The Green Bay Packers have been relatively quiet in free agency this offseason. That really isn’t a surprise given the limited cap space the team has and the continuing uncertainty surrounding the trade of Aaron Rodgers which is presently stalled.
But one thing that should give Packers fans some solace is that the team does seem intent on continuing to improve their special teams units.
The franchise kept special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia and even upgraded his position to assistant head coach ensuring that he would remain in Green Bay. Bisaccia was the architect of the improvement of the Packers special teams last season, the first time in far too long that the team was not at or near the bottom of the league in that category.
The Packers also re-signed return specialist Keisean Nixon to a new contract. Nixon was a real difference maker for the team after he took over as the team’s primary kick and punt returner in midseason. He led the NFL with 1,009 kick return yards and scored the Packers first kick return for a touchdown since Randall Cobb accomplished that feat in 2011.
Nixon also was the team’s primary punt returner by the end of the season after the team finally benched and then released the struggling Amari Rodgers. His speed, decisiveness and elusiveness made him a real weapon as a return specialist.
For the first time in too long, the Packers had a return specialist that could help tilt the field position battle in their favor. With an inexperienced quarterback taking over as the starter this season, the team will need favorable field position even more than they did in the recent past.
The Packers also re-signed defensive back Rudy Ford who can provide some depth in the secondary and has been a mainstay on special teams coverage units. Ford had a career-high three interceptions on defense and played 109 snaps on special teams.
Backup tight end Tyler Davis was also re-signed for 2023. Davis led the Packers with 346 special teams snaps and has been one of the team’s core special teams players.
The Packers added safety Tarvarius Moore who has excellent speed and extensive special teams experience with the 49ers. He played 222 snaps on special teams last year with San Francisco and should be a good addition to the unit.
They also signed free agent long snapper Matt Orzech. The former Azusa Pacific star spent the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and a previous season with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He will compete with the Packers incumbent long snapper, Jack Coco who was an upgrade over the team’s previous long snappers. The competition should bring out the best in both candidates and ensure that the Packers have a solid long snapper in 2023.
The Packers also re-signed edge rusher Justin Hollins who gave the team some depth at that position late in the season. Hollins also has special teams experience and could contribute to that unit in addition to competing for a spot in the team’s edge rush rotation.
These are not headline making moves that get fans talking or dreaming of a Super Bowl but they are important transactions, nonetheless. The Packers were hurt badly by special teams over the last decade. The 2021 playoff loss to the 49ers was due in part to special teams failures including a blocked punt that gave San Francisco their only touchdown of the game in a 13-10 loss at Lambeau Field.
The team finally spent the 2022 offseason addressing them by hiring Bisaccia and allowing him to bring in several players who were signed predominantly for their special teams prowess. The result was a step forward for the unit last season, improving from dead last or close to it in the league to an overall ranking that was slightly below average.
At least the Packers are not resting on their laurels and continue to place an emphasis on improving their special teams units. They still have a lot of other holes to fill in the draft and possibly in the eventual trade involving Aaron Rodgers.
But for now, Packers fans can take some solace that the organization seems to have learned something from a long period of special teams struggles.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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