With or without Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers need help.
The Packers went 8-9 last season. They finished third in the NFC North. And just six teams in the conference had poorer records than Green Bay.
So the Packers need to call in the cavalry. And it certainly looks like Green Bay is ready to place that call.
The Packers have recently restructured the contracts of Aaron Jones, Preston Smith, Jaire Alexander and Kenny Clark. And after beginning the offseason in salary cap hell, the Packers are now roughly $17 million below the 2023 cap of $224.8 million.
Green Bay is also working on restructuring David Bakhtiari’s deal, and if that happens, the Packers could be as much as $30 million under the cap.
The new league year and free agency begin on March 15. And after the Packers have been primarily observers in that arena since 2019, they could be players this time around.
Here are five potential targets that could make sense for Green Bay:
1. Jessie Bates, S, Cincinnati
The Packers need to completely rebuild this position. Adrian Amos lost a step in 2022 and Green Bay is likely to let him walk in free agency, while Darnell Savage was benched last year and his future is cloudy, at best.
Bates was the NFL’s highest rated safety in 2020, slipped in 2021, and bounced back with a big year in 2022. He’s outstanding against the run and above average in coverage.
Bates is arguably the top safety on the market and could land a deal in the five-year, $75 million range with $40 million guaranteed. But the Packers need a difference maker in back and might have to open up their checkbook to land one.
2. Dalton Schultz, TE, Dallas
Evan Engram is the top tight end in free agency and is expected to get the franchise tag. So the Packers could chase after Schultz, who appears likely to hit the market.
Over the last three seasons, Schultz has averaged 66 receptions, 10.1 yards per catch and 5.7 touchdowns. Schultz is still just 26, and while he’s not a game-breaker, he’s ultra-reliable.
Schultz is expected to get a hefty deal in the four-year, $58 million range with as much as $36 million guaranteed. The Packers must decide whether chasing a player like Schultz, or using an early draft pick on a tight end is their best way to upgrade the position.
3. Marcus Davenport, DE, New Orleans
With Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed set to hit the free agent market, the Packers will need to replenish their defensive line.
Making a run at the elite players in the class like Washington’s Daron Payne or Philadelphia’s Javon Hargrave seems unlikely. But the Packers might be able to land someone like Davenport — a gifted, but oft-injured player — on a one- or two-year deal.
Davenport, a former first round draft pick, had 9.0 sacks in 2021 but played just 43% of the snaps in 2022. That marked the third time in Davenport’s five-year career he’s played 53% of the snaps, or fewer.
Davenport has tremendous power and is just 26 years old. If he takes a short-term deal, he should be incredibly motivated to perform well and land a big contract down the road.
4. Lorenzo Carter, OLB, Atlanta
The Packers aren’t sure when Rashan Gary (ACL) will be back, so they need to add depth to their outside linebacking room.
The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Carter had 108 tackles and 9.0 sacks over the last two seasons. The former Georgia standout (a school the Packers love) also logged 81.0% of the defensive snaps in Atlanta last year.
Carter could line up opposite of Preston Smith when the season begins, then give the Packers tremendous depth at the position when Gary returns.
Carter isn’t expected to be one of the top tier free agents, meaning Green Bay could get him at a reasonable price a few days into free agency.
5. Darius Slayton, WR, New York Giants
It seems unlikely the Packers will pay Allen Lazard, who could land a three-year deal in the range of $12 million per season. Green Bay will almost certainly draft a young wideout high to pair with Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, but the wide receiver room needs a veteran.
Enter Slayton, a former fifth round draft pick who’s been productive whenever given the chance. In his first four NFL seasons, Slayton has averaged 43 catches, 438 yards and four touchdowns per season. Slayton (6-1, 194) ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds coming out of Auburn in 2019 and had an impressive vertical jump of 40.5 inches.
Slayton is projected to get a deal in the two-year, $7 million range, which would be a nice bargain for someone like Green Bay.