Green Bay Packers 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

Positions of Need

Middle Linebacker

AJ Hawk and Brad Jones were the week 1 starters for the Packers at middle linebacker last season, but both had atrocious seasons. Hawk was the starter the whole season, but graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 52nd ranked middle linebacker out of 60 eligible. Jones only made the one start and played just 211 snaps on the season so he didn’t qualify for Pro Football Focus’ middle linebacker rankings, but no middle linebacker played fewer snaps than he did and graded out worse. Both could be cap casualties this off-season, while reserve Jamari Lattimore, who played 366 snaps last season, is a free agent this off-season. Sam Barrington is a young player they like, but he struggled on 285 snaps in 2014, after playing just 1 snap as a 7th round rookie in 2013. Things were so bad at the position that they played Clay Matthews inside from time to time this season, but he’s much better outside so that’s not a long-term solution. They need help at this position badly this off-season.

Defensive Tackle

BJ Raji missed the entire 2014 season with a torn biceps, leaving mediocre journeyman Letroy Guion to man the nose. Guion predictably struggled, grading out below average, and he was also arrested in the off-season for possession of marijuana and a firearm. He’s a free agent this off-season, as is Raji. This is a position they’ll need to find help at this off-season.

Tight End

As good as the Packers’ receiving corps is, they really didn’t get anything from the tight end position last season. Andrew Quarless led the team with 29 catches for 323 yards and 3 touchdowns from the tight end position. Richard Rodgers, a 2014 3rd round pick, could be better in his 2nd season in the league in 2015, but this is still somewhere they could add this off-season.

Offensive Tackle

At left tackle, David Bakhtiari has made all 32 starts over the past 2 seasons, since the Packers drafted him in the 4th round in 2013, but he’s graded out below average in each of those 2 seasons. Meanwhile, right tackle Bryan Bulaga is a free agent and could easily not be back next season. If he leaves, they could move Bakhtiari to right tackle, where he might find life easier, but they would need to find a new left tackle, which won’t be easy this off-season. Either way, offensive tackle help will be needed if Bulaga isn’t retained.

Wide Receiver

If the Packers are able to bring Randall Cobb back, they’ll have a strong trio with him, Jordy Nelson, and Davante Adams, a 2014 2nd round pick. If Cobb isn’t back, all of a sudden, they’ll have problems. Adams flashed as a rookie, but overall graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 99th ranked wide receiver out of 110 eligible. He could be a lot better in his 2nd year in the league, but he’ll be tough to trust as a starter and their depth behind him is suspect.

Defensive End

Mike Daniels has been fantastic as a starting 3-4 defensive end over the past 2 seasons, but they need help opposite him. Datone Jones was drafted in the first round in 2013 to be a starter and he flashed last season, but he’s played just 586 snaps in 2 seasons. He should have a bigger role in 2014, but their depth is suspect. Josh Boyd struggled in 2014 and might be moving to nose tackle in 2015.

Key Free Agents

WR Randall Cobb

Randall Cobb didn’t see a ton of action as a 2nd round rookie in 2011, but he had a strong, efficient 2012 season, catching 80 passes for 954 yards and 8 touchdowns on 102 targets (78.4%) and 422 routes run (2.26 yards per route run). He was Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked wide receiver that season. Cobb was set for a bigger role in 2013 and everyone expected a breakout year. He was on his way to that before missing 10 games with a broken leg and finished the season with 31 catches for 433 yards and 4 touchdowns in just 6 games. In 2014, he played all 16 games and picked up right where he left off. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked wide receiver and caught 91 passes for 1287 yards and 12 touchdowns on 125 targets (72.8%) and 574 routes run (2.24 yards per route run). Only going into his age 25 season, Cobb is going to get paid a lot of money on his next contract, wherever he ends up signing.

OT Bryan Bulaga

Bulaga has been a starter for the Packers since they drafted him in the 1st round in 2010, making his debut as a starter in week 5 of 2010. However, despite that, he’s only made 48 starts in 5 seasons, as he’s missed 30 games with injuries over that time period, including all of 2013 with a torn ACL. When on the field, he’s been up and down. He struggled mightily as a rookie, grading out 71st out of 78 eligible in 2010, but he ranked 7th among offensive tackles on 12 starts in 2011. In 2012, he graded out below average in 9 starts before missing all of 2013, but he returned in 2014 to make 15 starts and grade out 16th among offensive tackles. He’s easily the best offensive tackle available on the open market, despite his inconsistent past, and he’ll get a good amount of money on the open market, but he’ll be a risky signing for whoever signs him.

CB Tramon Williams

Williams is going into his age 32 season so he won’t command a huge annual salary or much if any guaranteed money beyond 2015, but he should still be a solid starter next season. He’s not the player he was in 2009, when he graded out 9th, or 2010, when he graded out 8th, but he’s graded out above average in 6 straight seasons and made 95 of 96 starts over that time period. Something around 3 years, 17 million, with 7 million guaranteed would be appropriate for him. Seattle has been rumored to be interested in him, as they have a cornerback need and GM John Schneider was part of the team that originally brought Williams to Green Bay. A return to Green Bay is also an option.

CB Davon House

House, a 2011 4th round pick, has been buried on the depth chart in Green Bay over the past 4 seasons, playing just 1201 defensive snaps combined over that time period, all over the past 3 seasons. However, he’s flashed whenever he’s been on the field, grading out either above average or just slightly below average in each of the last 3 seasons. House reportedly is looking for 7 million dollars annually on the open market. I don’t expect him to get that, even on a weak cornerback market, but I do expect him to be starting somewhere next year to be compensated accordingly.

DE BJ Raji

BJ Raji was reportedly offered a 5-year, 40 million dollar extension two off-seasons ago, heading into his contract year, after a 2012 season in which he graded out 7th among 3-4 defensive ends, and turned it down. He has to be kicking himself now. Raji had a horrible contract year, grading out dead last among 3-4 defensive ends in 2013. As a result, he had to settle for a one-year, 4 million dollar prove it deal with the Packers, after not finding anything to his liking on the open market. Things went from bad to worse for Raji, as he tore his biceps and missed the entire 2014 season. Versatile enough to play anywhere on a 3-man defensive line, inconsistency has always been an issue for Raji. After barely playing as a rookie, he ranked 35th out of defensive tackles in 2010, had a strong playoff run en route to the Packers’ Super Bowl victory, but ranked 87th out of 88 eligible defensive tackles in 2011, before that strong 2012 campaign. Now he has a serious injury on his resume. He won’t have a big market this off-season.

DT Letroy Guion

With Raji out for the season, Guion started 15 games at nose tackle, but he struggled, grading out 61st out of 81 eligible defensive tackles. This is nothing new for him. He’s graded out below average in 6 of 7 seasons since he came into the league as a 5th round pick in 2008, including 5 straight. In 2012, he ranked 86 out of 86th eligible defensive tackles and in 2013 he was 60th out of 69 eligible. Especially after getting arrested for possession of marijuana and a firearm this off-season, he won’t draw big market.

Cap Casualty Candidates

MLB Brad Jones

Brad Jones was drafted in the 7th round in 2009 by the Packers as an outside linebacker, but, after playing a combined 763 snaps in the first 3 years of his career at outside linebacker, the Packers moved him inside in 2012 and he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 10th ranked middle linebacker on 687 snaps. That earned him a 3-year, 11.75 million dollar deal, but he’s been a massive disappointment since signing that deal, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 28th ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible in 2013 and playing just 211 snaps in 2014. In 2014, no one played fewer snaps and graded out worse than Jones at middle linebacker. He’s not a serious candidate to be a starter inside next season so the Packers will probably let him go to save 3.75 million in cash and cap space for 2015.

MLB AJ Hawk

AJ Hawk has made 139 starts for the Packers since they drafted him 5th overall in 2006, but he’s only graded out above average once on Pro Football Focus in their 8 year history and the Packers have cut his salary and renegotiated his contract several times. He might be at the end of his line with the Packers, going into his age 31 season. He came off the bench 3 times last season, the first time he played in a game in which he wasn’t a starter in his career, and he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 52nd ranked middle linebacker out of 60 eligible. The Packers can save 3.5 million in cash and cap space by letting him go this off-season.

OLB Mike Neal

Mike Neal, a 2010 2nd round pick, started his career as an oft used 3-4 defensive end, but the Packers moved him to 3-4 outside linebacker for 2013, a weird move considering his 6-3 294 pound size. Neal struggled in his first season at outside linebacker, grading out 40th out of 42 eligible, but the Packers gave him a 2-year, 8 million dollar deal last off-season. He wasn’t better in 2014, grading out 46th out of 46 eligible. With Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, and Nick Perry all under contract for 2015, the Packers don’t need to bring Neal back at a non-guaranteed 3 million dollar salary. They’d save that entire amount on the cap by letting him go this off-season.

OLB Julius Peppers

When the Packers signed Julius Peppers to a 3-year, 26 million dollar deal last off-season, it was more of a 1-year, 8.5 million dollar prove it deal for an aging future Hall-of-Famer, who graded out below average in 2013 with the Bears and got released. That was all that was guaranteed in that deal. Peppers certainly did prove it, flashing vintage form in his first experience in a 3-4 as a much needed edge rusher opposite Clay Matthews. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker. Still, he’s going into his age 35 season so he’s no guarantee to be back at his non-guaranteed 9.5 million dollar salary for 2015. The Packers could save 7 million on the cap by letting him go this off-season and have him off their cap completely for 2016. A restructured deal is also an option.

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