GREEN BAY - As Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst and new head coach Matt LaFleur head to the NFL scouting combine this week, they are going to be looking for help anywhere they can find it.
But the draft, and even free agency, are unlikely to turn a team around overnight and if the Packers are going to make advances this year, much of the improvement will have to come from within.
The questions Gutekunst and his personnel staff have been considering over the past month or so are which players can they count on and which players should they try to replace?
There is no need to cut anybody for salary-cap reasons, although there are some roster bonuses due in March, such as $4.8 million to linebacker Nick Perry and $5 million to tight end Jimmy Graham.
Statistics from last season should not be ignored and could help guide Gutekunst in his decision-making. Here are cases for and against various players based on statistics from the 2018 season.
The case against
OLB Nick Perry: The Packers can’t pay Perry $4.8 million guaranteed after injuries limited him to 28.2 percent of the defensive snaps last year. He finished the season with two sacks, four quarterback pressures and two quarterback hits. Reggie Gilbert had more combined sacks, pressures and hits (12) and he didn’t even have that good of a season.
S Kentrell Brice: He deserves a lot of credit for fighting through a chronic ankle injury, but even at his low salary ($630,000), the stats say it’s time to upgrade. Brice was second on the team with 11 missed tackles and was involved in three passes of 40 or more yards allowed and four others of 20 or more. He had no interceptions and one pass break up.
TE Jimmy Graham: This is a tough one because statistically there are reasons to keep him around. To the naked eye, he can’t run past anyone. Yet his yards-per-catch average of 11.56 wasn’t far behind Oakland’s Jared Cook (13.18) and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce (12.97). But his yards-after-catch average of 4.75 was dismal. San Francisco’s George Kittle led all tight ends at 9.89. Kelce was at 5.51 and Cook at 5.04. Also, Graham caught just two touchdown passes, a far cry from what was expected.
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T Jason Spriggs: There are times when it finally clicks for an offensive lineman and he goes from poor to starter in one year. But after three seasons, Spriggs has statistically been a mess. He played 291 snaps last year, allowed 3½ sacks and four pressures and committed seven penalties for 50 yards. His salary is set to rise to $1.13 million in ’19 and it’s unlikely the Packers will pay it.
WR Randall Cobb: An unrestricted free agent, Cobb did not have the kind of year that earns guys another massive contract. Cobb battled through injuries, missing seven full games and managing just 38 receptions for 483 yards. He had only two touchdowns. Cobb’s yards-after-catch stats were decent (6.13) but take away his 75-yard touchdown in the opener and he averaged 4.4, which isn’t good enough for a slot receiver. The rookie combination of Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling averaged 15.3 and 15.6 yards per reception, more than 5 yards above Cobb’s 10.1, and they are the future.
G Byron Bell, G Justin McCray and G Lucas Patrick: You won’t find three tougher guys around, but the Packers need to be better. Together they allowed 13 pressures, three QB hits and five sacks. It didn’t help that left guard Lane Taylor had the worst season of his career with three sacks, five pressures and five QB hits allowed. But he battled an ankle injury and he has proved to be a capable starter.
The case for
OLB Clay Matthews: An unrestricted free agent, Matthews’ days of having a weekly impact are over. He’s not going to make many splash plays. But he still plays with relentless hustle and puts pressure on the quarterback. Matthews led the team with 11 quarterback hits and trailed only Mike Daniels in pressures with nine. He had only 3½ sacks, but he had to change his style of play after getting called for critical roughing-the-passer penalties early in the season. He drew only one holding penalty from an opponent, way down from a year ago.
DL Montravius Adams and DL Fadol Brown: A no-show much of the first 25 or so games of his career, Adams started to come around when injuries to Kenny Clark and Daniels forced him to play. In Games 9-16, he played 173 snaps and had three sacks, two tackles for loss and drew a holding penalty. Brown came aboard Week 14 and played 39 snaps on defense and 21 on special teams. He played hard, snuffed out a punt fake against Chicago and is worth taking a look at.
S Ibraheim Campbell: Familiar with coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense, Campbell joined the team for its 11th game and played 112 snaps over a three-week period, serving mostly as a hybrid safety/linebacker. He wound up with 20 tackles, one forced fumble, one tackle for loss and a pass defensed. He didn’t give up any big plays and didn’t miss any tackles. He’s worth bringing back.
ILB Antonio Morrison: You won’t find many guys in the Packers locker room who play with a nastier disposition. He finished second on the team in tackles for loss with 4½ despite playing just 26.9 percent of the snaps. His physical limitations led to 10 missed tackles, which is way too many for the number of snaps he played. But as an early down and special teams player, he has value and is worth bringing back.
CB Bashaud Breeland: Even if Tramon Williams comes back as a cornerback next season, Breeland needs to be re-signed. He made two interceptions (returning one for a touchdown) and ranked third in passes defensed with six. He gave up some completions – two for 20 or more yards and one for 40 or more yards – but he did not give up a touchdown in 329 snaps. He had four missed tackles, but in a secondary where Josh Jackson missed 12 and Jaire Alexander 10, that’s outstanding. He could be the slot corner for a long time.
NT Kenny Clark: There’s no question about Clark’s return. The debate is whether the Packers should sign him to a long-term deal later in the season. They have him under contract for two more seasons, so it’s not necessary. But if he continues on this path, he’s going to be a star. He was on pace to play 80 percent of the snaps until injuring his elbow late in the year. He had six sacks, 10 pressures, three QB hits and three tackles for loss. Amazingly, he missed just four tackles.