Packers can deploy Tyler Ervin's skill set in multiple ways
First in a series on the Packers' unrestricted free agents and their likelihood of remaining with the team.
GREEN BAY – It is rare that a single special teams player's impact can be so vivid, but that is what the Green Bay Packers got when they acquired return specialist Tyler Ervin in December.
At the time, the Packers were mired in what would have been remembered as the worst punt-return unit in NFL history. They sat at minus-8 yards on the season, an unfathomable, negative production no team in history had ever duplicated. By Week 14, they had only two punt returns for positive yardage – one fewer than the number of punt returners they’d rummaged through on the season.
That changed with Ervin’s first punt return, a 10-yard gain against Washington. Suddenly, the Packers were out of the red. Ervin finished with 106 punt return yards in four games for a unit that – this can not be understated – almost never had positive yardage on a punt return through the first three-quarters of the season.
“In the return game,” special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga said late in the season, “Tyler’s been really important. We’re blocking better for him, but he’s definitely a threat back there and has done a really good job back there for us.”
Now, with Ervin set to become an unrestricted free agent this month, the Packers must determine the monetary value for what he gave their special-teams unit.
Initially acquired: Claimed off waivers from Jacksonville Jaguars, Dec. 3, 2019.
Stats with Packers (four games): 11 punt returns, 106 yards; six kickoff returns, 160 yards; 2 catches, 11 yards; 1 carry, 10 yards.
Argument for: For a moment, set aside Ervin’s proven special-teams value. In the playoffs, Packers coach Matt LaFleur started to show potential to be creative with Ervin in his offense. Ervin had two carries for 25 yards in the NFC divisional round against the Seattle Seahawks. He caught a 7-yard pass in the NFC championship game at San Francisco. Both carries against the Seahawks were on end-around tosses, using his speed to catch the Seahawks' defense with misdirection. LaFleur similarly brought Ervin across the formation from the backfield for a 7-yard screen pass against the 49ers. Considering Ervin started the season in Jacksonville, where he played six games, he showed significant growth in LaFleur’s playbook in just six games with the Packers counting the playoffs. It’s worth wondering if a full offseason could make Ervin a legitimate offensive weapon, adding to his special-teams production.
Argument against: You never know what can happen inside the negotiation room. The Packers are more strapped for cash this offseason, and they won’t have much to pay someone in Ervin’s important but limited role. That shouldn’t be a problem, however. If the price is right, chances are Ervin will be back.
Quotable: “Tyler did a great job, not only from the return aspect. I felt like that’s where our special teams started to take a turn for the better, is when we picked him up. He is a versatile guy. We were able to play him a little bit more and more as the season progressed. Yeah – if I have my way – yeah, I’d love to have him back.” – Matt LaFleur