The Green Bay Packers haven’t done much this offseason, in large part because they don’t have any cap space. Their two biggest moves so far were bringing back Aaron Jones and re-signing cornerback Kevin King to a one-year deal. Any moves the rest of the way will require serious finagling of the cap — that is, if they opt not to restructure Aaron Rodgers‘ contract. The expectations in Titletown are championship or bust, begging one important question: Are these offseason moves good enough, and are the Packers good enough to simply run it back?
When the Packers re-signed Jones, the move was met with a mix of surprise and that feeling you get when the Chicago Bears sign another broken quarterback. Joy. That’s the word we were looking for! Joy. It was a surprise because not many thought the Packers had the financial means to make it work. They found a way. It was joyous because it keeps a key part of this offense alongside Rodgers and Davante Adams.
When the Packers re-signed King on Tuesday, the move was largely met with frustration and eye-rolling. There’s no denying King struggled mightily in the NFC Championship game. But using that game alone as an indicator of his entire season isn’t fair. In fact, he was pretty good at the start of the year. But as the mistakes on the field started piling up and the injury bug bit King again, it was seen as a foregone conclusion that both sides would move on. Now, he’s back.
It’s become apparent that while fans had lofty expectations of bringing in J.J. Watt, Richard Sherman, or Will Fuller, the Packers front office, led by Brian Gutekunst, is instead opting to run it back with a similar squad from 2020. Obviously there are draft picks to be made, but you can’t expect even a handful of those players selected in 2021 to make an instant impact. It’s not feasible. Knowing that Green Bay came up just a game short of playing the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, it’s fair to say the Packers have enough to run it back. But look around the league.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came in to Lambeau Field and left NFC Champions. So far this offseason they’ve re-signed all their key free agents. Chris Godwin got slapped with the franchise tag while Lavonte David and Shaquil Barrett both received multi-year extensions. And, oh yeah, Rob Gronkowski is back too. The Buccaneers are going with the run-it-back plan as well. The difference is, they won it all last year.
Elsewhere in the NFC, the Los Angeles Rams have gotten better. The Packers were in a fight with the L.A. in the NFC Divisional Round, and the Rams ended up being a competent quarterback away from making that a game. Now they have Matthew Stafford under center, while a disinterested Jared Goff has landed in Detroit.
All these teams got better or brought everyone back. The Packers have stayed the same. And it’s hard to blame anyone. Green Bay doesn’t have salary cap space. But I’m willing to venture that if you took a poll, many fans would’ve preferred restructuring Rodgers’ contract if it meant the ability to instantly improve the cornerback room with, say, Richard Sherman and maybe have some space left over for T.Y. Hilton. But the Packers are taking an approach of trying to win now while protecting the future as well.
The wild card in all of this is Joe Barry. When the Packers didn’t renew Mike Pettine’s contract, Barry was hired away from the Rams to be the Packers’ new defensive coordinator. They have all the talent one could ask for on that side of the ball. Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith, Kenny Clark, Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage — the list goes on. Can he bring it all together? Can he get more consistent results than Pettine did? If the defense has all the same pieces, which appears to be the case, yet the scheme and execution are better, the Packers passing on the likes of Watt and Sherman will be a moot point in 2021.
Green Bay’s saving grace is undoubtedly the division they play in. Minnesota will run it back with Kirk Cousins; they’ll contend for a playoff spot and Vikings fans will chirp all year but, let’s be real, they aren’t a Super Bowl contender. The Detroit Lions are hitting the reset button both with a new head coach and a new quarterback who is likely only a temporary solution. And the Chicago Bears went from daydreaming about Russell Wilson to signing Andy Dalton. A post-season berth in this division should be a given.
Time will tell if the Packers indeed have the pieces to hit the repeat button and get different results. You’d like to think coming up one win short in a game where they had as many mental lapses as they did against Tampa Bay could yield different results if the game was replayed in 2021. Green Bay has to hope they get back there first.