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Amid stalled free-agent market, Packers remain on the hunt for wide receiver help
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Amid stalled free-agent market, Packers remain on the hunt for wide receiver help

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Robby Anderson photo

Robby Anderson, the top wide receiver still on the market, had 52 catches for 779 yards and five touchdowns for the Jets last season.

GREEN BAY — With a week gone by in NFL free agency and the Green Bay Packers having yet to address arguably the most glaring need on their roster — wide receiver — a familiar refrain can be heard from certain precincts in the fan base.

Dooooooo something!

That was the rallying cry for years among the green-and-gold faithful who didn’t ascribe to general manager Ted Thompson’s tried-and-true draft-and-develop roster-building philosophy, which led him to frequently eschew free agency in favor of improving from within — with the occasional exception like the 2014 addition of future Pro Football Hall of Fame pass rusher Julius Peppers.

One would think that Brian Gutekunst’s cannonball into the free-agent pool last year — when he doled out $182 million in contracts, including $56 million in guaranteed signing-bonus money to outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, safety Adrian Amos and offensive lineman Billy Turner — might’ve bought him slightly more trust that he might know what he’s doing.

But alas, for those who chafed at Thompson’s approach, it’s been déjà vu all over again so far, with Gutekunst adding only two players who were cut by their previous teams (inside linebacker Christian Kirksey and right tackle Ricky Wagner) to replace two free agents who departed for three-year, $30 million deals with other clubs (now-New York Giants inside linebacker Blake Martinez and now-Los Angeles Chargers right tackle Bryan Bulaga).

More than a month ago, Gutekunst had warned that the Packers didn’t have the financial wherewithal to go all-in in free agency for a second straight offseason, with less salary-cap space and upcoming extensions to consider for front-line players like nose tackle Kenny Clark, left tackle David Bakhtiari, running back Aaron Jones and center Corey Linsley, who are all entering the final year of their current deals. Star wide receiver Davante Adams, meanwhile, is in the second-to-last year of his contract, having signed a four-year, $58 million extension toward the end of the 2017 season.

That didn’t stop the Packers from reportedly having genuine interest in two of the biggest stars on the wide receiver market: Amari Cooper, who re-signed with Dallas on a five-year, $100 million deal, and Emmanuel Sanders, who left the San Francisco 49ers for the New Orleans Saints on a two-year, $16 million deal. ESPN and Sports Illustrated both reported that the Packers had authentic interest in Sanders, whom they also considered acquiring at the trade deadline last October.

Gutekunst made it abundantly clear in a Q&A session with beat writers before leaving for last month’s NFL scouting combine that upgrading the wide receiver position was a priority — “I think that’s something we’ll certainly put an emphasis on this year,” he said at the time — but he also has said that he will use all avenues available to him, including salary-cap casualty cuts and the April 23-25 NFL draft, which is historically deep with wide receiver talent this year.

Nonetheless, with Sanders perhaps setting the wide receiver market, activity could finally pick up there, considering there’s been next to no movement with receivers to this point.

As of Monday afternoon, New York Jets receiver Robby Anderson remained on the market as the top player at the position who remains unsigned. Anderson has been an outstanding down-the-field weapon with the Jets, having averaged 14.8 yards per catch for his career, although he’s never caught more than 63 passes in a season and has never eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark. It would appear that he went into free agency with hopes of a blockbuster deal, which has yet to materialize, but it’s hard to say just what kind of offer it would take to get him.

Beyond Anderson, the top potential targets would appear to be Breshad Perriman, who caught 36 passes for 645 yards and six touchdowns for Tampa Bay last season; Tajae Sharpe, who caught 25 passes for 329 yards and four TDs last year for Tennessee; Taylor Gabriel, who had 29 receptions for 353 yards and four TDs for Chicago in 2019; and Phillip Dorsett, who had 29 receptions for 397 yards and five TDs for New England.

The reason it makes sense for the Packers to delve into the free-agent market at receiver is the fact that rookie wideouts are rarely able to come in and make an immediate impact.

“All positions in free agency are more expensive than obviously the draft,” Gutekunst said. “But that doesn’t mean young guys can’t come in and play from Day 1. It just doesn’t happen a lot, not at a high level, high production. Generally, that hasn’t happened a ton.”

The Packers could also re-sign their own free-agent wide receiver in Geronimo Allison, who was on a 1,000-yard pace early in the 2018 season before undergoing surgery for a core muscle injury. He struggled with drops and inconsistency last year but still finished with 34 receptions for 287 yards and two touchdowns.

Speaking with reporters after the season, coach Matt LaFleur acknowledged that he didn’t get consistent offensive production from wideouts further down the depth chart at the position, admitting that the offense relied heavily on Adams and got

“Obviously Davante is a premier receiver,” LaFleur said. “I thought in different games different guys stepped up. I thought Allen Lazard had some pretty good moments in clutch time. … (But) I think (as far as) consistency, we didn’t have anybody step into that role consistently. I think there will be some opportunity for those guys next year, and I think that’ll be a position we look to add.”

The question now is who they’ll add, and how.

“With salary-cap casualties and different kinds of things, I think we’ll be able to add some players to our roster that can help us,” Gutekunst said during that Q&A session. “But we’re certainly not in the position we were in last year with the resources. We’re going to have to do some different things this year.”


Photos: The best shots from the Green Bay Packers' 2019 season

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