Green Bay Packers: Ranking Remaining Offseason Priorities
As the Packers prepare to take their roster into training camp, there will be position battles, players on the roster bubble and starting jobs to consider. In addition, two key players on defense are entering the final years of their contracts, and the Packers may consider getting extensions done this offseason.
Let's take a look at the most important objectives Green Bay will be focusing on as we move into the next phase of the offseason, including OTAs and training camp.
The following priorities are ranked from most important (will have an immediate and significant effect on football operations) to least important (would be nice to get done, but not essential).
Decide Who Will Be the Day 1 Starter at CB
If the 2015 NFL season started tomorrow, there's no doubt that Casey Hayward would be the cornerback starting opposite Sam Shields for the Green Bay Packers.
With the departure of Tramon Williams in free agency, Hayward is primed to make his move to a starting role after excelling in the slot for the Packers. In fact, Hayward was the best slot corner in the league in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus, allowing 16 receptions on 25 targets and grabbing three interceptions while allowing just two touchdowns.
Hayward is 5'11" but has proved that he has the ball skills and athleticism to start outside. However, will a rookie be able to mount a legitimate fight in the battle for the starting job?
First-round selection Damarious Randall and second-round selection Quinten Rollins will both compete with Hayward in camp. Neither played cornerback primarily in college (Randall was a safety with corner skills, and Rollins was a four-year basketball star), but if they can nail down the technique, they'll have bright futures at cornerback in the pros.
Most likely, the two rookies will earn snaps in the Packers' nickel and dime sub-packages in 2015 rather than on the outside, but the starting job isn't set in stone yet.
Sort Out 2nd Starting ILB Spot
Ahead of training camp, it appears that Sam Barrington has one of the two starting inside linebacker spots locked down for 2015. He earned 485 snaps in 2015, per Pro Football Focus, while A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones saw fewer and fewer as the season progressed.
But who will line up next to him on the inside in the base defense on opening day? Will it be Clay Matthews, who theoretically owns one of the starting outside linebacker spots?
Expect Matthews to spend a significant amount of snaps inside until another player proves he's skilled enough to handle it.
Fourth-rounder Jake Ryan is among those who will contend for the job. 2014 rookie and outside linebacker convert Carl Bradford has more experience in Green Bay's system, but Ryan is taller (6'2" and 240 pounds) and faster (4.65-second 40) than Bradford (6'1", 250 pounds, 4.76-second 40).
Ryan also played middle linebacker during his senior year at Michigan, while Bradford played defensive end and outside linebacker at Arizona State.
Nate Palmer and 2014 undrafted free agent Joe Thomas could also push for snaps, but the battle to watch is between Ryan and Bradford. If no one player emerges as a solid starter in camp, expect the team to rotate the aforementioned players with Matthews next to Barrington.
Narrow Down Deep Wide Receiver Group
Given the deep pool of talent at wide receiver that general manager Ted Thompson has assembled in Green Bay, the Packers may keep six wide receivers on the 53-man roster in 2015.
On one hand, more playmakers for Aaron Rodgers and a higher-octane offense are always good things. On the other, given that receiver is probably the most solid positional group on the roster, perhaps that sixth spot would be better used on defense.
What's certain, however, is that the 53-man roster will not feature seven receivers, meaning some cuts or moves to the practice squad are forthcoming in training camp.
Davante Adams' excellent play in 2014 gives him an advantage in vying for the No. 3 spot. However, 2014 rookies Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis and 2015 third-round pick Ty Montgomery will push him for the spot in training camp.
Adams had 38 receptions, 446 yards and three touchdowns in 2014.
That may leave practice-squad holdover Myles White as the odd man out. White isn't eligible for the practice squad next season, so if he can't beat out one of the six aforementioned players (or two if the Packers keep only five receivers on the roster), he'll be facing a camp cut.
Consider Contract Extension for Mike Daniels
If the Packers sign any players to contract extensions prior to the start of the season, defensive standout Mike Daniels will be at the top of the list.
Daniels is entering the final year of his contract. Over the last three seasons, the former fourth-round pick has become a core member of the team, starting all 16 games in 2014 with 29 total tackles and 5.5 sacks.
Daniels finished the 2014 season ranked as the eighth-best 3-4 defensive end in the league, per Pro Football Focus.
He also emerged as a locker room leader.
Thompson has re-signed only a few key players prior to the last year of their deals, including Nelson and Morgan Burnett last offseason. He's let others play out the year, and if the price has gone up to re-sign them, at least they've proved their worth.
By no means should Thompson allow Daniels to become a free agent next March. Teams in need of an elite interior rusher for their 3-4 defense would likely offer him a price the Packers would be unwilling to match. The Packers should be roughly $11 million under the cap after signing all of their rookies, using numbers shared by ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky. That's enough to get a deal with Daniels done.
Consider Contract Extension for Casey Hayward
Between Daniels and Hayward, if the Packers are going to get only one contract extension done this offseason, they would prioritize Daniels. Daniels has proven production with a full season as a starter under his belt, while Hayward is on the verge of perhaps his first season as a starter this fall.
However, if Hayward is indeed the front-runner to start opposite Shields outside at cornerback, the Packers would want to reward and invest in the young player. Once the rest of the league sees what he can do over a full season, his price would rise rapidly in free agency in 2016.
Still, before signing him to an extension, it's possible that the Packers will want to see how Hayward performs with multiple games as a starter under his belt—and see how their rookie cornerbacks develop as well.