The NFL trade deadline is on Tuesday. If Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst feels like he needs to bolster the offense, he’s running out of time and talent.
Last week, the New England Patriots, who are destroying everyone in their chase for a seventh Super Bowl championship under Tom Brady, sent a second-round pick to Atlanta for Mohamed Sanu. The San Francisco 49ers – who are battling Green Bay in the NFC playoff race – acquired Emmanuel Sanders and a fifth-round pick from Denver for third- and fourth-round selections.
Rodgers: This is an important stretch
The big fish potentially remaining on the block is Cincinnati’s A.J. Green. He has missed the start of the season with an ankle injury and won’t return to the winless Bengals until after the trade deadline. With Cincinnati’s season not going anywhere and Green headed for free agency at season’s end, the rebuilding Bengals would be wise to make a move and get something for their star receiver.
However, with a 6-1 record headed into Sunday’s game at Kansas City – including 3-0 without Davante Adams – it’s fair to wonder whether Gutekunst is even in the receiver market as the deadline approaches.
Coach Matt LaFleur expertly toed both sides of the line on Wednesday.
“We talk on a daily basis and we’re always looking for ways to improve our football team,” he said. “But I will say I do have a lot of confidence in the guys that we have here. We did OK the other day. I know every game it’s week to week and you’re only as good as your last game. But we’re exploring all options.”
This week, we reached out to several NFL scouts and executives to get a feel on the league-wide opinion regarding the surprising Packers, who already have matched last year’s season win total. Are the Packers really good? Really, really good? Or merely good but fortunate?
Five of the six who responded thought the Packers were legit contenders in the NFC – the sixth hadn’t studied the Packers thoroughly enough to form an opinion – never mind the home-heavy schedule and some fortuitous officiating.
“Getting Adams back will make the difference,” one high-ranking personnel man said.
As Gutekunst looks at a team that has emerged as a contender, he must determine whether there is enough firepower beyond Adams for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to attack with in the playoffs. It was last week against Oakland, when Rodgers dismantled the Raiders by throwing five touchdown passes to five different players, even with Adams sidelined. However, in the postseason, Rodgers will face much better secondaries. Winning another Super Bowl, not simply getting back to the playoffs, should be the goal. Are the Packers good enough on offense to beat the Saints or Rams in January?
Interestingly, by a slim 3-2-1 vote, the consensus was Gutekunst should stick with what he’s got and not sacrifice a valuable draft pick with a trade-deadline deal.
One high-ranking executive’s team recently made a run to the Super Bowl behind a dominant offense. Perhaps contrary to conventional wisdom, he thought the Packers’ offensive personnel was about equal to his team’s talent at the time.
There were two other interesting takes from the insiders.
One, LaFleur is building an offense that’s been making obvious progress. LaFleur is getting a better handle on his personnel week after week, and the players are getting more comfortable in his scheme with every game. Adding a receiver to the mix could throw a wrench into that.
“There already is enough going on with a new offense and getting all those pieces right,” one executive said. A scout shared that same thinking. “If this were Mike (McCarthy’s) offense, I’d say definitely. But after all that change, I wouldn’t want to add more change. You could wind up with subtraction by addition.”
Two, it’s the league-wide belief that receiver is a dime-a-dozen position. The great ones, like Adams, are worth their weight in gold. However, receivers like Sanu and Sanders are good players but not elite. With age, injury history and now three months on the sideline, a case could be made that Green’s no longer an elite player, though one assistant coach thought otherwise.
“I’m just not big on buying receivers,” one scout said. “A wide receiver is never the answer. I wouldn’t give up a top-100 pick for a 50/50, at best, shot.”
The scout who hadn’t studied the Packers thoroughly but knew their personnel was noncommittal.
“I think another solid guy wouldn’t hurt but biggest thing is to protect (Rodgers). You do that, he can figure out the rest,” he said.
With the Packers allowing seven sacks the past six games, Rodgers has had ample time to figure things out.
However, one executive pointed to the Patriots, who are rampaging through the NFL. Even with total dominance, they went out and got Sanu. Now, the Patriots are in a different position than the Packers. Brady is 42 and in his final season under contract. While the clock is ticking on Rodgers and the Packers, it’s almost up for Brady and coach Bill Belichick. So, why not throw some more chips into the middle of the table?
“They gave up too much for Sanu, in my opinion, but what difference does it make? Bill has no reason to worry about the future,” he said.
Looking at the schedule, with Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes out for Sunday and the 49ers coming up after Green Bay’s bye, the Packers could be 12-1 heading into the final three games against NFC North foes. As the Packers learned the past two seasons, the playoffs aren’t guaranteed. A great offseason by Gutekunst has the Packers back in the championship picture. Would adding one more player help cement that status? That’s what he’ll have to figure out over the next couple days.