Packers preview: Aaron Rodgers and Co. primed for fresh playoff charge
Training camps are still in the distance, but USA TODAY Sports is providing five things you need to know about every team in the NFL to catch you up on the offseason. Today, the Green Bay Packers ...
1. Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers
He proved it as the Packers ran the table after a 4-6 start in 2016, at one point throwing a career-best 318 consecutive passes without an interception (and 24 touchdowns) on the way to the NFC Championship Game. At age 33, Rodgers keeps himself in excellent shape, remains at the height of his powers and gives Green Bay a chance every time he steps on the field. He has a new toy to play with, too — tight end Martellus Bennett, who replaces Jared Cook as the big man amidst the talented receiver trio of Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. The Packers also signed former Los Angeles Rams tight end Lance Kendricks. GM Ted Thompson figures to extend Rodgers’ contract, which is set to pay him $42 million over the next two years, sooner rather than later.
2. The secondary got primary attention
Injuries brutalized the back end of Dom Capers’ defense during last season's rockiest stretches and in the NFC title loss to the Atlanta Falcons. It’s no surprise Thompson used his top two draft picks to upgrade the talent there. Cornerback Kevin King is long and athletic and gives them options alongside Damarious Randall and Davon House, who’s back after two years in Jacksonville. Safety Josh Jones actually may play more linebacker, given the proliferation of subpackage defense. He’s a downhill, run-and-hit player — a nice complement to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who was a top-five safety in 2016.
3. It’s a battle royal in the backfield
The Packers were short on running backs last season, too. Then they released James Starks, while Eddie Lacy rumbled to a free-agent deal in Seattle. So Green Bay followed the Seahawks’ lead from a year ago and drafted in volume. Fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams (BYU) is a workhorse type. Fifth-rounder Aaron Jones (UTEP) figures to get his chance in the passing game. And seventh-rounder Devante Mays (Utah State) could surprise people. With all the seven-man boxes the Packers see because of Rodgers and a solid offensive line, they can get away with some different guys running it — including converted wideout Ty Montgomery, who showed flashes in his new role at times late in the season. Green Bay does need to replace veteran guard T.J. Lang, who departed for his hometown Detroit Lions, but there are options there.
4. The pass rushers better earn their money
Nick Perry signed a five-year, $60 million contract. Clay Matthews is still the highest-paid — due $11.1 million with a $15.075 million cap number this season on the five-year, $66 million extension he signed in 2013. Those are big numbers, so there’s little question where the responsibility of getting to quarterbacks falls after Julius Peppers returned to Carolina.
5. They’re the closest the NFC has to the New England Patriots
Yes, New England has five Super Bowl wins in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, compared to one for Rodgers and Mike McCarthy. But the franchises are tied for the NFL’s longest playoff streak (eight years), and Rodgers has an excellent shot to join Brady in the Hall of Fame one day. Winning one more ring would probably make it an open-and-shut case.
Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero
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