It felt like Aaron Rodgers spent most of his 2015 season running for his life, scrambling more often than not and being sacked 46 times. Sure, the poor play of the wide receivers had a lot to do with that, so did Aaron’s shaken confidence. But the offensive line struggled mightily in 2015 as well.
The situation isn’t as bleak as it may seem, however. The Packers have 6 quality offensive linemen under contract for next season, a luxury that not too many teams enjoy. But it’s clear the positional depth, particularly at the tackle spots, needs to be supplemented this off season for two reasons.
The first reason being health. When healthy, this offense line played very well,Josh Sitton was the only offensive lineman to start all 16 games last year, and even he had some injury issues during the season. When four out of five starters miss games due to injury, you need more than one competent backup.
The other reason is contract situations beyond next year. 2016 is the final year for the contracts of David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, TJ Lang and JC Tretter. There will be some decisions to make, and it’s unlikely that they can all be kept.
Players coming back in 2016
The entire starting five
The Packers will have the same starting offensive line, assuming health, for a third straight year. That kind of continuity is invaluable, especially when it’s responsible for keeping your franchise quarterback healthy.
JC Tretter had a fantastic 2015 season, proving himself not only at center filling in for Corey Linsley, but at left tackle as well, filling in for David Bakhtiari for the playoff game in Washington. Tretter represents the only real depth the Packers have on the offensive line.
I can’t imagine a scenario where Don Barclay is brought back for the 2016 season. While filling in for various injuries to David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, Barclay started 6 games in the 2015 season. In those 5 games, Barclay allowed an average of 3.4 sacks per game, including the embarrassing 8 sack performance by the Arizona Cardinals in week 16. In the other 11 games, the Packers allowed 2.6 sacks per game, a difference of almost a full sack each week. Though the Packers have given him chance after chance to contribute to this offensive line, he has never been able to do so. But hey, Marshall Newhouse is a starting tackle in the NFL, so there’s hope for Barclay to catch on somewhere else. Such is the state of NFL offensive lines.
Taylor didn’t have much impact on this squad last season, but performed fairly well when given the opportunity. He has potential, so there’s a chance he’ll be back next season, but the front office may see this as an opportunity for improvement, so I really have no idea whether he’ll be back in Green Bay next year or not.
Potential Free Agent Acquisitions
Free agency doesn’t seem like a very feasible route to shoring up the offensive line depth. There are a few talented linemen available, but when you factor in that we’re not looking for a starter, the list shrinks, drastically.
Not to mention, given Ted Thompson’s history with signing outside free agents, and the fact that the Packers aren’t in need of an immediate starter, they’ll likely turn to the draft to acquire depth. I did find one seemingly viable option, however. And who knows? Mike McCarthy did say the Packers might just surprise us in free agency this year.
Chandler was sidelined for the 2015 season with a knee injury and has been released by the Carolina Panthers. Chandler is still young, 26, would probably come cheap due to his injury, and wouldn’t cost the Packers a compensatory pick. Those three factors could make him an attractive piece in the frugal mind of Ted Thompson.
Potential Draft Picks
Thompson has spent two first round picks on offensive tackles, so it would not be surprising to see him go that route again. Taylor Decker, Ohio State, could be that guy at the end of the first round. He’s huge and athletic at 6’7” 310 lbs. He’s strong and physical, and he plays with a mean streak that coaches will love.
Another tall, athletic, collegiate left tackle, Jerald Hawkins stands 6’6” 305 lbs. Hawkins has long arms and excels at pass protection. He’ll need to work on his run blocking, but would be a solid mid-round pick up and an immediate upgrade to Don Barclay.
All things considered, the Packers offensive line is in good shape heading into 2016. Especially if you compare it to other lines across the league. Adding one or two pieces for quality depth, and potential free agent replacement, could return this unit to elite status.