Jim Owczarski and Olivia Reiner discuss the Packers' upgrade at outside linebacker in 2019 and Blake Martinez's future in 2020. Packers News
Sixth in a series on the Packers' unrestricted free agents and their likelihood of remaining with the team.
GREEN BAY - Nothing illustrates how dramatically the Green Bay Packers overhauled their outside linebacker depth chart last offseason than the rapid descent of Kyler Fackrell.
In 2018, Fackrell had what could have been described as a breakout season. He led the Packers with 10.5 sacks, tied with Pro Bowlers DeMarcus Lawrence and Fletcher Cox. Only 22 players in the NFL had double-digit sacks that season. It’s the type of year that generally propels a career forward.
Then the Packers signed Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith.
Fackrell’s reward for double-digit sacks: 200 fewer snaps, falling to third on the depth chart. He had only one sack in 2019, mostly the result of lost playing time. The Packers’ defense was better because of it. It’s a luxury to have an edge rusher like Fackrell third on the depth chart. When the Smiths needed a break, the Packers got solid play off the sideline.
It’s also why the Packers are unlikely to re-sign their former third-round pick. More than Fackrell’s encore season was affected when general manager Brian Gutekunst scored a coup with the Smiths last year. The influx of talent, and the dollars spent at the position, had a direct impact on Fackrell’s future with the team.
Age next season: 29.
Initially acquired: Third round, 88th overall pick, 2016 draft.
Stats: 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, 23 tackles.
Argument for: As productive as the Packers’ edge rush became last season, it actually isn’t very deep. Without question, Gutekunst paid the Smiths for their youth and durability along with their expected production. Preston Smith has never missed a game in his five seasons. Za’Darius Smith has missed six, but none since 2017. Still, Fackrell was among four edge rushers the Packers kept last season, fewer than the ideal target for the position. If there is an injury to the Smiths — Za’Darius had to leave the field multiple times last season, though he always returned — there aren’t many bodies coming off the sideline, even fewer without Fackrell. Losing him to another team would force the Packers to place more assets into restocking the position.
Argument against: Another team around the league is likely to see in Fackrell what Gutekunst saw in the Smiths, namely an untapped talent who could shine with more playing time and prominence within the scheme. There aren’t many edge rushers capable of double-digit sacks in a season. Yes, Fackrell is older than most players coming off their rookie contract, but he also has low mileage on his body at this stage in his career. He’s the type of player who gets paid well on the open market, and it’s hard to see the Packers having enough cash to keep him.
Quotables: “He’s a consummate professional. Unselfish. There are times you feel bad kind of giving him those roles or knowing his playing time is limited. He’s the same guy whether he knows he’s featured in a plan and some of the pressures are in for him, or if he has some of the more thankless jobs. He just goes out and does his job, and he does it well. As he proved last year; he’s a very efficient pass rusher, and he’s shown that this year. There are times where he was winning, but he just didn’t win fast enough because the other guys were, or the quarterback had gotten flushed. He had a lot of near misses, but he’s been very effective as a rusher, and he’s also one of our better droppers as well. Sometimes the curse of that is, ‘Hey, you’re good at it, therefore you’re going to do it.’ You’ve seen him, I wouldn’t want to play poker with him, (his expression) doesn’t change. Whatever we’re asking him to do, he’s, ‘Coach, just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.’” – Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine