Reality has set in. As I watched the Buffalo vs. Kansas City playoff game yesterday two realities sunk in. Two teams playing for their respective conference championships were beaten by Green Bay, the Chiefs at Lambeau and the Lions on their home field. And there is no benefit to dwelling on that fact. The season is over for the Packers.
So, what does the Packer organization do to ensure this early playoff exit does not happen next year? While the Packers will drop much of Aaron Rodgers’ massive dead weight salary cap stranglehold, they still have to pay Jordan Love, and make a number of decisions on whether to cut, resign and extend a number of veterans contracts.
Potential Packers Roster Moves
If they cut Bakhtiari, Campbell, Savage, Newman and Stokes, Green Bay would have 33.7 million in cap space according to spotrac.com. That number is before Love gets paid. Love costs the Packers 12 million this year so a team-friendly deal could cost them just a few million more.
And then there is the 2024 draft. The Packers have 5 picks in the first three rounds and potentially 6 more on day three of the draft if at least three compensatory picks are awarded for losing Robert Tonyan, Dean Lowry, Jarran Reed and Allen Lazard as NFL.com predicts.
After watching the film of the Packers loss to the 49ers again, a couple of things jump out on tape. One, the tackling abilities of the Niner safeties compared to the Packers is at a game changer level.
Darnell Savage not only missed a tackle near the line of scrimmage costing the Packers a touchdown on Christian McCaffrey’s 39-yard touchdown. He was beaten for a touchdown on Purdy’s 32-yard pass to Kittle to start the scoring and he dropped an interception that was right in his hands that would have given the Packers an additional red zone opportunity.
The old saying is big players make big plays in big games. If this was just one bad game, fans and pundits would brush it off. But the interception in Dallas was really the only big play Savage made in the 2023 season.
He had only one in the previous season when Kirk Cousins decided to hand interceptions out like candy at Halloween in the Packer v. Viking game in Green Bay on January 1st, 2023.
Savage has one year left on his contract which will cost the Packers just over 5 million whether they play him or cut him. Either way it is time to draft a replacement. Gutekunst drafted Savage in the first round.
Packers 2024 NFL Draft Pick Strategy
Packers hold the 25th pick in the first round and the 41st and 58th in the second. The two third round picks are 88 and 92. With the offense set at receiver and tight end two of those top picks will probably be focused on improvement in the defense.
Losing Enagbare to an ACL tear and with Preston Smith turning 32, the Packers should prioritize drafting an outside linebacker. With Jaire Alexander’s injuries and Eric Stokes’ poor performance after coming back from his own serious injury, cornerback is a strong need. De’Vondre Campbell is slowing down, and Quay Walker has problems diagnosing plays, especially in the run game.
So, Brian Gutekunst has a number of options with his top picks. The defensive line has up and coming players in Brooks, Wooden and Slayton, with only Devonte Wyatt struggling to improve but this was his first year with starters minutes and he could still make a jump.
The offense has offensive line questions at guard. Jon Runyon is a free agent and Sean Rhyan was not as good when he subbed in. But he could also make a jump. Yosh Nijman has probably played his way off the team as has Royce Newman, so depth on the offensive line will be necessary.
Besides offensive line, running back will also be a need. A.J. Dillon played most of his games in 2023 behind an injured and inexperienced offensive line. But, in his time in Green Bay he has not proven he can be a game changing back in the Packer offensive system. As a free agent, the cheaper way will be to draft a young hard-charging runner somewhere in this draft.
Face the Kicker Music
Finally, kicker. While the Packers used draft capital last year, LaFleur said he is looking at competition at all positions. You cannot let ego overrule results on tape.
Another draft pick on a kicker? If you want to advance it may be necessary. The Packers rarely draft runners or guards high, so it will be interesting to see what Gutekunst does to resupply the offense versus the defense.
While much has been written about the Packer focus on defense in past drafts, the struggles of the 2023 defense would justify another year of similar tactics. But all of this is speculation until April.
Until then internal coaching staff reviews will be the first priority. Will LaFleur be able to keep his offensive staff intact and what about the defense? The games are finished but there is still drama to be dispensed on Lombardi Avenue.