Major changes have already come to Green Bay in 2015. Coach Mike McCarthy will no longer call plays, believing he can better manage the game without the added responsibility of play calling. Tom Clements will assume those duties following his promotion to associate head coach. Receivers coach Edgar Bennett is now the team’s offensive coordinator.
The changes, coming in the wake of the collapse in Seattle, were surprising. McCarthy has always prided himself on being the team’s play-caller, so for him to give up those duties suggests a bit of soul searching was done since the season ended.
These changes will mean very little, though, if the Packers fail to execute a sensible offseason plan, so I've narrowed this offseason down to three simple steps. Here's a look at what it consists of.
1. Re-sign Randall Cobb
A recent report suggested Cobb, 24, is looking for a deal that’ll pay him an annual salary of $9 million. He’d be worth every penny. Next to Aaron Rodgers, there is no other player more valuable to the offense. Yes, that includes Jordy Nelson. If you combine Cobb’s regular-season stats with his playoff stats, then his and Nelson’s numbers are nearly identical. In 18 games, Cobb caught 106 passes for 1,465 yards and 13 touchdowns while Nelson caught 105 passes for 1,612 yards and 13 touchdowns. More important, Cobb came through in the clutch. It’s not a coincidence that a Rodgers completion to Cobb cemented Green Bay’s two biggest victories of the season.
Facing the Patriots in week 11, Rodgers found Cobb for a seven-yard gain to convert a third-and-5 with two minutes remaining. The Patriots, without any timeouts, were unable to stop the clock. The same situation played out against Dallas in the playoffs, except Rodgers connected with Cobb for a gain of 12 yards on third-and-11. Like the Patriots before them, the Cowboys had no more timeouts. These conversations weren’t simple pitch and catches, either. Cobb made both catches in traffic, exhibiting terrific concentration in the process. Perhaps the most notable play of his career came in 2013. With the NFC North title on the line in Chicago, Rodgers and Cobb connected on a 66-yard touchdown with 1:43 remaining.
Many mistakenly believe the Packers are prepared to move on from him because they selected Davante Adams and Jeff Janis in the 2014 draft. Neither Adams nor Janis has a skill set that compares with his, though. In fact, they’re much more comparable to James Jones who worked better as a split end or flanker. Cobb works the slot, possibly better than any receiver in the NFL does. He’s also capable of lining up in the backfield, something McCarthy frequently did with him when he wanted to spark his offense. Letting go a young, homegrown receiver held in high regard by coaches and the front office would be uncharacteristic of Ted Thompson.
2. Re-sign Bryan Bulaga
One of the valid criticisms of Thompson’s tenure as general manager has been his inability to field a solid offensive line. That critique fell on its face last season. For the first time since 2003-04, the Packers produced an offensive line without a glairing weakness. The guard tandem of Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang is perhaps the best in the league, while rookie center Corey Linsley played like an all-pro. David Bakhtiari is an improving left tackle, and Bulaga re-established himself as one of the better right tackles in the game. The rapport this offensive line has established might be short-lived, though. Bulaga is an unrestricted free agent.
He is a balanced tackle, equally effective as a pass and run blocker. A team my feel incline to give him a shot at left tackle given the woeful market for the position. Such a move would surely drive up his cost, which should already be hefty enough. After years of fans fretting over the offensive line, it’d be heartbreaking to see a promising unit broken up after just one season together. It may happen. The Packers are a frugal organization. It’s unlikely they’ll give left tackle money to a right tackle.
3. Upgrade the Middle of the Defense
The middle of Green Bay’s defense was a liability in 2014. They finished No. 20 against the run, despite playing substantially better after using Clay Matthews inside in the season's second half. Nevertheless, Dallas running back DeMarco Murray and Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch still gashed Green Bay in the postseason.
A new nose tackle and at least one -- possibly two -- new inside linebackers would improve the defense dramatically. The draft offers many suitable options. With the No. 30 overall pick, the Packers are in prime position to land an inside linebacker capable of making an immediate impact.
Nose tackle is a bit more complicated. Thompson could use his first-round pick on Oklahoma’s Jordan Phillips, but a defensive lineman’s transition to the NFL is difficult. It usually takes a few years before they begin making an impact. Therefore, if the Packers select a defensive lineman with its top pick, they are probably thinking about 2016 and beyond rather than 2015. Perhaps they’ll try their hand at free agency for the second consecutive offseason.
Click the following link for more offseason analysis on the Packers and the rest of the NFC North: http://www.row12.com/art...orth_Offseason_Forecast/