by Mario Granata
Okay, let's all get together and admit that the Packers were not the Packers in 2017. When the injury bug hits a 2-time NFL MVP in Aaron Rodgers, your team is going to struggle. Mike McCarthy has some new faces around him this season in the form of a new offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, and general manager. However, the shift to adjust to these changes shouldn't be too drastic as they are familiar names with the organization.
The Packers are currently 16.2 million under the cap and have to allocate 9.2 million of that cap to the Draft. That seems like a big number, however, the Packers, who are noted with building their team from the draft, have 12 picks. If you could ask any team that they could have 12 players for 9 million dollars, they would take it. True, 4 of those picks are 6th and 7th rounders, but who's counting?
A man left behind in this equation was Jordy Nelson, who seemed to be the most in sync with Aaron Rodgers when both were on the field, however, he would disappear at times when Rodgers was hurt. This, and the fact that he will turn 33 before the 2018 season were the reasons for his departure from the team.
The Packers will have some decisions to make as Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb, Muhammad Wilkerson, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Ty Montgomery are all up for free agency in 2019 and the Packers (as of today) have 53 million in space to sign them.
While the only notable signing was Jimmy Graham, coming over from Seattle to give Rodgers a viable target in the middle and in the red zone, the moves that the team made in the front office and on the coaching staff stand out the most. The Packers have a new GM in Brian Gutekunst, who has been an executive within the organization since 2012 and a scout since 1998. All he knows is the Green Bay Packers, so there shouldn't be much of a change in draft strategy and day-to-day operations.
Joe Philbin returns to the Packers as offensive coordinator, a position he held from 2007-2011 which saw the Packers win a Superbowl and Rodgers his first League MVP. This familiarity will help the offense return to prominence, or so the Packers hope.
The new face on the Packers will be defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who is replacing iconic Dom Capers who held that post from 2009-2017. Pettine has been away from the NFL for two seasons, but his pedigree will be vital to Green Bay's success in 2018. The Packers were 23rd in passing defense in 2017 and in the 5 seasons that Pettine was a defensive coordinator, his defenses never finished lower than 6th in defending the pass. This is a slick signing for a division that has Matt Stafford, Kirk Cousins, and Mitch Trubisky.
The Packers are notorious for building their team through the draft, and as mentioned above with Gutekunst at the helm, that doesn't seem to change anytime soon. If there is any team that finds talent in the draft, its Green Bay. Blake Martinez, who was a 4th round draft pick of the Packers in 2016, led the league in tackles in 2017 so they know how to find talent, even later in the draft. The Packers have 12 picks including three in the 5th round, two in the 6th and two in the 7th. If they decide to stay with their picks, they will have a lot of holes filled by the time they enter training camp in July. With that many late rounders, don't expect many bold moves by the Packers outside of perhaps packaging two 5ths and a 6th for a 4th rounder that they really like.
As for the early rounds, the Packers could target Marcus Davenport (defensive line), Denzel Ward (cornerback), or Mike Hughes (cornerback). If there is a staple of a Mike Pettine defense its the play of the outside cover guys, who are left on an island a lot of times due to the elaborate blitz schemes that Pettine implements. With the offense showing promise in the likes of Jamaal Williams in 2017, a majority of their picks will be on the defensive side of the ball to fit Pettine's scheme.
While the Packers were not the Packers in 2017, if #12 can stay healthy, they should have a chance in a competitive NFC North. Pettine's scheme leaves itself open to the run game, so the returning Dalvin Cook, Jordan Howard and Ameer Abdullah (as of now) should find success against them, provided that pattern of Pettine holds again.