The general state of the Green Bay Packers at the conclusion of the 2018 NFL season could be summed up a little bit like this: A team that had clearly no direction or motivation to continue to improve week by week, with a roster depleted of talent. The Packers were coming off a 31-0 defeat to the Detroit Lions, which led many to believe that it was going to be a long while before the Green & Gold were of any significance in the NFC and throughout the rest of the league.
Enter a few weeks later, and the Packers were bringing in a young & coming head coach in Matt LaFleur from the Tennessee Titans, who had previous ties as Offensive Coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams under head coach Sean McVay. You could almost tell by the hire that a new vibe was about to hit Lombardi Avenue and Lambeau Field. Normally in an offseason where the Green Bay Packers front office normally sits pat and doesn’t acquire big-name talent, defensive players with a lot to prove like Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Adrian Amos were sure home run signings, helping the defense get their playmakers that they were truly lacking.
Before the season, if you asked me, I expected the Packers to be a 10-win team – still not among the elite, but vastly improved on both sides of the ball with the biggest determinant being the player-coach relationship between quarterback Aaron Rodgers & head coach Matt LaFleur. Face it, Rodgers didn’t have the statistical season that many of us were used to seeing from him, but we saw the emergence of Aaron Jones – a back that wasn’t used as much as he should’ve been under Mike McCarthy – but Jones turned into one of the most dynamic backs that this league should continue to see from here on out – as long as the ball is in his hands. Of note, losing Equanimenous St. Brown before the start of the season hurt the receiving core in a big way – but unproven young wideouts, especially Allen Lazard developed into a cusp-WR2 option behind Davante Adams. If I’m the Packers front office, I’d expect a WR (or two) to be drafted in a few months with one of the deepest WR drafts that we’ve seen in a long time.
Some losses hurt more than others – imagine if the Packers could’ve knocked off the Eagles in late September, and then flipping the script to a home game yesterday at chilly Lambeau Field instead of Levi’s Stadium, where the state of California this season was the true kryptonite to this Packers bunch (a good reminder now that the Packers visit San Fran again in 2020.) A lot of close games pulled in the Packers favor this season, where next year, I expect Chicago, Detroit, and Minnesota to be vastly improved. Before I go, I have a little bit of a wish list for my Green & Gold – moves that could help improve the team and continue to keep that window of competitiveness open for the years to come with a young & talented core.
- Find some way to extend Kenny Clark – I think Clark is by far one of the most underrated pass rushers in the business – while his stat line isn’t truly that impressive, his efforts are what helped both of the Smith Brothers earn double digit sack totals. While injuries also may have hurt his numbers and means of production, he’s been a solo act in making his presence felt along the interior. Check out his tape against the Carolina Panthers:
- Move on from Jimmy Graham and find another option at TE – I think it’s safe to say that Jimmy Graham has played his last down for the Green Bay Packers as of yesterday – at his age and throughout his tenure with the Green & Gold, his numbers were underwhelming to say the least. I honestly understand that after Jordy Nelson was cut and Graham was brought in, I was expecting a whole lot more from him that was he actually produced. He can opt out of his contract for next season. It’s frustrating as a Packer fan to say that he wasn’t the all-out tight end we expected him to be – not great while blocking or drops here and there – but I’d be curious what GM Brian Gutekunst does with Jimmy Graham and exploring other options too, as Marcedes Lewis is average at best and at the age of 35, maybe looking at younger options or even the draft.
- What to do with Bryan Bulaga? – Bulaga has been a Packer his whole career – he’s started a family and has made Green Bay home. Bulaga, an offensive tackle drafted out of Iowa in 2010 has had his injuries from time to time as a member of the Packers offensive line – and will likely fetch a hefty price-tag this offseason from other suitors across the league. He works extremely well with All-Pro David Bakhtiari, and with what he brings to the table, it’s likely that the Packers wouldn’t have been one of the best pass-blocking tandems in the league. I truly expect the Packers to move on from Bulaga, but that’s without assurance that they’re able to find another offensive gem in the draft like what they found with Elgton Jenkins. Late-season signing and veteran Jared Veldheer could fill in Bulaga’s shoes if the Packers do move on from him.
- Drafting 30th Overall in the 2020 NFL Draft – there’s still good quality players in the late 1st round, but in a draft that’s by far one of the deepest and most talented that we’ve seen in years from the offensive side of the ball, I would expect the Packers to do either of the following:
- Draft & develop a promising, athletic LB
- Go grab a WR – Laviska Shenault catches my eye in particular – if he’s on the boards.
- Maybe look at a tackle to replace Bulaga (see above)
- Look at a faster interior pass rusher to compliment Kenny Clark
The Packers could take their first-round pick and turn it into another couple second-round picks, which I’d be more than okay with as well. This is a deep draft and the Packers could reload and improve in that regard as well.
The Packers 2020 Opponents have also been set, so here’s what we can look forward to next season. Dates and times are scheduled to be released in April:
HOME: Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, Atlanta, Carolina, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Philadephia
AWAY: Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, Houston, San Francisco
Looking ahead, I’d predict a few primetime games next season, notably against Philadelphia, Tennessee, or on the road at New Orleans, Houston or San Francisco. Of course, you can’t rule out a NFC North matchup on Sunday Night Football, Thursday Night Football or Monday Night Football again, either.
Thanks to the Packers for a great season and for helping bring competitive football to Lambeau Field this season. And as all Vikings fans say, there’s always next year!
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