Among several difficult decisions the Green Bay Packers have to make during the offseason, Allen Lazard could be one of the most impactful ones. He has been with the Packers since 2018, Brian Gutekunst’s first year as the general manager, and now hits the open market for the first time.
Lazard had a somewhat disappointing season, especially early on when the Packers expected him to carry the load of a true WR1. But that was Green Bay’s folly more than a major shortcoming of Lazard’s. The truth is that he’s an excellent role player — and now he’s probably too valuable a role player for the Packers to afford with their current salary cap situation.
Lazard was a restricted free agent when the Packers traded Davante Adams. Green Bay gave Lazard a second-round tender and kept him for one more season with a $3.94 million salary. But they didn’t add void years to spread the cap as they had done with Robert Tonyan in the previous year, which probably indicated the future wasn’t so certain for him.
In 2022, Lazard was the most productive receiver for the Packers, while rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs were developing their game and adjusting to the NFL. No. 13 was the leader in targets (100), receptions (six), and receiving yards (788). He was also second in receiving touchdowns (six), behind only Watson. He also led the Packers in receptions of 20 yards or more (13), yards per game (52.5), and receiving first downs (45, when no other Packers player had more than 28).
Lazard was an essential player in terms of volume inside the Packers’ offense. He had a 22.7% target rate and a 21.1% target share (23.5% in the red zone). He also was given a different role, as his slot snaps went down significantly, from around 50% in 2021 to only 20% in 2022. For instance, Lazard generated more target separation than Watson.
“I like to call him our goon, and he’s an enforcer,” head coach Matt LaFleur said last season about Lazard’s role.
“In the run game, you can really feel his presence. But that also helps create some big-time plays in the passing game when he’s going in, and he’s digging out safeties, just like you saw last year in the playoff game versus the Rams. That was one of the longest plays they had given up all season long. So, he’s got that big-play potential.”
There is little doubt that Lazard is an important piece for the Packers’ offense. However, several questions remain if his role justifies a big free-agent contract, and some potential contenders interested in him have better cap situations than Green Bay’s.
Most of Lazard’s positive stats were driven by volume. His PFF grade (69.0), for example, was behind Christian Watson (77.1) and Randall Cobb (70.1). Cobb is also a free agent, but at this point in his career, he would undoubtedly demand much less money to re-sign. Watson is under contract through 2025.
According to Spotrac, his market value indicates an average annual salary of $11 million — Spotrac suggests a three-year, $33.1 million contract for him. These numbers are already higher than what Marquez Valdes-Scantling got from the Kansas City Chiefs, and they could be even higher if one desperate team with a lot of cap space wants his services.
The Chicago Bears are an obvious candidate. They have more than $100 million in available cap space, and Luke Getsy is their offensive coordinator, a former Green Bay Packers assistant coach. The Baltimore Ravens are also frequently mentioned when teams talk about available wide receivers, and Lazard’s blocking ability would make him even more appealing to them.
That’s why, considering his potential payday, Lazard admitted that the loss to the Detroit Lions was potentially his last game as a Packer.
“Definitely going into the game, I kind of had a realization that my first game here and potentially my last game — which it is — was going to be versus the Lions at home,” Lazard said. “I took in just a few moments just to kind of soak it all in and just like pat myself on the back, I guess, and just be thankful for this opportunity and this experience to be here for four-plus years now, to see the growth I’ve made on the field, but more so off the field.”
The Packers are projected to be $16.3 million over the cap for 2023, so they will undoubtedly adjust many veteran contracts to operate in the offseason. Gutekunst hasn’t given the wide receiver position that much love, either. It’s hard to imagine him making such a big investment in a role player. Even though Lazard was forced to be a WR1 in 2022, he is still a role player. Watson and Dobbs’ continued emergence of Watson and Dobbs will also make Lazard less vital to Green Bay’s offense, and the Packers could find cheaper options to round out the receiving group.
Gutekunst made a great addition by signing Lazard off the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad in 2018. Lazard has since made a highly positive impact for the Packers. But it is probably time to move on, and both parties know that.