Lack of edge depth is nothing new for the Green Bay Packers. Until last season, they theoretically had three impact edge defenders. Still, Za’Darius Smith missing almost the entire year because of a back injury exposed the dearth of good options behind Rashan Gary and Preston Smith. That’s why the Packers signed veteran Whitney Mercilus when the Houston Texans released him.
This year, Za’Darius signed with the Minnesota Vikings — he’s been great, by the way — and the Packers failed to add alternatives to the roster. The depth was already a problem with Gary. Now that he is out for the year with a knee injury, the issues have been exposed, and they are killing any chance the defense had to recover from a disappointing first half of the season.
Now, 11 weeks in and with the trade deadline passed, it is impossible to find great options. But the lack of aggressiveness from general manager Brian Gutekunst in addressing an obvious problem is shocking. It’s an issue I have written about multiple times, from the expectation that Mercilus could keep playing, going through a reported interest in Von Miller, to a perception that the Packers should explore all avenues to add pieces to the position.
In August, it was understandable that Gutekunst wanted to see if his young players could grow into larger roles. But that clearly didn’t happen, and it was time to sign reinforcements when they had time and options.
After the draft in April, Gutekunst indicated he thought the depth at the position was okay.
Against the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night, Preston Smith and rookie fifth-round pick Kingsley Enagbare were dominant in the snap count. And they should be, even though it’s hard for a young player like Enagbare to have such a big role right away. Preston was effective against a lousy offensive line, but there is no depth behind them. The ideal scenario would have included another veteran starter while Enagbare adjusts to the NFL game.
The other edge options for the Packers were former seventh-rounder Jonathan Garvin, who has struggled to generate pressure, and LaDarius Hamilton, who was signed off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ practice squad last season. Hamilton is now on Green Bay’s practice squad, but they elevated him for gameday.
The alternatives for the rest of the season are not great. Hamilton has already been elevated for gameday three times, so the Packers will probably promote him to the 53-man roster soon. Tipa Galeai is on the injured reserve but has been designated to return. They have Tim Ward on the practice squad, a former Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets player who was signed last week.
The Packers missed multiple opportunities in the offseason to add talent in a place it was an obvious need. Von Miller and Chandler Jones were out of their budget range, and that’s okay. But Melvin Ingram signed a 1-year, $4 million contract with the Miami Dolphins. Arden Key signed a similar deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Veteran Justin Houston signed with the Baltimore Ravens for $3.5 million, and Carlos Dunlap (whom I mentioned as a potential target for the Packers) agreed to a $3 million deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. It gets even worse when Jason Pierre-Paul‘s contract with the Ravens is a veterans’ minimum of $1.35 million.
Right now, the Packers are essentially eliminated from the playoffs, so it doesn’t make as much sense to add veteran players on one-year deals. Gutekunst and the Packers have six games left to find pieces that will be in Green Bay for the long haul, and playing time won’t be a problem. Takkarist McKinley, a 27-year-old recently signed to the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad, is a decent option.
Hopefully, Rashan Gary will be available for Week 1 next season. Preston Smith is getting older but is still a highly useful player. There are expectations for Enagbare to develop into a more impactful option too. Nonetheless, the edge position has already been established as one of the top priorities for the next offseason — once again. If the Packers are thinking about a rebuild (or retool of sorts), the draft will be the best path to make an investment.