Which internal free agents should the Packers want back this offseason?
While waiting on a resolution to the latest Aaron Rodgers saga, the Green Bay Packers still have other big decisions to consider as the new league year approaches. Near the top of the list: Which in-house free agents will return to Green Bay in 2023?
The staff at Packers Wire answered the question: Which internal free agent would you bring back this offseason? To spread out the responses, each writer picked a different free agent.
We left out one purposely: offensive tackle Yosh Nijman. A restricted free agent, Nijman is expected to return on a one-year tender.
Zach Kruse: TE Marcedes Lewis
Lewis will turn 39 years old in May, but “Big Dog” remains a quality in-line blocker and valuable locker room presence. It’s just unclear if he wants to keep playing. While the Packers need to start the rebuild at tight end this offseason, keeping Lewis for one more season would ensure there is a capable run-blocker on the team in 2023 while also giving the incoming draft pick – a highly likely addition – time to develop and learn under a highly respected veteran for a year. Tight ends need time to get adjusted to the NFL game. There’s a financial aspect in play here, too: Lewis is already counting $1 million on the cap as dead money from a voided deal. Why not get a few hundred run-blocking snaps out of him on a veteran’s minimum deal? If Lewis is interested, the Packers should be too.
Paul Bretl: KR/CB Keisean Nixon
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To put it simply, Nixon was a game-changer and gave this special teams unit juice that we haven’t seen in years. Nixon’s impact on the return units was felt throughout this Packers team. For an offense that was struggling to move the ball consistently, he gave them much-improved field position. Better field position often means more points, which then allows the defense to play with a lead puts them in a better position to be successful. On top of his special teams contributions, Nixon held his own as a slot cornerback. As of now, we do not know when Eric Stokes will be back on the field, and the depth behind him, Jaire Alexander, and Rasul Douglas is questionable. Regardless of the position, if you have the opportunity to retain an All-Pro, you find a way.
Brandon Carwile: S Rudy Ford
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Ford was nothing more than a depth signing when the Packers claimed him off of waivers just before the start of the regular season. But when Darnell Savage was benched in Week 10, Ford stepped in and provided a nice boost when he picked off two passes to help secure an overtime win against the Dallas Cowboys. Ford continued to play well up until Christmas when he was benched against the Miami Dolphins. Luckily, he rebounded the following week by picking off Kirk Cousins in a blowout win. In 17 games, including six starts, Ford finished with 44 tackles, three interceptions, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble. Six years into his NFL career, it’s unlikely that Ford will be a Pro Bowler but his tackling and ball skills are good enough to warrant another short-term deal with a team desperate for safety depth. Green Bay is probably going to lose Adrian Amos to free agency, which leaves Savage as the only returning starter from last season. For the stability alone, it is worth it to bring back Ford, even if he only plays on special teams. The Packers can still prioritize finding a safety in this year’s draft, but resigning Ford would give them insurance at a low cost.
Brennen Rupp: OLB Justin Hollins
Rashan Gary may or may not miss the beginning of the season as he recovers from a torn ACL. If Gary misses time that leaves Preston Smith and Kingsley “JJ” Enagbare penciled in as the starters. Not great. Not terrible either. What’s behind them though? Brian Gutekunst is likely going to tap into the loaded edge class in the 2023 NFL Draft and come away with one or two new edge rushers to pair with Smith, Gary and Enagbare. That shouldn’t stop him from bringing back Justin Hollins on a team-friendly deal. After joining the Packers midway through the season last year, Hollins recorded 2.5 sacks and nine pressures. Not bad, considering Hollins played just 128 snaps in five games. A team can never have enough quality edge rushers and Hollins has juice off the edge to be a key member of the rotation in 2023.