outside to work with. There will be no shortage of suitors looking to invest in his services and he will command top dollar. 

Malcolm Butler

Borderline tier 1-tier 2 cover corner that lacks the necessary size (5’11″ 190 pounds) to compete with some of the bigger receivers in the NFL today. After an all-pro campaign in 2016, last season was considered a down year for Butler. When he is at his best he can hang with the best, and he plays with that intensive swagger you love to see from your defensive backs. Like Johnson, Butler will be highly sought after.

Kyle Fuller

Fuller has had an up-and-down career to this point but the arrow is currently pointing upward. At age 26, he is just entering his prime and his best football is ahead of him. After a solid rookie year, Fuller struggled to adapt to a new defensive coordinator’s scheme in 2015. He then missed all of 2016 with a knee injury before a strong bounce back in 2017. Fuller finished the season tied for second with 22 passes defended to go with a pair of interceptions. Fuller provides tremendous versatility and would be a significant upgrade in the Packers secondary. 

EJ Gaines

A sixth-round pick by the Rams in 2014, Gaines was traded to Buffalo before the start of last season, where he excelled in Sean McDermott’s zone-coverage scheme. He graded out as the 13th best cornerback overall on Pro Football Focus. Although he would be an upgrade for the Packers secondary, his lack of coverage versatility, as well as durability concerns (missed 26 of last 48 games), may keep him off their radar.

Rashaan Melvin

A 2013 undrafted free agent, Melvin bounced around the league before finally finding success in Indianapolis over the past year. PFF gave him a grade of 85.7 for the 2017 season which ranks 17th among qualified cornerbacks. He’s listed at 6’2″ and 193 pounds sporting that tall, lanky frame that bodes well for boundary corners. Melvin is a sticky cover man with great ball skills that has played well in a variety of coverages. The former Colt could potentially be a great compliment to King on the outside. However, lack of game experience coupled with overnight success is concerning for a guy that will turn 29 this fall. 

Edge Rusher

Green Bay ranked 17th in sacks last year and led by Clay Matthews with 7 ½. When healthy, Matthews and Nick Perry are impact players on the outside. The problem is, they both come with durability issues and Matthews is entering the last year of his contract. Behind those two guys, there’s not much depth or experience the Packers can rely on.

If the pass rush can begin applying pressure at a higher rate, some burden will be lifted from the secondary. Therefore, it is crucial to the success of this team that they can unlock a couple rotational pass rushers. Nothing fancy. Just a production in a pinch type player or two that can provide fresh legs and energy. A guy they can rely on to spot start a few games if any regulars have to miss time. This year’s free agency class for edge rushers is by no means dynamic, but there are still a few guys that could be potential fits.

Aaron Lynch

At 6’5″ and 250 pounds, Lynch fits the build for your prototypical 3-4 edge rusher. Drafted by San Francisco in 2014, Lynch has failed to produce consistently at the NFL level. He will turn just 25 this year and has untapped potential. If given a chance with the right team and coaching staff he could become a force on the edge. Because the reward here greatly outweighs the risk Lynch may be a guy worth gambling on.

Trent Murphy

Another guy from the 2014 draft class that has tremendous value potential. Unlike Lynch, Murphy is more proven in the NFL but is coming off an ACL tear for which he missed all last season for. He has never been known to be an explosive rusher but is a fiery competitor with a relentless pursuit that has made up for his lack of explosion. Murphy could add value at a discounted rate and has the ability to become more than just a situational pass rusher. He could push for significant playing time outside allowing Pettine to better utilize the versatility of playmaker Matthews.   

Jeremiah Attaochu

A former second-round pick by the Chargers in 2014, Attaochu was off to a decent start in his career. However, he has been hampered by injuries that have slowed his growth. When he has been healthy it has been increasingly difficult to find playing time as he sits behind Pro Bowlers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa on the depth chart.

Attaochu is an athletic and explosive rusher that provides flexibility as he can rush from the outside or the inside. He just turned 25 this year and like Lynch has untapped potential. Edge rushers will always hold a high value on the market but due to his lack of production and inability to get on the field, he could be a steal.

Offensive Line

When healthy, this offensive line is a cohesive group that is considered a strength of this team. However, the depth along the line is just not there. Starting tackle Bryan Bulaga is coming off an ACL injury and whether or not he can return to form remains to be seen. Kyle Murphy and Jason Spriggs have shown flashes of potential at times but not anything consistent enough to be trusted.

The Packers also have a hole at right guard as Jahri Evans is set to hit the market as a free agent. In-house candidates to fill that void include Justin McCray and Lucas Patrick. Green Bay will look to add to this group through the draft but bringing in a solid and trustworthy veteran on a short-term deal seems likely as well. Some names to consider:

Jahri Evans

The Packers brought in the 34-year old veteran on a one-year deal last year and it worked out perfectly. Bringing him back for 2018 is a likely scenario as the cost will be cheap for the level of play provided. Coaches often talk about the best kind of ability is availability, and that is exactly what Evans gives you. The six-time Pro Bowler has started 183 out of a possible 192 career games.

Josh Sitton

Could the Packers bring back a familiar face to provide offensive line depth? Sitton played the first eight years of his career in Green Bay before joining the Bears in 2016. The soon-to-be 32-year-old has made it to four Pro Bowls and could still have quality miles left in the tank.

During the time of his departure, there was some tension between him and the team. That might cause both parties to stay away from each other altogether. However, if both parties take a strictly business approach, it may be a win-win situation.

Justin Pugh

A former first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Pugh has been hampered by injuries throughout his playing career. When he is on the field he has proven that he can do well and produce in the NFL. He is a versatile and flexible lineman that can play several positions along the line. His high level of production and upside will drive his market value up, while durability concerns will likely cause the Packers to avoid the financial risk.

Alex Boone

An undrafted free agent in 2009, Boone climbed his way up the depth chart in San Francisco. He eventually elevated his play to be a reliable starter on the offensive line throughout his career. He would be a solid addition to a Packers team lacking depth along the offensive front. Boone would push for a starting job at guard, or at worst become a capable sixth man. Turning 31 this year, he would likely sign a cost-effective deal, especially with a team he has a chance to win with.

Wide Receiver

The Packers have often been regarded as having the slowest receiving group in the entire league. This may be true, but often times it hasn’t mattered much because of Aaron Rodgers ability to throw a guy open. The loss of Rodgers last year exposed a lot of flaws with this football team. One thing in particular was a mediocre wide receiver group that struggled to beat man-coverage or create separation.

As of now, the Packers are set to roll with Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb as their top three receivers. Behind those guys though, is a world of unknowns. Also, Nelson and Cobb are both on the last year of their current contracts. They’re both set to earn about $12 million this year, which would make them prime candidates for a restructure when considering their recent level of production.

It’s clear this team lacks elite-level playmakers and that is something the front office will need to address. Going out and signing a receiver may not be the wisest thing when they’ve already invested almost 24% of the salary cap into one position. The wise move would be to use a couple of draft picks to bring in some competition. However, if Gutekunst can get creative and free up some money maybe there is a scenario where the Packers target one of these players:

Donte Moncrief 

Moncrief has the intangibles that scouts look for in a receiver, 6’2,” 220, and runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. Well, Moncrief is that guy. A third-round pick out of Mississippi in 2014, Moncrief has had a shaky career to this point. The dude is full of potential as he possesses all of the physical tools needed to excel. The former Colt would provide flexibility as he could line up outside, opposite Adams. This move would then allow Nelson to play more from the slot and reinvent himself in a similar fashion that Larry Fitzgerald did. Due to some inconsistent production, Moncrief could potentially be signed at a great value when you consider his upside.  

John Brown

Brown would give the Packers the type of weapon they have lacked for some time now. An absolute burner who can take the top off of defenses. He was a 1,000-yard receiver back in 2015 but has failed to put up numbers remotely close to that production each of the last two seasons. The upside is there for this guy but injuries have put a damper on his growth.

Most notably, problems arising from the sickle-cell trait he possesses which seems to slow down his recovery process. When healthy, he is a difference maker and a matchup nightmare due to his speed and shiftiness. Brown could become a bargain due to an inability to stay on the field combined with a recent lack of consistency. There are several more high profiled receivers on the market this year, which may also cause Brown to fly under the radar.

Sports Al Dente 2019

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