Pack­ers have tough call to make at WR

Packer Plus - - Commentary - Pete Dougherty is a colum­nist for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. PETE DOUGHERTY

No mat­ter what the Green Bay Pack­ers do about Jordy Nel­son and Ran­dall Cobb this off­sea­son, they have a prob­lem at wide re­ceiver.

They’re an­other Da­vante Adams con­cus­sion away from trou­ble.

The Pack­ers signed Adams to a lu­cra­tive con­tract ex­ten­sion a cou­ple of weeks ago know­ing he has sus­tained three con­cus­sions in the last 15 months, in­clud­ing two this sea­son on bru­tal, il­le­gal hits to the head. They looked at his his­tory of quick re­cov­er­ies and took the chance on a new fouryear deal.

Hard to blame them, he has be­come one of their best play­ers.

But with or with­out Nel­son and Cobb, the Pack­ers don’t have the depth at re­ceiver and tight end to with­stand a se­ri­ous in­jury to their new­est big­con­tract re­ceiver.

Nel­son and Cobb are two of the big­gest off­sea­son de­ci­sions fac­ing new gen­eral man­ager Brian Gutekunst and coach Mike McCarthy.

Both vet­eran re­ceivers have been im­por­tant play­ers for the fran­chise for years. But both are show­ing the in­evitable ef­fects of age and at­tri­tion, and also com­mand big salaries – Nel­son is set to make about $10.2 mil­lion this year, and Cobb about $9.5 mil­lion.

Some of the hard­est and most im­por­tant per­son­nel de­ci­sions are when to move on from good play­ers. The old apho­rism that it’s bet­ter to do it a year early than a year late is as true to­day as ever. And that’s what Gutekunst and McCarthy have to think about here.

Nel­son has had a tremen­dous ca­reer, and his chem­istry with Aaron Rodgers is off the charts. But Rodgers’ bro­ken col­lar­bone re­vealed the ex­tent of Nel­son’s phys­i­cal de­cline. He still knows how to play, but the phys­i­cal gifts are wan­ing.

Yes, Nel­son is a dif­fer­ent and much more ef­fec­tive player with Rodgers at the helm. But Nel­son also turns 33 in the off­sea­son, so the ar­row on his ath­leti­cism is point­ing down. The Pack­ers can’t as­sume that in 2018 he’ll be the guy who led the league in touch­down passes (six) be­fore Rodgers was in­jured in Week 6, or a guy they want on the field down after down after down. When the end comes, it can come fast in the NFL, so the Pack­ers should be­ware.

Those touch­downs very well might be enough for Gutekunst and McCarthy to bring back Nel­son in 2018. Nel­son still can be an ef­fec­tive red-zone tar­get, and on third downs as well. But it seems a given that if he’s back, it’s at a lower salary and re­duced role. The Pack­ers no longer can view him as a starter, and if Gutekunst and McCarthy de­cide to move on, no­body should be sur­prised.

Cobb has more miles left (28 years old next sea­son), but the flip side of his ad­mirable tough­ness is that he has taken a beat­ing in his seven NFL sea­sons. That hap­pens to small re­ceivers. Of course, he too is a bet­ter player with Rodgers at quar­ter­back – who isn’t? But he was av­er­ag­ing only 9.5 yards a catch be­fore Rodgers was felled. Cobb is a com­ple­men­tary player, too, and needs Adams on the field.

Again, the Pack­ers could jus­tify bring­ing Cobb back, but only at a re­duced salary and role. If they de­cide to move on, it would only be a mild sur­prise.

Now, it’s im­por­tant to say that any salary or ros­ters cuts with Nel­son and Cobb would mean noth­ing with­out cor­re­spond­ing moves. If the Pack­ers don’t spend the money saved on new tal­ent, than what’s the point? Just draft­ing a re­ceiver in the fourth or fifth round won’t do.

Be­cause you can’t say the Pack­ers have a ready-made re­place­ment for their two vet­eran re­ceivers, ei­ther.

Geron­imo Al­li­son might be – he’s a big tar­get (6-3) and runs well after the catch for a guy his size. But he has to get past some re­li­a­bil­ity is­sues, such as his fum­ble with just un­der two min­utes to play at Carolina that ended a po­ten­tial game-ty­ing scor­ing drive.

The 6-6 Michael Clark is an in­ter­est­ing prospect as well, but he’s too raw to anoint as a reg­u­lar for the ro­ta­tion in 2018, let alone a start­ing-cal­iber per­former.

The Pack­ers will be look­ing to get both those young play­ers on the field next sea­son. But Gutekunst needs to up­grade his re­ceivers none­the­less.

For that mat­ter, the GM could look to tight end.

McCarthy talks of­ten about how im­por­tant it is with to­day’s rules pro­tect­ing re­ceivers to have big tar­gets to ex­ploit the mid­dle of the field.

Last sea­son it looked like the Pack­ers might have some­thing go­ing in that way after sign­ing tight ends Martel­lus Ben­nett and Lance Ken­dricks as free agents. But Ben­nett was a bust and Ken­dricks wasn’t the value sign­ing he looked like he might be. McCarthy got next to noth­ing out of that po­si­tion in 2017.

There’s no get­ting around pass rusher and cor­ner­back rank­ing high on Gutekunst’s off­sea­son agenda, both in the draft and free agency. But he needs to help the other side of the ball as well.

The Pack­ers need a new re­ceiver or two with wheels, or too much of 2018 will ride on the pre­car­i­ous health of Da­vante Adams.

RICK WOOD / MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

Da­vante Adams (left), Ran­dall Cobb (cen­ter) and Jordy Nel­son cel­e­brate Nel­son’s touch­down vs. the Sea­hawks on Sept. 10. The Pack­ers face im­por­tant de­ci­sions at re­ceiver this off­sea­son.

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