Packers Have Brewed Up a Crisis at Wide Receiver
When I was an Air Force pilot, I never once in five years had to utter those scary words: “I’m declaring an emergency!” But in my current gig, the time has come: I’m declaring an emergency at wide receiver.
Any NFL team, but especially one led by Aaron Rodgers, should have at least three starter-quality wide receivers, one being a dominating physical guy, plus at least two backups who can play capably at the pro level. What do the Green Bay Packers have? Two out of three, zero, and zero – and that’s giving Randall Cobb the benefit of the doubt. They’ll have to rely on tight end Jimmy Graham as the dominating go-to guy.
The Packers obviously had decided to release Jordy Nelson soon after the start of the free agency season. You would have thought they’d be all over the 44 wide receivers who entered free agency on March 14. After the fact, we’ve heard that the Packers had an interest in Allen Robinson. Robinson, however, was the second highest-rated receiver on the market. The chance of the Packers outbidding teams with tons of salary cap space for him were slim and none. He wound up going to Chicago.
Last week, the Packers visited with Jordan Matthews, who is now the top-ranked receiver on that list – the 10 players above him have all been signed. Several teams beside the Packers have been looking at Matthews, so I expect an announcement on his future to be made this week. We’ve profiled Matthews and his upside just before he made a visit to Green Bay.
While Matthews is a fine potential replacement for Nelson, he’s coming off of injured reserve, due to a knee injury that took place in November. He also suffered a broken thumb during the season and he had a chest injury during training camp. Any team interested in Matthews will probably insist that his knee be carefully examined by its own doctor.
Given the dire straits the Packers are in, a receiver with an extensive injury history might not be the way to go. Regardless, if the Packers don’t sign him by Friday, I’d say they’ve passed on him.
What’s left on the free agent receiver front? There’s aging Jeremy Maclin (29) and Eric Decker (31) – both appear to be on the downside of their careers. Going further down the list, there are some receiver prospects available at modest cost, but you’d only project such players as backups, not as starters. Brice Butler, Michael Campanaro, Dontrelle Inman and Marcus Wheaton might be worth a look.
Butler was strictly a sub in his last three years at Dallas, though he averaged over 20 yards a catch in two of those years.
Wheaton has gone from a round three pick to getting all of three catches with the Bears last year. He played very little with the Steelers in the first half of 2016, then went on IR with a shoulder injury.
Campanaro, very athletic but small, did not start a game in his four years with the Ravens.
Inman has at least started 30 games in his four years with three teams. He was most recently with the Bears, who got him for a conditional seventh-round pick last October.
Slim pickings indeed – it’s no wonder why a bunch of teams are at the moment enamored with Matthews despite the injury concerns.
What is a wonder is why the Packers have allowed their gaping need for multiple receivers to go unattended until available NFL veterans have been well picked over.
Restricted Free Agents (RFAs)
If there’s been no acquisition in the next few days, I’ll take a more detailed look at the remaining available restricted free agent wide receivers. There are too many rules covering RFAs to explain now, other than to say there are lots of downsides to going after RFAs, including that the current team usually ends up matching the other team’s offer and keeping the player. Here is the list of current RFA receivers:
- Chargers’ Tyrell Williams (26)
- Bears’ Cameron Meredith (25)
- Jets’ Quincy Enumwa (25)
- Saints’ Willie Sneed (25)
- Buccaneers’ Adam Humphries (24)
- Lions’ T.J. Jones (25)
- Bears’ Josh Bellamy (28)
Despite the downsides of pursuing RFAs, some of the guys on this list seem more attractive than those on the remaining unrestricted free agent list. The RFA market closes on April 20.
As I’ve said, the Packers have put themselves into an emergency situation – all options need to be explored. Adding to the urgency, it’s a very down year for wide receivers heading into the upcoming draft.
Unless a bona-fide starting receiver is signed before the draft, the only option I see for Green Bay is to choose Nelson’s potential replacement with their 14th overall draft selection – and hope and pray he’s a quick learner.