Packers have shown willingness to explore splash addition at RB

The running back position is a need the Green Bay Packers must fill this offseason, and recent history suggests that general manager Brian Gutekunst could explore some of the top available free agent options.

Before we examine why that could be the case, it’s not my expectation that the Packers are going to spend somewhat significant dollars in free agency at the running back position. One could easily justify that those salary cap dollars would be better allocated elsewhere. But I also don’t think we can dismiss that idea either given some reports that came out last season.

During training camp, when Indianapolis running back Jonathan Taylor was looking for a new deal and the Colts were exploring the idea of trading him, it was reported that Gutekunst and the Packers were a part of those conversations. And it wasn’t only checking in, but reports suggested that the framework of what a deal would look like were discussed.

Then, prior to the trade deadline, Jay Glazer reported that the Packers were still in the market for a running back, looking into the New York GiantsSaquon Barkley.

With the 2023 season being the final year of both Taylor and Barkley’s deals (prior to Taylor signing his extension), not only would the Packers have given up draft capital to acquire either player, but they likely would have had to sign either one to an extension—showing that willingness that I mentioned above to spend money on the position.

Some of the top available free agent names this offseason at running back include the aforementioned Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Derrick Henry.

From a salary cap perspective, the Packers have the ability to sign just about anyone they please. Through roster cuts, a Kenny Clark extension, and restructures, the Packers could create north of $60 million in cap space this offseason if they maxed out every cap-saving opportunity.

However, that won’t happen because they then lose salary cap flexibility in 2025 and beyond by pushing a hefty amount of cap charges to those future years. But the point is that the Packers do have options when it comes to free agent spending this offseason and if the right impact player is available, Gutekunst is confident they can make that addition.

“I think it just depends on the player,” said Gutekunst. “It depends on who that is and how he can impact our football team. I don’t think we’ll shy away from adding impact players if we have to push things down the road.

“We’d prefer not to do that, but at the same time, this is about winning and trying to win a championship, so if that’s something that makes sense, we’ll do it.”

The Packers need to rework Aaron Jones’ contract in some capacity to lower his $17.1 million cap hit, but all signs still point to him returning. Behind him on the depth chart is an unknown, however.

AJ Dillon is a free agent, with Tom Silverstein reporting that Dillon is not expected to return. That leaves the Packers with Emanuel Wilson, who will return as an exclusive rights free agent, and Ellis Merriweather, a 2023 practice squad player.

As always, the Packers are going to be mindful of Jones’ snap count, hoping they can keep him available for the majority of the season. This means the backup running back will see his share of opportunities, as Dillon did.

At the NFL Combine, Gutekunst said that he wanted a “bigger back” on the roster behind Jones. While that may be on Gutekunst’s wish list at the position, what the Packers also need is a more dynamic presence behind Jones.

Although Dillon was reliable, he was limited, averaging only 3.4 yards per carry last season. When Jones isn’t on the field, the Packers still need a playmaking presence to lean on.

More so in recent years, the running back position has been devalued league-wide, to a degree. However, as we saw last season, it is an important part of the Packers’ overall success on offense. A big contributor to their early season issues was not having a run game to lean on, which put them behind the sticks and in disadvantageous and predictable passing situations where the defense was doing the dictating.

On the flip side, when the run game was able to find success, it forces the defense to defend the entire field, helping to open up the playbook for Matt LaFleur, specifically in the passing game, and also sets up play-action opportunities.

Whether it be with free agent dollars, an early round draft pick, or potentially both, the Packers are likely to invest in the running back position in some capacity this offseason, and given the reports mentioned above, I wouldn’t completely rule out a splash in free agency, even if I still wouldn’t consider it to be likely.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire