Green Bay Packers Should Explore Adding Veteran Edge Rusher

Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst talks on the phone during practice on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 in Ashwaubenon, Wis.Gpg Packerspractice 091218 Abw158
Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst talks on the phone during practice on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 in Ashwaubenon, Wis.Gpg Packerspractice 091218 Abw158 /

The hope when Za’Darius Smith was placed on IR was that the Green Bay Packers would have to navigate a few weeks without him while his back healed, but then he would return for the long haul. However, that isn’t going to be the case.

As Ian Rapoport and Mike Garofolo reported on Friday, Smith underwent back surgery and is going to be out an “extended period of time.” While the hope — there’s that word again — is that Smith could return at some point later on this season, there is also the real possibility that he misses the remainder of the year.

Without Smith in the mix, the Green Bay Packers are really going to need Preston Smith to have that turnaround season and for Rashan Gary to take another step forward in his third season.

However, even if both of those things happen, the Packers are still going to need added help at the edge rusher position–Smith and Gary simply cannot play every snap.

As the roster is currently constructed, Green Bay will continue to rely on 2020 seventh-round pick Jonathan Garvin and 2020 UDFA Chauncey Rivers. Garvin has 145 career snaps while Rivers has 50, according to PFF ($$).

The Packers also have 2020 UDFA LaDarius Hamilton on the active roster, who has no NFL snaps, and 2020 UDFA Tipa Galeai on the practice squad with nine career snaps.

While there is certainly potential in this group, there is also a lot of inexperience that is going to be asked to play important snaps this season. And for a Green Bay Packers team that is clearly all-in on 2021, it might not be a bad idea to add a veteran presence to the edge rusher room for some added stability.

What options do the Green Bay Packers have when it comes to bolstering their edge rusher depth and will it work financially?

The first option is that GM Brian Gutekunst could look to make a trade, something that the Packers have reportedly already explored, as Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports reported a few weeks ago.

As far as who the Green Bay Packers might target, well, that is difficult to gauge this early in the season. At this point, the trade market hasn’t really taken shape yet, and teams that may eventually become sellers might not know that they are sellers yet.

However, if you’re looking for at least one name, Mark Eckel of Packer Report ($$) suggested Whitney Mercilus of the Houston Texans as a potential trade target.

The other option is free agency, which may not provide the Packers with the same splashy addition, but rather a more affordable option that doesn’t require Green Bay to give up draft capital.

A few candidates still available include John Simon, Reggie Gilbert, and Olivier Vernon, although he is still recovering from a torn Achilles that took place during the final game of the 2020 season.

With all of that said, if we are going to talk about making an addition, we always have to talk about the financials and trade compensation as well.

According to Over the Cap, the Green Bay Packers still have $7.27 million in available cap space. By pushing nearly $30 million worth of cap charges from 2021 to 2022, the Green Bay Packers are going to have to make several difficult financial decisions next offseason, but for the time being, they’ve given themselves the flexibility to make a free-agent addition.

When it comes to making a trade, the Packers have the draft capital; it just all depends on what Gutey is willing to give up for a particular player. In terms of contracts, Green Bay would inherit a prorated version of that player’s current deal–chances are, in terms of cap space, a trade will be the more expensive option.

My guess is that in either case — free agency or the draft — the Packers wouldn’t want to take on a cap hit of more than $3-$4 million so that they still have some cap space available for the remainder of the season–you never know what needs may arise.

Throughout 2021, the Green Bay Packers have made a number of “all-in” moves, but are they willing to make one more?

Edge rusher is one of the more important positions in the game of football–it’s all about pressuring the quarterback. But right now, while there may be upside as I already mentioned, the depth of the unit is very inexperienced and raw–which for a team with Super Bowl aspirations is concerning.

I don’t doubt that Gutekunst and Co. will explore free agent and trade options, but who they will target and whether or not they actually make a move are the two big questions. But they absolutely should.