In the most important move of the offseason for the Green Bay Packers, they built on last season’s best unit in an impactful way.
That’s right, the Packers special teams unit built on a strong season and promoted coordinator Rich Bisaccia, adding the coveted and sexy “assistant head coach” to his title, and re-signed All-Pro kick returner Keisean Nixon to a one-year deal.
The truth is that while special teams didn’t become league-best, they steadily got better throughout the season and grew into a consistently useful unit. While the offseason is young, promoting Bisaccia and re-signing their most impactful player shows that the powers that be in Green Bay are pleased with the evolution of the unit and should continue to allocate resources to the game’s oft-maligned third phase.
Bisaccia had his work cut out for him when he arrived in Green Bay. The position seemed as cursed as the Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher role in a certain book series. But through his special teams acumen and tough-love leadership style, he forged a winning culture in the unit. Bisaccia’s influence allowed Brian Gutekunst and the roster-building team to adjust their way of thinking. No longer was special teams in Green Bay just a place for fringe roster players to make their paycheck. (For the most part, anyway.) The Packers’ front office was willing to invest in core special teams players.
Bisaccia and his new core crew, including Nixon, added a fire to the group we haven’t seen in years, if ever. Through Bisaccia’s leadership, the Packers finished in Rick Gosselin’s annual special teams rankings at No. 22. For a team generally in the 30s, that’s a huge improvement.
For his efforts, Bisaccia got some fanfare across the league, including a head coaching interview with the Indianapolis Colts. Sure, attention from the Colts, who thought hiring an ESPN analyst as interim head coach was a smart idea, might not mean a whole lot, but the league clearly sees Bisaccia as a great leader.
Recall that when Bisaccia became the interim head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021 following Jon Gruden’s distasteful rhetoric, his squad had a winning record of 7-5 and made the postseason. Bisaccia earned AP Coach of the Year votes for that stretch.
The Colts went in another direction, hiring former Eagles’ offensive coordinator Shane Steichen for their head coaching spot. But Matt LaFleur recognized Bisaccia’s value by increasing his role for the 2023 season, giving him the assistant head coach title. So if LaFleur gets fired or has to join the Avengers or something, we know Bisaccia would take over the team.
The position is a familiar one for Bisaccia, who held the title in his stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Chargers, Dallas Cowboys, and Raiders.
Bisaccia will look to evolve his unit from solid to legitimately good and build on his previous success. Bringing back the electric Nixon is a great first step.
Sometimes, great things emerge from tragedy, and that’s what happened with Green Bay’s returners. Amari Rodgers‘ time as the primary returner was disastrous, costing the Packers many opportunities. When the Packers finally moved on, a hero emerged to actually hold onto the ball and, in fact, move it toward the opponent’s end zone! That hero was Nixon, who didn’t have previous NFL punt return experience but approached his new role with an “eff it, we ball” mentality.
Despite only returning punts for half a season and kick returns for only slightly longer, Nixon became a first-team All-Pro as a returner. Nixon led the NFL in kick-return yards with 1,009 and was second in average punt-return yardage with 12.7. Now imagine what he can do with a full season!
Having their All-Pro returned to the roster is a great first step for Bisaccia’s offseason. With the league year just starting, it will be a bit before we see if some of Bisaccia’s other core guys will return. Dallin Leavitt, Eric Wilson, Rudy Ford, Corey Ballentine, and Mason Crosby are all free agents who played meaningful snaps on “we-fence” last season. Bisaccia will decide which are his core guys to build around, and it’s likely they’ll bring in some new, veteran additions too.
There are a lot of questions for the Packers to answer in 2023. Thanks to past roster-building mistakes, an inconsistent defense, and a potentially remade offense, the Packers aren’t in amazing shape to go on a Super Bowl run. On the other hand, the NFC is so weak compared to the AFC, and it’s not like the Chicago Bears are scaring anyone in the NFC North. The Packers could very well compete in the NFC, and having a special teams unit that can be relied upon to not lose games—maybe even win them—is a great foundation.
What a world we live in where special teams is the most reliable group for the Green Bay Packers. Regardless of how things ultimately shake up, these moves make it clear that the Packers are happy with the way their special teams unit is trending.