- Randall Cobb, WR: Four years, $40MM. $13MM guaranteed.
- Bryan Bulaga, T: Five years, $33.75MM. $8MM guaranteed.
- Sean Richardson, S: One year, $2.55MM. $2.35MM guaranteed. Matched Raiders’ RFA offer sheet.
- B.J. Raji, DT: One year, $1.75MM. $500K guaranteed.
- Scott Tolzien, QB: One year, $1.2MM. $100K guaranteed.
- Letroy Guion, DT: One year, $2.75MM.
- Don Barclay, OL: One year, $1.542MM. Signed original-round RFA tender.
- John Kuhn, FB: One year, minimum salary.
In January, the Packers suffered one of the more crushing playoff defeats in recent memory, blowing a 16-0 halftime lead in the NFC Championship Game in Seattle and ultimately succumbing to the Seahawks in overtime, 28-22. That game saw a fake field goal attempt result in a touchdown, a recovered onside kick, and a two point conversion that is still difficult to explain.
Despite all that, the fact remains that Green Bay was within a hair’s breadth of advancing to the Super Bowl for the second time in the Aaron Rodgers era. The Packers were finally able to establish a legitimate running game with the emergence of Eddie Lacy, and their defense was at least good enough to support the league’s most prolific offense, which racked up 486 points as Rodgers cruised to his second league MVP award.
As a result, the team did not really need to make a big splash in free agency, and it did well to retain two foundational pieces of its offense, pieces that would have been quickly scooped up by another club. Randall Cobb, perhaps the best slot receiver in the league at the moment, agreed to stay in Green Bay on a four-year, $40MM pact, which was probably $4-8MM less than he could have received on the open market. Indeed, Cobb may have had as many as seven other offers on the table, but because he chose to remain with the team that drafted him, the Packers now have the luxury of fielding one of the most dynamic receiving tandems in the game for the next few years. Cobb and fellow wideout Jordy Nelson, who signed a four-year extension with Green Bay in July 2014, combined for 2,806 yards and 25 touchdowns last season, and since entering the league in 2011, Cobb has caught a league-best 75.2% of his targets. Nelson and Cobb, along with Lacy and Rodgers, will give the Packers more than enough firepower to continue terrorizing opposing defenses.
After re-signing Cobb, the Packers quickly moved on to star right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who was also generating plenty of interest from other teams. Bulaga graded out as the league’s fourth-best right tackle last season, according to Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics (subscription required), and he was able to stay healthy after losing almost half of 2012 and all of 2013 to injury. He received especially high marks for his pass-blocking performance in support of Rodgers, yielding just four sacks–two of which came in one game–and two other quarterback hits over the course of the season. Like Cobb, Bulaga agreed to take a contract a little under market value in order to stay in Green Bay as an integral part of a legitimate championship contender. Although the five-year, $33.75MM deal was a little out of the Packers’ comfort zone, when you have a quarterback like Rodgers, you have to give him the weapons he needs to succeed. By retaining Cobb and Bulaga one year after extending Nelson, Green Bay has managed to do just that.
Defensively, the modest one-year deals given out to B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion may not seem like major moves, but they help provide veteran stability to a fairly deep defensive line rotation. Raji has not been much of a factor in the pass rush since 2010, but after missing all of 2014 with a torn bicep, his return should at least help boost a defense that ranked 23rd against the run last year.
Guion played well at nose tackle in Raji’s stead last season, and although he could be suspended for as many as four games to begin the 2015 campaign, he should continue to be productive when he does see the field, particularly since he will likely be playing more snaps at defensive end as a result of Raji’s return. By combining Guion and Raji with Mike Daniels’ consistently excellent play against both the run and pass, not to mention potential contributions from Josh Boyd and former first-round pick Datone Jones—who will serve a one-game suspension to open the year—the Packers will field a solid, if unspectacular, defensive front.
- Brandon Bostick, TE: Waived
- Jarrett Boykin, WR
- Jarrett Bush, CB
- Matt Flynn, QB
- A.J. Hawk, LB: Released
- DuJuan Harris, RB
- Davon House, CB
- Brad Jones, LB: Released
- Jamari Lattimore, LB
- Tramon Williams, CB
Although the Packers did not perform particularly well against the run last year, they made up for it by generating a great deal of pressure on opposing quarterbacks and by getting a strong performance from the back end of their defense. Unfortunately, the depth of their secondary will be tested in a big way after losing Davon House and Tramon Williams to free agency.
Williams had started almost every game for the club since 2010, and though his excellent 2010 campaign resulted in his only Pro Bowl nod, he has been a consistently above-average corner for years. At age 32, he is certainly closer to the end of his career than the beginning, and it makes sense that the Packers would not want to match the three-year, $21MM deal that Williams landed from the Browns, but his presence will certainly be missed.
House, meanwhile, was ranked above Williams in PFR’s Top 50 Free Agents, and though he saw only part-time action in nickel and dime packages with Green Bay, it is clear that he is ready for a full-time role (House allowed only 46.8% of passes thrown into his coverage to be completed, which ranked fourth among qualified corners). The Jaguars will give him that opportunity, and they will pay him accordingly, with a four-year, $25MM deal. Without House and Williams, Green Bay will need to rely on rookies Damarious Randall and Quentin Rollins, the team’s first two selections in this year’s draft, to help solidify the secondary.
Otherwise, the Packers did not suffer any major losses this offseason. The team released longtime linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones, but the on-field ramifications of those releases should not be terribly significant. Hawk, of course, had played for the Packers since Green Bay selected him with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2006 draft, and he averaged over 100 tackles per season in his nine years with the club. However, as our Luke Adams wrote when Hawk was released, “toward the end of his tenure with the franchise, the 31-year-old’s production no longer matched his salary. In 2014, he saw his playing time scaled back toward the end of the season and in the playoffs as he struggled with an ankle injury, and he recorded a -14.4 grade for the season, according to Pro Football Focus’ metrics (subscription required).” Similarly, Jones’ playing time was significantly reduced in 2014, and the team was able to clear over $7MM in salary cap space by releasing both him and Hawk.
Green Bay also ended its on-again, off-again relationship with Matt Flynn. Both Flynn and fellow backup signal-caller Scott Tolzien were unrestricted free agents, but the team elected to retain Tolzien on a one-year pact while Flynn ultimately signed with the Patriots.
Jarrett Boykin, who put together a nice season with the Packers in 2013 while filling in for an injured Cobb, caught just three passes last season and left to seek greener pastures in Carolina.
Although he will be best remembered for failing to secure the fateful onside kick that allowed Seattle to complete its comeback in last year’s NFC Championship Game, it was somewhat curious that the Packers decided to release Brandon Bostick given the team’s relative dearth of tight end talent.
- Acquired a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 147; QB Brett Hundley) from the Patriots in exchange for a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 166; LS Joe Cardona) and a 2015 seventh-round pick (No. 247; CB Darryl Roberts).
In one of the more surprising moves of this year’s draft, the Packers moved up 19 spots in the fifth round to select former UCLA signal-caller Brett Hundley. Although much has been made of the similarities between the respective draft day experiences of Hundley and Rodgers—the anxious and frustrating wait, being drafted by the Packers when they already have a beloved Hall-of-Fame caliber quarterback in place, etc.—there is one major difference: Hundley will not be groomed to be Rodgers’ heir apparent. Rodgers has too many good years ahead of him for that. Rather, Hundley, who is an excellent athlete with flaws that can be fixed, may be the heir apparent to Tolzien, and if he can hone his mechanics while improving his ability to read defenses, he can develop into a quality backup that could hold some trade value in the latter stages of his rookie contract.
- 1-30: Damarious Randall, S (Arizona State): Signed
- 2-62: Quinten Rollins, CB (Miami (OH)): Signed
- 3-94: Ty Montgomery, WR/KR (Stanford): Signed
- 4-129: Jake Ryan, ILB (Michigan): Signed
- 5-147: Brett Hundley, QB (UCLA): Signed
- 6-206: Aaron Ripkowski, FB (Oklahoma): Signed
- 6-210: Christian Ringo, DE (Louisiana-Lafayette): Signed
- 6-213: Kennard Backman, TE (UAB): Signed
As noted above, the Packers will need to rely on Randall and Rollins to develop into at least capable rotational pieces in order to sufficiently overcome the losses of Williams and House. Both players are highly versatile and certainly have the potential to become quality starters in the league. Ty Montgomery may not see the field much as a receiver, but his return abilities may help the Packers find the endzone even more than they did last season. Jake Ryan is a quality middle-round selection who may be able to start at inside linebacker sooner rather than later, thereby allowing Clay Matthews to shift to outside linebacker. Aaron Ripkowski is a prototypical old-school fullback who could take over for John Kuhn in the near future. Christian Ringo may crack the roster as a rotational defensive lineman or as a member of the practice squad, and Kennard Backman is a limited player who may nonetheless have a chance to crack a thin tight end corps.
- Promoted Edgar Bennett to replace Tom Clements as offensive coordinator.
- While Bennett gets the OC title, Clements will assume Mike McCarthy‘s play-calling duties.
- Learned DE Datone Jones will be suspended for the first game of the 2015 season.
- Declined 2016 fifth-year option for LB Nick Perry ($7.751MM).
- Signed 17 undrafted rookie free agents following the draft.
The Packers’ coaching staff saw saw no major hirings or firings of note, but there was one major shakeup. Tom Clements, who had previously served as the team’s offensive coordinator while head coach Mike McCarthy dialed up the offensive plays, was promoted to associate head coach and given play-calling duties. Edgar Bennett, a long-time positional coach who presided over the running backs for six seasons in Green Bay before serving as the wide receivers coach the past four years, was elevated to offensive coordinator. Bennett certainly deserves the promotion, as the receiving corps has flourished under his guidance.
Nick Perry has largely disappointed in his career in Green Bay, and the Packers consequently declined to pick up his fifth-year option, which would have cost the team $7.75MM. As a result, Perry is eligible for free agency at the end of the 2015 season. He played in all but one game last year and recorded 4.5 sacks, but he was on the field for less than 35% of the team’s defensive snaps and is not likely to see a major uptick in playing time this season, likely his last in a Packers uniform.
As noted previously, the depth of the defensive line will be tested early with the possible suspension of Guion and the one-game ban that Datone Jones received. Jones was not fully healthy until the end of last year and has not yet lived up to his status as a first-round pick, but he still has potential that he could begin to realize as a healthy part of a solid defensive line rotation.
Top 10 cap hits for 2015:
- Aaron Rodgers, QB: $18,250,000
- Clay Matthews, OLB: $12,700,000
- Julius Peppers, DE/OLB: $12,000,000
- Sam Shields, CB: $9,062,500
- Josh Sitton, G: $7,000,000
- T.J. Lang, G: $5,800,000
- Randall Cobb, WR: $5,350,000
- Morgan Burnett, S: $5,131,250
- Jordy Nelson, WR: $4,600,000
- Mike Neal, DL: $4,250,000
The Packers won the NFC North for the fourth consecutive year in 2014 and earned a first-round bye in the process, narrowly missing out on a trip to the Super Bowl. Although the Lions remain a worthy opponent and the Vikings are a trendy pick to get back into the playoffs in 2015, the Packers should once again be the favorites to capture the division. Despite the lack of a true playmaker at tight end, Richard Rodgers showed some promise as a rookie in 2014 and should provide enough of a receiving threat to take some pressure off the team’s explosive wideouts, and though there are no truly elite players on the other side of the ball outside of Matthews, there is enough quality at all three levels to at least maintain a middle-of-the-pack defense. But with Aaron Rodgers under center and the weapons he has at his disposal, there is no reason to think that the Packers cannot avenge their 2014 heartbreak and book a date to San Francisco in February 2016.