With the NFL scouting combine in the rearview mirror, attention will shift to the league’s free-agency period that begins next week.
There will be a lot of action across the league in the month of March and there’s no telling what rosters might look like a couple weeks from now. But before we move forward with the NFL’s offseason, let’s take inventory of what was learned over the past week in Indianapolis.
Here are five tidbits we took away from the combine.
1. The Packers might benefit from trading up in the first round. As often as teams jockey for position in the NFL draft’s pecking order, it’s pretty rare that trading up in the first round is actually the best course of action.
Even in the first round, success in the draft comes with an ample portion of luck. Thompson, who has drafted more players than any general manager since 2005, likes to give himself a volume shooter’s chance to hit on as many picks as possible. An aggressive trade — like moving up in the first round — requires a team to sell some of its assets, thus diminishing its chances to acquire good players.
So there’s a lot of risk attached to teams moving up in the first round, which is why Thompson has done it only once in his decade running the Packers' personnel department. He traded two third-round picks and a second rounder to move back into the first round in 2009, netting the Packers an All-Pro linebacker in Clay Matthews.
In search of another impact linebacker such as Darron Lee from Ohio State or Reggie Ragland from Alabama, could Thompson be lured into making an aggressive move in the first round this spring? It’s easy to see the temptation. The Packers have a big problem in the middle of their defense, a hole only Matthews — their best pass rusher — has been able to plug. This draft has a nice crop of athletic linebackers capable of playing inside, but the chances of being able to draft one with the 27th overall pick don’t appear to be high. Thompson might have a decision to make if the draft board falls a certain way April 28.
2. If the Packers stand pat at No. 27 overall, it wouldn't be surprising to see them draft a defensive lineman.
The Packers are in need of a five-tech defensive end who can provide some pass rush in their 3-4 base scheme and play full-time in nickel and dime situations. That need is dwarfed by how desperately they’d like to find a three-down inside linebacker. Allowing Matthews to return to the edge should be the priority this offseason, but that doesn’t mean the Packers will use their first-round pick to fill their biggest need.
Instead, Thompson often looks for the best value available when he picks in the first round. In this draft, value is found on the defensive line. Couple that with how Packers coach Mike McCarthy views his defense this offseason.
"Everybody says, ‘There’s a lot of D-linemen (in the draft),’” McCarthy said. “Great, I hope we get two of them. I think you need big men. There’s only so many. We need to get bigger. We’ve been getting bigger, and we need to continue to get bigger. That’s something we’re all focused on.”
3. The Packers don’t see upgrading their receiver position through the draft as necessary. Thompson used some of his folksy humor to disarm a question about the team’s collective speed at receiver, but it’s worth wondering if his one-liner also revealed an underlying belief in the Packers' current crop of receivers.
The group clearly struggled last season without top target Jordy Nelson. Most troubling was the receivers’ inability to consistently win one-on-one battles and separate from defenders. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t throw to many open targets.
But Thompson told reporters he had no issue with the position’s collective speed.
“I’m fine with it,” Thompson said. “They’re way faster than me. I think we’ve got some guys that can run, but, yeah, obviously you always want to try to find some speed. This year’s draft looks like it has quite a bit.”
It would have been surprising for Thompson to speak harshly about a young position group that will return almost all its players this fall. He certainly wouldn’t have called any of them out by name. But if Thompson’s confidence in the Packers receiving group has to be measured, it is an indication he views an upgrade at that position to be something less than mandatory.
That’s not to say the Packers won’t draft a receiver this spring. Just don’t expect one in the first two, maybe three, rounds.
4. Eddie Lacy’s coaches are pleased with how he started his offseason. That was the first impression new running backs coach Ben Sirmans had after speaking with Lacy, and McCarthy doubled down on that praise last week.
“Eddie will take care of business,” McCarthy said in Indy. “I have great confidence that he will. I think we’ll see definitely a different guy in April, and more importantly in July.”
McCarthy’s confidence is important because Lacy has to approach the next few months like his career is on the line. So far, all indications are that he’s taking the necessary steps. He met with P90X founder Tony Horton, and he’s undergoing a new workout regimen.
Lacy won’t have as much weight reducing to do as some have reported. McCarthy said the Packers' running back does not need to shed 30 pounds, which would have been a colossal amount of weight for one offseason. Still, Lacy has a lot of work to do, and he’s wasted no time getting to it.
5. The Packers want a long-term partnership with left tackle David Bakhtiari. There wasn’t any doubt they were pleased with starting Bakhtiari, an ascending player at one of the game’s most important positions. But Thompson vocalized the franchise’s confidence in the left tackle last week.
“We like having him on our team,” Thompson said. “He’s a good teammate, and we look forward to having him on our team for a long time.”
A “long time” would suggest more than the next year. With Bakhtiari entering the final year of his rookie contract, it’s evident the Packers view him as their franchise left tackle.
The Packers would be wise to re-sign Bakhtiari before the 2016 season ends, but Thompson gave no details on how the organization views that timeline. Bakhtiari is not going to come cheap, though Thompson has been able to swing “hometown discounts” in recent years because of contracts that were favorably structured for players.
With Thompson’s confidence in Bakhtiari, expect him to make a real effort to keep his left tackle in Green Bay. Behind quarterback, there is nothing more important than protecting the passer’s blindside.
UPCOMING NFL DATES
March 7-9: Teams are permitted to negotiate with unrestricted free agents.
March 9: New league year/opening of free agency. Teams can sign free agents.
March 20-23: Annual league meeting, Boca Raton, Fla.
April 18: Teams with returning head coaches can begin offseason workout programs.
April 28-30: NFL draft, Chicago.