It’s been a tumultuous offseason for the Green Bay Packers.
After being stunned by the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round on a cold, snowy evening at Lambeau Field, the Packers and their fans entered the offseason confused, angry and deflated.
In February, news broke that quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s future with the Packers and his professional career was in doubt.
Later in March, Twitter caught on fire when star receiver Davante Adams was traded to the Raiders in exchange for a first and second-round pick. It was a trade out of nowhere that left Packer fans speechless and baffled.
On top of that, outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith and slot cornerback Chandon Sullivan signed with the division-rival Minnesota Vikings in late March.
Despite the drama and narratives swirling online, the Packers have set themselves up for success in 2022 and beyond.
This all started in March when Aaron Rodgers signed a three-year $150.8 million contract extension making him the highest-paid player in the league and linking him to the team through 2026 (or until he retires). When asked if Rodgers plans to finish his career in Green Bay, Rodgers responded “definitely.”
While the loss of Adams will certainly have a profound impact on the offense, his departure created enough cap space for the Packers to re-sign two key defensive playmakers, cornerback Rasul Douglass and All-Pro linebacker De’Vondre Cambell.
The Packers initially signed Douglass from the Arizona Cardinals practice squad in October, and he quickly became an impact player.
In his second game starting, he snagged an interception on the goal line to win the game vs. the undefeated Cardinals on Thursday Night Football. Douglass went on to intercept six total passes throughout the season, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
Campbell completely revolutionized the Packers defense, giving them an elite sideline to sideline middle linebacker, the likes of whom the Packers hadn’t had since winning the Superbowl in 2010. Campbell made an impact in both run and pass defense, finishing the season with 146 total tackles, 6 tackles for loss and 2 interceptions and earning All-Pro honors.
Despite the addition of Douglass and Campbell the Packers run defense continued to be an achilles heel for the Packers in 2021.
On paper, the Packers defense excelled at stopping the run, finishing the season 11th in total rushing yards surrendered. But upon further review, they gave up 4.7 yards per carry to opposing rushers. Their lackluster rushing defense was magnified on Christmas day when the Packers gave up an abysmal 8.8 yards per carry to Nick Chubb and the Cleveland Browns.
Big Free Agent Signing
To combat this, the Packers bolstered their run defense by signing defensive lineman Jarran Reed. Reed was a standout player for the Seahawks in 2018, ending the season with 10.5 sacks, 31 pressures and 10 tackles for loss.
While Reed didn’t have nearly as productive a season in 2021 with the Chiefs, he was effective in stopping the run and occasionally creating pressure. The former Chief and Seahawk will fill in nicely in the Packers defensive line rotation, keeping the often overworked Kenny Clark fresh.
However, the Packers didn’t stop fortifying the defense there. In the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Packers selected LB Quay Walker (No. 22) and DL Devonte Wyatt (No. 28). Both Walker and Wyatt were on the second ranked Georgia defense that led the Bulldogs to a national championship victory in January.
Walker is the first linebacker the Packers have drafted in the first round since 2005. The 6-3 Georgia product’s versatility stuck out to Gutekunst during the pre-draft process.
“One of the things we looked at in a player like Quay, he’s got some similarities to (De’Vondre Campbell) so having two interchangeable pieces there gives our defense so much flexibility,” said Gutekunst. “It’s been a while since we’ve been able to stay in certain packages with two inside backers.”
Wyatt didn’t fit the typical mold of a Packers first round pick due to his age and previous off the field issues, but after bringing him in for a visit to make sure he would fit the team’s culture, Gutekunst was drawn to his high motor.
“He can play the one (gap), he can play the three (gap),” Gutekunst said. “He’s a dynamic pass rusher. His ability to scrape and get to the ball is almost like a linebacker.”
Packer fans and the national media alike were upset at Gutekunst for not getting Rodgers any offensive help on Day 1 of the draft, but the Packers went on to select three wide receivers in the next two days, including trading up in the second round to select Christian Watson, the speedy weapon from North Dakota State, who ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at the combine.
Watson, a 6-foot-4, 208-pound multipurpose receiver, averaged over 20 yards per reception in his career at North Dakota State. He brings size and speed to a Packers offense in desperate need of a field stretcher.
After watching the film, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur was more than impressed by the effort Watson put into blocking.
“I watched his run-blocking reel, just to see the effort he gave, down in and down out, in that aspect of the game, I mean, we can always use somebody like that,” LaFleur said. “Especially when you’re talking about a 6-4 guy, over 200 pounds, runs sub-4.4. So there’s a lot to be excited about there.”
Bolstering the O-Line
The Packers also spent three picks on offensive linemen to bolster the right side of their line including two versatile guards in Sean Rhyan and Zach Tom. The Packers rookie offensive lineman will get playing time early and often with OL Elgton Jenkins still recovering from an ACL tear from last November and All-Pro LT David Bakhtiari being placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
By making free agency moves to keep top-tier defensive players in town and a draft centered around fixing the holes of their team, the Packers have extended their window to win another Superbowl before Rodgers finishes his career, while simultaneously adding to the foundation of the team to build upon for years to come.