The Green Bay Packers have been a major disappointment this season, losing their last three games to dip below .500 on the season. They have now lost games against three teams they were expected to beat easily quarterbacked by Daniel Jones, Zach Wilson and Taylor Heinicke, three QBs who are hardly considered elite players at the position.
The biggest issues on this team right now are on offense. The Packers are 23rd in the league in points scored per game with 18.3. They are 20th in the league in yards gained per game and they presently lack an identity. The offense just doesn’t move the ball consistently. The offensive line has struggled to protect Aaron Rodgers, his receivers have trouble gaining separation from defenders and then struggle to hold on to the football and Rodgers himself has been less accurate than he has been in the past, especially when trying to throw the ball downfield.
The NFL trade deadline is a week away. So, the big question is what should GM Brian Gutekunst do at the deadline? The Packers will almost certainly not be sellers, even if they lose badly to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night and fall to 3-5.
The Packers are below .500 but they are still in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt because seven teams now make the postseason and many of the other contenders like the Rams, 49ers and Bucs are also struggling.
Gutekunst has to make some major determinations about this team and its future when deciding how to handle the trade deadline. The first question he must ask himself is can this team still contend this season and would the addition of a player at the trade deadline significantly increase the team’s chances?
The position that has been mentioned most in trade talks is wide receiver. Chase Claypool of the Pittsburgh Steelers has been one of the most frequently cited players who could be available.
Claypool has 28 catches through seven games for Pittsburgh so far this season for 266 yards and one touchdown.
At 6’4” and 238 pounds, the former Notre Dame star has the size the Packers typically look for in a wideout. At 24, he is still young and can still get better in his third NFL campaign. He was a second round pick of the Steelers in 2020.
Could Claypool make the offense better? Over the long run, he probably could. His cap hit for 2023 will be $2.1 million according to spotrac.com but he is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the 2023 campaign. At that point, he will want to be paid handsomely.
The next question is what impact could Claypool have this season? Will he be a difference maker in this offense? How quickly could he (or any other new receiver) develop chemistry with the quarterback and win Rodgers’ trust? If a deal is made at the deadline, the player will have nine regular season games left over 10 weeks to learn the offense and become enough of a difference maker that the offense will consistently score enough points to turn defeats into victories in the second half of the season.
The other question Gutekunst has to ask is if the Packers do add a wide receiver, will they be good enough to not just make the playoffs and lose, but to be true contenders to get to the Super Bowl. Would they have a legitimate chance of winning with this addition?
If the answer is yes, what would the cost be? The Steelers are rumored to be wanting a package for Claypool similar to what the Panthers got from the 49ers for Christian McCaffrey. That would be a second, third and fourth round pick in 2023 and a fifth rounder the following year. They may not get that much in return, but it would likely take two picks including a second rounder and a mid-round selection at minimum.
Is it worth giving up two or more draft picks for a player who may not have enough time to make an impact on this struggling team? The long term situation is a lot more unclear. How much longer will Aaron Rodgers play? Will he retire after this year or return? If he does play in 2023, how good will he be and what kind of team will he have around him? Can the Packers afford to pay Claypool or any other receiver they acquire under the salary cap?
The Packers will likely face a rebuild when Rodgers does retire. Gutekunst and company need to do a careful cost-benefit analysis to determine if it’s worth sacrificing draft picks and cap space in the future for a chance to win this season. It’s not such a clear-cut decision.
One thing is clear, the Packers are currently undermanned at wide receiver. They lacked a proven, elite WR1 before the season started. Now, they are without Randall Cobb, Christian Watson has missed time with injuries, Allen Lazard suffered a shoulder injury against Washington and was seen on Monday with his arm in a sling at the Packers facility. Sammy Watkins just returned from an injury and is still not able to play every snap as the Packers gradually get him back to health. The team is thin at wide receiver.
But would the addition of Chase Claypool or another wideout they could trade for be able to make a difference and be worth the price they’d have to pay to acquire him? That’s the tough question Gutekunst has to answer in the next week. Any trade is a gamble but is a trade for a receiver now a gamble worth taking for the short term and long term benefit of the Green Bay Packers.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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