Packers bye week mailbag: Difficult decisions ahead

Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry is shown during the first quarter of their game Sunday, October 3, 2021 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17.Packers04 28
Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry is shown during the first quarter of their game Sunday, October 3, 2021 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17.Packers04 28 /

At 5-8, the Green Bay Packers have finally hit their long-awaited bye week, which provides them with the opportunity to reset, get healthy, and self-scout, which hopefully leads to them coming out on the other side a little better than where they were.

As I wrote recently, the Packers’ playoff hopes are slim at this point as they have to win out — a tall task in its own right — and get quite a bit of help, but nonetheless, they are still alive.

The good news is that the offense has had some of its best performances as of late, led by the offensive line, the run game, and Christian Watson. The defense, however, remains wildly inconsistent and, overall, disappointing.

With the bye week here, I called for any and all questions about this Packers team over on Twitter, and greatly appreciate the responses. As one would expect, given how Green Bay’s season has gone, most questions center around looking ahead to the offseason.

Q: Do you think we have seen the last of David Bakhtiari in a Packers uniform?@Brennen_Rupp

A great question and a difficult decision for the Green Bay Packers. In 2023, Bakhtiari comes with a  cap hit of over $29 million–a contract number that he won’t be playing on, given the Packers’ tight salary cap situation. Meaning he will either be cut for $5.9 million cap savings, according to Over the Cap, or his deal will be restructured again, thus raising his cap hit in 2024.

When on the field, Bakhtiari has continued to play at a high level, grading out among the best by PFF’s metrics while allowing no sacks and eight pressures. However, his availability from week to week has been up in the air, although prior to his appendectomy, there didn’t seem to be as much uncertainty. As of now, I’ll guess that he is back, in part because I believe Aaron Rodgers will return as well, but I also think 13 games of Bakhtiari at left tackle is more valuable than $5.9 million in cap space. And not that this is ideal by any means, but the Packers can create $21 million in cap space by cutting Bakhtiari in 2024, so if they do bring him back and restructure his deal, which will push additional cap charges to 2024, they do have wiggle room to absorb those future costs.

Q: With three young WRs on the roster do you see the Packers trying to find TE & RB talent as their priority in the draft or will they add another young piece to the WR room over the other two positions?@PackerFanWyo

Tight end is going to be a major need this upcoming offseason, with only Josiah Deguara under contract beyond 2022, and will take priority over running back and wide receiver. In fact, given their current situation, this is why I was so surprised they didn’t take a tight end in this past draft. With that said, I think Green Bay will add to the other positions as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another receiver added in the draft, but this group needs a veteran in the mix as well. When it comes to running back, the sense of urgency around this position will depend on whether or not Aaron Jones is back.

Q: Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs both look like they could be long-term contributors to the team. But with only 3 WRs under contract beyond 2022, should the Packers STILL prioritize WR in the offseason?@JoeAtWork87

As I already alluded to, I think so. Now, this doesn’t mean they have to spend a first-round pick on the position, but again, adding a veteran to the mix — which could mean Randall Cobb and/or Allen Lazard returning — would be very valuable as these are still three young players. On top of that, while Samori Toure has shown promise in his limited playing time, he is still a seventh-round pick who will be entering his second season, so he’s far from being a sure thing as of yet.

Q: With TE traditionally being a position that takes rookies a while to develop, do you see Tonyan or Lewis being back just for a cheap veteran presence?@BrandonGonu

A great point by Brandon, and again, why I thought Green Bay would have addressed tight end in 2022. Very rarely do rookies come in and make any sort of significant impact, which is what the Packers will need. Between needing to learn blocking responsibilities and techniques like a tackle while also being able to know route trees and concepts like a receiver, the jump from college to the NFL is a very difficult transition to make for tight ends. When it comes to Lewis and Tonyan, I think either could be back for the reason Brandon mentioned. They’ll be inexpensive but provide some veteran stability. With that said, and as I wrote recently, this is a position that very much needs some added juice. As far as the passing game goes, the Packers have gotten very few impact plays from the tight end position.

Q: Do you think it’s the scheme or the play of the players that have led the most to the dropoff in the performance of the defense? @VALambeauLeaper

This very much feels like a chicken or the egg situation for the Packers. On one hand, this is the same defensive system from a season ago that led to several breakout performances from players like De’Vondre Campbell, Rasul Douglas, and Dean Lowry, along with Eric Stokes having an impressive rookie season. So with very few players playing above expectations in a system where that wasn’t the case a season ago, you can make the case for them shouldering a lot of the blame. On the flip side, you don’t have to watch much of this Packers’ defense to see that Barry’s passive approach of rarely blitzing and sitting back in zone coverage doesn’t necessarily put several of these players in the best positions to be successful. When so many players aren’t meeting expectations, that falls on coaching.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I have a specific answer, but when a unit underperforms as much as the Green Bay defense has, it’s everything. From Barry to the position coaches to the players, this season has been a failure. Barry has been slow to adjust, the same issues that have been prevalent since Week 1 are still there, and the players simply aren’t making plays, oftentimes even when in position to do so. From top to bottom, there is a massive disconnect on this side of the ball.

Q: If you could pick either Fangio or Leonard as the next DC, who do select and why?@vultures86

As of now, I’d say Vic Fangio. The two main reasons are his experience in the NFL and his history of coaching successful defenses. Also, Matt LaFleur hired Joe Barry because of his connection to Brandon Staley, who coached under Fangio and runs a very similar defense with many of the same principles. So if that is still something LaFleur wants, why not hire the coordinator who has developed that system and made it prevalent around the NFL?

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