The Packers’ edge rusher group is interesting. The top two guys, Rashan Gary and Preston Smith, are both capable of pro-bowl level double digit sack seasons. Gary in particular has flashed the dominance of a defensive player of the year type player. After that, at least so far, is a big pile of meh.
On the team, there are several undrafted free agents, a rookie fifth round pick and a veteran seventh round pick with 1.5 career sacks. Off the team options are almost as bad and would require some level of salary cap gymnastics and/or future pick sacrifice to make happen. Let’s go over the options.
On the team
Tipa and LaDarius Hamilton are the odds-on favorites so far. They’ve gotten the most reps with the second team so far. Tipa’s biggest weakness is size—he’s listed at just 230 pounds and was repeatedly moved in the run game last season. Hamilton played a little last season and had two tackles and a 62.9 PFF grade. Not great.
Next up are Kingsley Enagbare and Jonathan Garvin. Enagbare was highly touted following the draft but apparently hasn’t shown much in training camp so far. Garvin is a big strong edge but missed a lot of assignments last season and then practices in OTAs. He may be in the coaches’ doghouse.
Randy Ramsey is the last true edge who has a legitimate shot. He played really well on special teams in 2020 and flashed on defense and then had a horrific ankle injury last season. He’s still slowly coming back but could be the best option later in the season.
The final two options are sort of out there: Dean Lowry and Quay Walker. Lowry has played inside for most of his career in Green Bay but profiled as a JJ Watt type big edge coming out of Northwestern. He has played on the edge a little in camp in the 6-1 looks the Fangio tree likes to use against wide zone.
Walker played on the edge here and there in mint formation in college and has the size to do it (he’s the same height/weight as Clay Matthews). Putting him on the edge gives the team a lot of flexibility in pressuring from other places while he drops into coverage.
There’s an annual tradition in my family where I call my dad during the preseason and bombard him with free agents and trade candidates the Packers could target. After doing this for about 15 years, the team hasn’t acquired a single player who I touted. We may have to skip the tradition this year because the pickings are so slim.
First is Trey Flowers who went from superstar edge with the Patriots to injured and then cut with the Lions. Flowers is a tweener and often moves inside on passing downs. If the Packers want a big edge why not use Lowry?
Next, is Jason Pierre-Paul who had several outstanding seasons with the Giants and Bucs. The edge is now close to 34 years old and had a PFF grade of just 49 last season. Maybe a reduced workload would increase that grade, but I’d guess Gutey would turn to one his own guys rather than a progress stopper in this case.
The other available free agents (Carl Nassib, Tak McKinley, Pernell McPhee, Everson Griffen) are all JAGs at this point of their careers.
The other option is for a trade. I thought about first-round busts like Clelin Ferrell or Bradley Chubb. And veterans who might fall down depth chart like Samson Ebukam. All of those guys have contracts that won’t fit under the Packers cap and if the trading team took on part of the salary, they would cost too much.
The best option from outside the team might be Chase Winovich. Winovich was Rahsan Gary’s teammate at Michigan and a third-round pick by the Patriots. At the time, many draft analysts preferred him to Gary.
Obviously that opinion has turned out to be nonsense, but Winovich could be a nice fit. The Pats traded him this offseason to the Browns for inside linebacker help and the Browns eventually re-signed Jadaveon Clowney so he could end up being the fourth edge on the Browns who almost certainly won’t be a playoff team this year after moving heaven and earth to trade for an abuser at QB who has since been suspended.
Winovich’s highest career PFF grade is 72, with the Pats where he never quite fit the defensive scheme. He had an incredible 3-cone drill and short shuttle time at the combine and is set to make just $956k this season.
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.