The linebacker position will have to be addressed this offseason by the Green Bay Packers. If Brian Gutekunst chooses to do so through free agency, there will be options with 15 linebackers making PFF’s top 150 free agents list.
At a minimum, depth will need to be added at linebacker this offseason. Currently on the Packers roster are Quay Walker, Isaiah McDuffie, De’Vondre Campbell, and Christian Young.
The Packers are also making a switch to a 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley. Although it is true that the majority of the Packers’ defensive snaps will still come in nickel with two linebackers on the field, the change does, to a degree, impact how Gutekunst constructs this position group.
In general, the middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense and has both run and coverage responsibilities. Perhaps this is a role that McDuffie, who did play one season under Hafley at Boston College, could fill, but it’s also a position the Packers could look to upgrade as well.
The weak-side linebacker does his share of blitzing and is often tasked with operating in space, taking on his share of coverage responsibilities. Walker is a good fit for this role and is someone who could thrive under Hafley.
Lastly, the strong-side linebacker can do some blitzing as well, but in comparison to the weak-side linebacker, he has more run-heavy responsibilities.
Campbell is coming off a season where he played in only 11 games due to injuries and didn’t always look like his old self when on the field. During the playoffs, it was McDuffie who was lining up next to Walker on early downs. If the Packers were to release Campbell, it would free up $2.6 million in cap space and swells to $10.5 million if he’s designated a post-June 1st cut.
Campbell is due a roster bonus of $2.9 million on March 15th. A decision on his future will be made before that date.
Along with bolstering the defensive depth, the linebackers played key special teams roles for the Packers as well–so this specific type of addition will also have to be made.
Eric Wilson led the team in special teams snaps, with Kristian Welch finishing fourth. Wilson would lead the team in tackles while Welch and McDuffie tied for third.
From a salary cap perspective, the Packers will have more flexibility this offseason when it comes to spending.
At the moment, they are still $2.8 million over the projected 2024 salary cap. At a minimum, the Packers have to create $30 million in cap space to cover typical operating expenses such as signing the incoming draft class and having in-season reserves, among other items.
However, Gutekunst and Co. have the means to create that needed cap space and then some through contract restructures, veteran cuts, and perhaps an extension for Kenny Clark. You can read more about these options here.
“I think it just depends on the player, right?” Gutekunst said about free agency. “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.”
As always, there is give and take with these decisions. So the question is, how much in cap charges do the Packers want to push to 2025 and beyond?
The Packers have invested more into the linebacker position in recent years by drafting Walker in the first round and signing Campbell to an extension than what they had the decade prior. But still, there was a lack of impact plays from this position group in 2023. Miscommunications led to coverage breakdowns, and missed tackles contributed to the Packers’ hot and cold run game.
The addition of Hafley as defensive coordinator and his expected willingness to mold the defensive scheme around his players, coupled with new linebackers coach Anthony Campanile bringing a new mentality to the position group, should aid in the improved play that is expected from this unit.
If the Packers choose to address linebacker in free agency with the intent of bolstering the defense, here are the top available options, according to PFF’s 150 best free agents list.
34. Frankie Luvu
39. Lavonte David
45. Patrick Queen
50. Jordyn Brooks
58. Bobby Wagner
70. Azeez Al-Shaair
73. Devin White
78. Josey Jewell
80. Blake Cashman
82. Drue Tranquill
96. Jordan Hicks
105. Willie Gay
109. Tyrel Dodson
112. Oren Burks
140. Nicholas Morrow