The Green Bay Packers suffered a painful home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Conference Championship round of the 2021 NFL playoffs. Their surprising 13-3 regular season featured a massive offensive leap into the league’s leading scoring unit, averaging 31.8 points-per-game. But their 31-26 loss to Tom Brady’s Buccaneers left them out of the Super Bowl and with questions about where the franchise proceeds from here.
We’re going to break down what’s next for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers this offseason. They’ll look to maximize Rodgers’ remaining years after his MVP-caliber season, which wasn’t their approach last year. He was still solid in 2019, but there’s no question he was more aggressive and effective in 2020 in Matt LaFleur’s offense.
We can get obvious out of the way after his cryptic message about his future being up in the air was clarified as him referring to the turnover that comes to every offseason. Rodgers will be back, and likely with a new contract in hand that will guarantee him enough to make sure Jordan Love never challenges his job in the next four years. Giving him a new four-year, $160 million deal is a reasonable apology by general manager Brian Gutekunst for botching last year’s priorities.
Almost $29 million over the projected cap line, this team will have trouble improving their roster in any substantial manner. Restructuring contracts of Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Billy Turner would open about $17 million. Extending Rodgers, Davante Adams, and Christian Kirksey can open a little more. Cutting Adrian Amos, Dean Lowry, and Ricky Wagner gives the team enough room to sign their draft class.
But losses abound. Running back Aaron Jones will depart in free agency (watch for Miami, the New York Jets, Buccaneers, and Arizona Cardinals). Retaining Corey Linsley or Lane Taylor is likely impossible.
Replacing Kevin King won’t be as hard as some may think. The team was obsessed with developing the physical freak, but he never took the step into being a reliable starter. The Bucs picked on him repeatedly, and his lack of quickness and technique limitations due to his frame should sour the team on his services despite the occasional positive play.
In-house options like Josh Jackson, Stanford Samuels, Ka’Dar Hollman, or a free-agent like Gareon Conley (I still believe in him) offer low-cost, medium-upside potential. It’s not incredibly promising, but the other option is drafting one. It’s a deep class and cost-controlling a corner isn’t a bad choice.
Prioritizing adding offensive line depth and a starting-caliber receiver is a must if they want to be among any online sportsbook top candidates to win it all. As well as Gutekunst has drafted at times, he could be looking to find at least three starters. That’s a tall task, especially if multiple are on the line. Rodgers will make his line more effective than their baseline talent, but the unit has been stacked for years with quality starters.
That means dreams of adding a dynamic talent like Rondale Moore is likely out of the question, but maybe Seth Williams is realistic in the second-round. Can they unload Love for a Day 2 pick and recoup some value? Maybe they can get a third-rounder if a team misses on better options, but it looks unlikely.
Re-signing Jared Veldheer on a cheap deal can replace Wagner and leave the team with only one hole at center and an upgradable spot at right guard or tackle, depending on where Turner plays. First-round options at guard could include Alijah Vera-Tucker, Wyatt Davis, and Landon Dickerson. Tackles include Jalen Mayfield, Alex Leatherwood, and Liam Eichenberg.
Expect the Packers to be as creative as they can be to improve. A surprise cut or two could happen to create more substantial cap room, but don’t have hopes of a big acquisition like Odell Beckham Jr. They simply can’t do that.