Will The Cheeseheads Be Able To Keep Their ‘Crown Jewel’ Upright?
The NFL offseason opened up with a bang on March 9th, with the beginning of free agency. Moves were made all over the league as impact players shopped their talents with new teams. Of the players who switched teams, two left the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line without any new acquisitions to replenish its depth. Their 2016 offensive line was ranked 5th in the league according to Pro Football Focus and one of their highest graded run blockers has left the team.
The players who left the team are right tackle TJ Lang, who signed with Detroit, and center JC Tretter who went to Cleveland. Tackle Don Barclay was also a free agent as of March 9th, but signed with the team on a one year contract. One has to wonder if these moves will cause this offensive line to be weaker by the start of the regular season, or if the Packers will have targets in the draft that will shore up the trenches.
OK, So Who Left The Packers?
#70 TJ Lang – Right Guard:
After a couple days of courting multiple teams, on March 12 Lang signed a three year, $28.5 million dollar contract with the Detroit Lions. He takes the place of the Lions outgoing right guard, Larry Warford and brings an upgrade to that position for the Lions.
Lang is in his 8th year in the league, having been drafted in the 4th round in 2009 and will be turning 30 when he suits up in September. This past season he was graded as the No. 13 guard out of 77 who qualified.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 12, 2017
Lang was hoping to re-sign with the Packers, according to reports in mid February, but admitted he hadn’t “heard a word from them”. In late February the team and Lang spoke and he decided to test the market, and Packers’ coach Mike McCarthy didn’t see him doing much until training camp due to recovering from a offseason surgery. After that, a bidding war took place and finally the Lions sealed the deal with their offer, bringing Lang back to his home state.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said OG TJ Lang (EMU) is still in recovery mode from surgery. "I don't see TJ doing anything b4 training camp"
— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) March 1, 2017
Lang did undergo two surgeries in the offseason, classified as minor procedures that should have minimal effect on his offseason. He had foot and hip arthroscopic surgeries, the foot surgery stemming from his injury in the NFC Conference Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons. Where he exited the game and was seen in pain on the sidelines, never to return to the field.
The surgeries caused him to miss the Pro Bowl, which he was invited to, but he was able to address a lingering hip injury that was plaguing him all season.
— Teej. (@TJLang70) January 27, 2017
#73 JC Tretter – Center:
Right out of the gate, on March 9, the Cleveland Browns announced their signing of Tretter for a three year deal at $16.75 million, with $10 million guaranteed. This signing greatly improves the center position and adds a much needed component to the offensive line the Browns are trying to build for 2017. Whoever starts for the Browns at quarterback this coming season will have added protection with the moves the team is making in free agency.
Tretter was graded by PFF at No. 9 at the position, scoring 84.1, last year and was considered the best free agent for the center position. He started for the Green Bay packers but was injured mid-season, going down for the second season ending injury in three years. The position was taken over by Corey Linsley who had performed well in the backup position for the last three years, and has another year on his contract. Tretter ended up having knee surgery in January, and looks like he should recover in time for training camp with the Browns.
According to Joseph Zucker of Bleacher report, he’s not worried about Tretter’s performance, just whether he will be able to stay on the field the entire season:
“Performance won’t be an issue for for Tretter; the bigger question is whether he can stay on the field for a full season, which could make Cleveland’s investment somewhat risky.”
— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) March 9, 2017
Who Is Staying On The Packers?
#67 Don Barclay – Guard/Tackle
On a short contract, back up tackle Barclay re-signed with the Green Bay Packers for one year and $1.3 million. Thought to possibly be a replacement for his former colleague TJ Lang, he is considered a versatile backup guard.
He had the opportunity to show his ability to replace Lang during the last season, but couldn’t finish his first start at right guard after a shoulder injury took him out of the game. Considered more of a utility guy, the packers have used him in multiple positions temporarily.
C-G-T Don Barclay's one-year, $1.025m deal with #Packers contains $150,000 s-bonus, $100,000 workout bonus and $775,000 minimum base salary.
— Bob McGinn (@BobMcGinn) March 13, 2017
During the week 11 game against the Washington Redskins Barclay left the game and was replaced by Jason Spriggs, who according to rotoworld tops the depth chart at right guard. Barclay is controversial among Packer’s fans both due to his role in the “Hail Mary” against the Detroit Lions in December 2015, and also due to the amount of missed blocks he has had during his snaps on the field.
There is no reason to start Don Barclay in the regular season. It's a much sillier idea than kicking Bulaga inside.
— BadgerNoonan (@BadgerNoonan) March 13, 2017
Who Wasn’t Leaving The Packers?
#63 Corey Linsley – Center:
Solidifying the starting center role, Linsley has one year left on his rookie contract. He just completed surgery on his ankle, a “clean up” procedure that resulted from a high-ankle sprain in 2015. In 2016 Linsley missed seven games due to a hamstring issue, but is expected to be ready for training camp.
Linsley opened the 2016 season on the PUP list and wasn’t activated until November, when then starting center JC Tretter went down with an ankle injury. Over the course of the past two seasons Linsley had started 29 games at center for the Green Bay Packers.
Center is going to be a big need for the Green Bay Packers to shore up before preseason, with how injury prone Linsley is they will need to bring in depth at that position.
The way Corey Linsley bounced back from injury is a big reason why the Packers moved on from JC Tretter. https://t.co/48D4EhNKDi
— The Power Sweep (@ThePowerSweep) March 20, 2017
At depth for the center position currently on the Green Bay roster is undrafted free agent Jacob Flores who signed a reserve/futures contract. He wound up on the practice squad last season, coming out of Dartmouth. While he has had some time to start training at the NFL level, he is probably going to need more time before he is ready to be the backup to Linsley.
The Packers could look to the mid rounds of the draft to add some depth behind Linsley if Jacob Flores isn’t able to make it off the practice squad. They could target Ethan Pocic from LSU or Tyler Orlosky from West Virginia in the later rounds, and have a solid backup in case their starter is injured.
#69 David Bakhtiari – Left Tackle:
David Bakhtiari is currently starting year two of the five year, $53.34 million dollar contract he signed this past september and won’t be a possible free agent until 2021.
He was plagued with minor injuries during the 2016 season, having to miss a quarter or a series here and there. Even with the missed time Bakhtiari played well enough to be graded fourth out of 78 by PFF, though his run blocking was ranked 32nd.
According to totalpackers.com Green Bay maybe abandoning the run game after the loss of TJ Lang, Josh Sitton and letting Eddie Lacy go. While Aaron Rodgers can be a monster when he gets pushed out of the pocket, the lack of run game ability is going to put more pressure on the offensive line, possibly making it harder to keep their quarterback upright. Josh Sitton was released part of the way through last season, and the packers had a ready backup to take his place, but there is no such person currently on the the team to take up TJ Lang’s spot. Bahktiari seems to struggle a little bit with run blocking, and this will possibly contribute to a one-dimensional game by the Packers.
#65 Lane Taylor – Guard:
Finishing up a two year contract he signed in early 2016, at $4.14 million, Lane Taylor is poised to become a free agent after this year. He will be looking to show his worth as he gets his first chance at being the starter for the season, after being undrafted in 2013. He has had two starts in the past and according to PFF struggled in pass protection and allowed seven hurries in 148 snaps.
Don Barclay could move and take over the left guard position if Taylor struggles at the beginning of the year. The position is not without depth though, and the Packers also have guard Lucas Patrick on a futures/reserve contract. Patrick signed with the Packers last June but was cut from their 53-man roster. He was an undrafted free agent out of Duke, and could be mostly a training camp body. The packers will need to look at either drafting a guard or filling in some depth with the undrafted.
#78 Jason Spriggs – Guard:
Drafted last year in the first round at No. 48, Spriggs is on his rookie contract, totaling $5.004 million.
The Packers targeted Spriggs during the 2016 draft, trading their fourth and seventh round picks to the Colts to move up nine spots to get him. With Lang and Sitton gone, Spriggs is a clear starter.
While the Packers need to add depth at guard, they currently have Barclay in position to come in if an injury were to take Spriggs down. Jordon Morgan from the small school Kutztown might be someone the Packers could target in the fourth round to add competition to the depth chart.
#75 Bryan Bulaga – Tackle:
Drafted in the first round in 2010, Bryan Bulaga signed a five year contract in 2015 worth $33.75 million. He won’t be a free agent until 2020 when he will be 32 years old.
While early in his career he seemed to have some problems with injury, missing half the season in 2012, the injury bug didn’t bite in 2016. Ranked last year by PFF as 15th out of 78 for tackles, but 52nd for run-blocking, Bulaga is a key piece of the Packer’s offensive line. Shoring up the ends of the line with fellow tackle David Bakhtiari.
The tackle position is where the Packer’s seem to have some depth with Kyle Murphy who was drafted in 2016 in round six to play on the right side. He is currently on a four year contract worth $2.4 million, and is said to fit best as a swing-tackle reserve in the NFL. He does have some experience, playing in three games last season.
What’s Changed On The Offensive Line Since Losing Their Free Agents?
The Packers will have to pick up a guard and a center either in this draft, as an outside UDFA, or from one of their reserve contracts. They currently do not have the depth to withstand too many injuries, and have a few injury-prone players. Some may think that this is an easy fix and would help limit the loss of Lang and Tretter and ensure it didn’t do too much to hurt the Packers and the wall of men charged with protecting Aaron Rodgers.
But that is not true, while depth might be a necessity with the loss of those players, a possibly greater loss has occurred with their ability to run-block. The Packers’ weren’t the greatest rushing team in 2016, but with the downgrades at run blocking they could take even more of a hit. Ty Montgomery isn’t very slippery to get through a imploding offensive line, and this will cause Rodgers to have to take more control. On top of all that tight end Martellus Bennett, an OK run blocker, took the place of Jared Cook a exceptional run blocker.
Maybe through the draft the Packers can address these issues, but for now this is the status of their offensive line.