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Packers running low on free agent options at LB position

We are nearly a week in from when the NFL’s legal tampering period began, and the linebacker position remains a big need for the Green Bay Packers, with free agency options very quickly dwindling.

After releasing De’Vondre Campbell, the Packers are left with Quay Walker, who we know will be a starter, and Isaiah McDuffie, who showed last year that he can be a capable starter. The Packers re-signed Kristian Welch, who was a core special teams player but not someone we will see on defense, along with Christian Young, who was signed to a futures deal in January.

As general manager Brian Gutekunst said at his season-ending press conference, this is a 4-2-5 league, meaning the majority of the Packers’ defensive snaps are going to come with two inside linebackers on the field. However, Gutekunst also mentioned at the combine that with the defense shifting to a 4-3, additional linebacker depth is going to be needed, both for over the summer and combined between the eventual 53-man roster and practice squad.

Right now, the Packers do not have that depth nor even a third starter who could line up next to Walker and McDuffie when they are in their base defense.

And, unfortunately, when it comes to finding an impact player, the free agent market is pretty picked over already.

The best linebacker still available, according to PFF, is Zach Cunningham, who is listed at 166th overall in the top 200 free agent rankings this offseason. The only other available linebackers at the moment on PFF’s list are Shaq Leonard and Isaiah Simmons.

All three have experience, and perhaps the Packers will take a swing on one of them, hoping that they strike gold like they did with De’Vondre Campbell in 2021–although that’s certainly not something to bank on either.

Given how the free agent market currently looks, the Packers best chance of finding some immediate impact help is going to come in the draft.

Widely considered the top two prospects in this year’s draft are Payton Wilson from NC State and Edgerrin Cooper from Texas A&M. Taking either at pick 25 may be a bit rich, but if available, one would think both are very much in play at pick 42 for the Packers.

Other linebacker prospects to know are Cedric Cooper from North Carolina, Jeremiah Trotter from Clemson, Junior Colson from Michigan, and Edefuan Ulofoshio from Washington.

Overall, this isn’t an overly strong linebacker class, and if the Packers are not able to address this need promptly in the draft, finding immediate help becomes more difficult.

I suppose a third option could be Gutekunst exploring a trade for a veteran–although I’m not exactly sure who may even be available. Making a trade – although not specific to the linebacker position – is something that Gutekunst has referenced doing this offseason because the Packers do have an abundance of draft capital.

Tom Silverstein reported that the Packers do have interest in bringing Eric Wilson back, who would provide experienced depth at linebacker along with being a core special teams contributor. But, ideally, he’s on the team for depth, not to see significant defensive snaps.

When it comes to the aforementioned, Simmons, Leonard, Cunningham, or whoever else the Packers could have their eyes on, that type of addition may not take place until after the Packers see how the draft plays out, much like they did with Campbell, who was signed in June of 2021.

The key to the linebacker position for the Packers is going to be Quay Walker. He could slot in as the middle linebacker or the weak-side linebacker in Jeff Hafley’s 4-3 defense.

Where he will specifically end up remains to be seen. All we know is that Hafley said the goal is to put Walker into consistent positions to make plays. Where that ends up being will, to a degree, probably depend on how the Packers build out the rest of this linebacker room.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire