Everybody deservedly mentions wide receiver when talking about the Green Bay Packers‘ needs this offseason, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other necessities. For instance, edge-defender depth should be a priority in the next draft. And it should be an early election because, historically, it’s hard to find reliable talent in the later rounds.
The Packers have their two starters, and both played at a high level last season. Rashan Gary is the rising star. After a leap in production in his third year, he might be one of the most valuable pieces in the Packers’ defense. Preston Smith is a solid second option. He extended his contract recently, which guarantees he will be in Green Bay long-term.
The problem is what comes after them.
After the Packers released Za’Darius Smith for cap relief, the third edge defender on the roster is Jonathan Garvin, a 2020 seventh-round pick. He finished the year with 1.5 sacks and had a 59.6 PFF grade last season. The other secondary option is Randy Ramsey, an undrafted player who entered the league in 2019 and made the roster in 2020. However, Ramsey has an injury history and lost the entire 2021 season to an ankle issue.
Tipa Galeai (undrafted in 2020) also played sparsely last season but had little impact on the defense as a thin player. However, Jordan Love‘s former college teammate ended up with a decent 77.1 PFF grade and one sack.
La’Darius Hamilton is the last player on the roster. The Packers signed him off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad after Za’Darius Smith suffered an injury last season. He played in only six games and had almost no defensive impact.
The Packers brought in veteran Whitney Mercilus last season to offer some depth, and he played relatively well when healthy. I advocated for his return, but he retired this offseason, and his comeback is off the table.
Edge defender plays an important role in defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s system. Therefore, general manager Brian Gutekunst has to find more answers.
Via free agency
There are still two expensive options in free agency. The first is Jason Pierre-Paul, who hasn’t re-signed with the Buccaneers yet. The other is Jadeveon Clowney, who has signed a sequence of one-year deals since the Houston Texans traded him in 2019.
In the last three seasons, the former first-overall pick played for the Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, and Cleveland Browns. Last year was his best season by a large margin.
The problem with Pierre-Paul and Clowney is that they should demand high salaries, and that’s not the type of deal the Packers want.
Considering the need for depth, the Packers could look for affordable options in free agency. They could scour free agency after the draft if the board doesn’t allow Gutekunst to find a rookie.
Melvin Ingram signed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers for $4 million last offseason, and they traded him to the Kansas City Chiefs mid-season. Now he is a free agent again. It should be a no-brainer if Green Bay can get him at a similar number.
The Seahawks released Carlos Dunlap in March, and he also is a free agent. His old contract was going to pay him $5.1 million in 2022, so it’s fair to assume he will get less than that now.
Former division rival Trey Flowers, who spent the last three seasons with the Detroit Lions, is a third and potential alternative. His contract was the main reason the Lions moved on, as they saved $ 10.4 million with his release. Flowers has suffered injury issues in the last two years but was a solid contributor. Although his stats aren’t great, he’s a perfect fit as a third edge defender.
Via the draft
The draft is always the best way to find what the Packers need. In 2019, Gutekunst decided to take Rashan Gary even after signing Za’Darius and Preston Smith one month earlier, and it paid off. Therefore, the Packers GM now has a chance to invest in the position to build depth. But at the same time, he has an opportunity to find a future starter if he is willing to use a high pick.
Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux probably won’t be available when the Packers draft at 22, but the other edge defenders of the class have a chance to fall. Purdue’s George Karlaftis, Florida St.’s Jermaine Johnson, and Penn St.’s Arnold Ebiketie all are in the first-round discussion. Michigan’s David Ojabo is also viewed as a first-round talent, but he tore his Achilles during Pro Day and should lose his rookie season.
There are also mid-round options. These players probably won’t contribute as much right away but can be developed into good defenders. South Carolina’s Kingsley Enagbare, Ole Miss’ Sam Williams, and USC’s Drake Jackson fit that mold.
The Packers need more pieces, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Gutekunst adds more than one, and in more than one way. Ultimately, they need more depth than they had in 2021.