The Green Bay Packers are in dire need of reinforcements prior to the NFL‘s Nov. 1 trade deadline. At 3-4, they have already matched their most losses in a single season during head coach Matt LaFleur’s four years running the team. The Green and Gold are also off to their worst seven-game start since Aaron Rodgers took over at quarterback for Hall of Famer Brett Favre. They have lost three straight games — the latest coming on the road in Taylor Heinicke’s first start of the season for the Washington Commanders on Sunday.
The Packers aren’t just losing, they’re sputtering in unprecedented ways.
The Commanders prevented Rodgers from moving the chains on third down (0 of 6) in Week 7. It marked the first game in Rodgers’ career in which he did not convert on that key down. The Packers hadn’t gone without a third-down conversion in a game since the 20th Century — Oct. 17, 1999. This year is also the first time Rodgers has lost three straight starts. Green Bay’s 18.3 points per game this season also ranks as the fewest in a seven-game start in Rodgers’ entire career.
Rodgers went on the offensive on the “Pat McAfee Show” this week and said that some players who are playing maybe shouldn’t be playing, and that maybe some players who aren’t playing should be playing.
“It’s definitely not just one play here or there,” Rodgers said. “It’s 20% of the time. If we have 50 plays and we have 10 missed assignments or mental errors, that’s 20% of the time. That’s way too high. In the past we’re looking more like, less than 10%, so that gives us a really good chance to be successful. Twenty percent, that’s way too high. That’s one play a series where you’re really making it tough on yourself. So we’ve got to fix that. I think guys who are making too many mistakes shouldn’t be playing. Gotta start cutting some reps. Maybe guys who aren’t playing, give them a chance.”
On Wednesday, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said that Rodgers didn’t call any of his teammates out by name and that the whole team deserves blame.
“I think that, you know, we have to be truthful with one another, and sometimes the truth hurts,” LaFleur said. “It’s no different than when your kids make a mistake, right? You tell them about it. … So I just think you have to get to the root of the truth, and that gives you an opportunity to learn and grow. … and no different than when we’re in those team meetings. You always call it how it is; I don’t think anybody’s off limits, starting with myself.”
One of the things Rodgers demanded in his July 2021 pre-training camp press conference that lasted 31:40 was to “be more involved with conversations directly affecting my job and to help the organization learn from some of the mistakes in the past about how some of the out-going veterans were treated.”
Rodgers confirmed on the “Pat McAfee Show” this week that Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst now routinely brings the four-time NFL MVP into the fold for personnel discussions.
“I’m in all the conversations. … I am in conversations with Brian [Gutekunst] often, and I trust that if there’s a guy out there that makes sense to get, we’re going to get them.”
With that in mind, here are a few trades the Packers’ front office should consider making to help lift Rodgers and their offense before next week’s Nov. 1 deadline at 4 p.m. ET. (Odell Beckham Jr. will not be mentioned below, even though the wide receiver has expressed his admiration for Rodgers, since he would be a free agent signing, not a trade acquisition.)
A true No. 1 wide receiver: Brandin Cooks
Since the departure of Davante Adams this past offseason, the Packers have failed to find a functional replacement for the All-Pro wide receiver. No one player they could reasonably acquire could completely replace all the different things Adams can do, but what the Packers have operated with at receiver so far clearly hasn’t been good enough, according to Rodgers and the on-field results.
Allen Lazard is a nice jump-ball receiver at 6-foot-5, 227 pounds, but his effectiveness as a No. 1 is limited outside of the red zone. Plus, he is now the latest Packers pass-catcher to catch the injury bug with LaFleur confirming on Monday that Lazard suffered a left shoulder injury and left the game in a sling.
Rookie second-round draft pick Christian Watson has missed three games with hamstring issues and when in the game, has been predominantly utilized as gadget guy, running on jet sweeps and catching screen passes almost exclusively. Sammy Watkins has missed four games with a hamstring injury and was on a pitch count last week in Washington, trying to once again work his way back. Rookie fourth-round pick Romeo Doubs had been one of the few bright spots with 26 catches this season, tied for the third-most among first-year players, but he had his first career game without a catch in Week 7 after being targeted four times.
All that to say, Rodgers is essentially screaming “HELP” in all-capital letters through his McAfee Tuesday interview and Wednesday media availability. What the exacting quarterback needs is a player who can absorb a playbook quickly without many mental errors: Enter Houston Texans wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
The 20th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft has been traded three times, but that has never hindered Cooks’ production. A fourth to the Packers would match Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson’s record as the most-traded player in NFL history. Cooks, 29, is a nine-year NFL veteran who has surpassed 1,000 receiving yards six times in his first eight seasons.
Cooks was traded from New Orleans to New England in 2017, his fourth season. He spent a year with the Patriots and reached Super Bowl LII. He faced them in Super Bowl LIII the following season after being traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 2018. Cooks spent two years in Sean McVay’s system before he was dealt to the Texans in advance of the 2020 season.
The 5-foot-10, 183-pound wideout had two 1,000-yard campaigns in three seasons with the Saints. He topped the 1,000-yard mark during his sole season with Tom Brady and had consecutive 1,000-yard seasons during his first two seasons with the Texans while catching passes from the likes of Deshaun Watson, Tyrod Taylor and Davis Mills. His 2022 season has been slow so far with only 28 receptions for 281 yards and a score in six games, while averaging a career-low 10 yards per catch as Mills has been more erratic in his second career season.
The Packers, in addition to the Rams and Chiefs, have already reached out to the Texans about a possible deal for Cooks, according to NFL reporter Dov Kleiman, so this suggestion is more than a hypothetical.
Not only could Cooks stretch the field to open up space for running back Aaron Jones and the rest of the receivers, but he would be an easy plug-and-play having operated in a very similar scheme to LaFleur’s in his two years with McVay and the Rams. There are other options out there, but based on Rodgers’ needs, Cooks should be the team’s first phone call.
If Cooks is dealt to another team, the Packers’ next call should be to their former offensive coordinator and current Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett. Denver has started the 2022 season 2-5 and in last place in the AFC West, certainly not the position it thought it’d be in after trading five draft picks to acquire Russell Wilson before extending the nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback.
However, their start to the season should force them to take a hard look in the mirror, especially with their wide receiver room. The Broncos signed Courtland Sutton to a four-year, $60.8 million extension in 2021, and they also signed Tim Patrick to a three-year, $34 million extension in 2021. Financially, they don’t have room to keep those two, plus 23-year-olds Jerry Jeudy, the 15th overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, and K.J. Hamler, a second-round pick (46th overall) in the 2020 NFL Draft. It wouldn’t make sense considering they have pressing needs outside of their pass-catchers. It’s not just one position being disconnected that leads to being the worst scoring offense in football, averaging 14.3 points per game.
Acquiring Jeudy would be adding a pass-catcher with No. 1 option potential as well as a potentially higher ceiling than the established Cooks. The key would be how quickly the Alabama alum could get on the same page as Rodgers. His speed and ability to create space downfield would be much appreciated in Green Bay as he averages 16.1 yards per reception this season, the 11th-most in the league. Having that kind of vertical threat would add a much-needed dimension to the Packers’ passing game.
If Jeudy’s asking price is too high, Hamler projects as a second or third option, but the Packers need all the help they can get. His speed and agility would be a welcome addition on special teams as well since return man Amari Rodgers has struggled mightily in 2022 with four fumbles in seven games. Hamler can also take the top off a defense when going deep, as evidenced on “Monday Night Football” against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 6.
Hamler also showed an ability to make plays in the clutch as a rookie in 2020, securing a game-winning touchdown from quarterback Drew Lock with no time remaining in a 31-30 home win against the Chargers in Week 8 that season.
Jordan Love could be included in this deal, which would make sense given Denver’s lack of depth at quarterback and Love’s familiarity with Hackett. Factoring in Wilson’s 447 career sacks taken, the most in the NFL since he was drafted in 2012, and having a talented backup like Love would be an appreciated luxury that would serve as a significant upgrade over Brett Rypien. The undrafted free agent out of Boise State completed only 52% of his throws for 225 yards and an interception in Wilson’s place during the Broncos’ 16-9 home loss to the New York Jets in Week 7.
Either way, the Packers’ 23rd-ranked scoring offense (18.3 points per game) needs more punch, and adding one of these two Broncos to the mix could result in a more trusting Rodgers and more points.
From 2016-2020, Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari was one of the most dominant players in football, earning either All-Pro or Pro Bowl accolades in each of those five seasons. In 2020, he was Pro Football Focus’ ninth-highest graded offensive player (91.8 offensive grade) in the entire NFL, and its top-graded pass-blocker (91.6 pass-blocking grade). That run of dominance earned him a four-year, $92 million extension from the Packers on Nov. 15, 2020, which makes him the second-highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL in terms of average annual salary ($23.0 million). The problem is Bakhtiari tore his ACL 46 days later during a team practice on New Year’s Eve. That injury knocked him out of Green Bay’s entire playoff run in 2020, all but a handful of snaps in their 2021 regular-season finale in Detroit against the Lions and three games this season due to various instances of swelling and reaggravation.
Bakhtiari was slated to start in Week 7 at the Commanders, but his surgically-repaired knee flared up again, causing him to miss another game to the surprise of Rodgers, his closest friend on the team.
“Yeah, I didn’t know until 90 minutes before when they put the inactives in,” Rodgers said to Pat McAfee on Tuesday when asked about Bakhtiari’s injury status. “I knew he was going through some things, but I thought he was going to play. I know he went out to test and couldn’t get it done in pregame, so they put him down. … I obviously want him to be healthy, no one takes care of themself quite like Dave. He’s got a lot of people taking care of him around the clock besides his amazing, pregnant wife Frankie. … I was disappointed for him mostly because I know how much he cares about it and what he’s been through. I’ll let him speak for himself, but I want to manifest him coming back and playing this weekend. I feel like that’s a real possibility… . Every now and then he has some inflammation and some flare-ups. I would expect him to improve and hopefully play this week.”
Rodgers feeling like he has to manifest his left tackle’s health isn’t a great sign. However, there is a veteran offensive tackle the Packers could add in the event they’re uncertain about fourth-round rookie Zach Tom being the answer right away this season: 27-year-old Philadelphia Eagles tackle Andre Dillard. He isn’t too far removed from being selected 22nd overall in the 2019 NFL Draft to be future Hall of Famer Jason Peters‘ long-term replacement. However, like Bakhtiari, an injury struck him down as a torn biceps right before the start of the 2020 season knocked him out for his entire second year in the NFL.
His absence allowed for the emergence of former Australian rugby player and 2018 seventh-round pick Jordan Mailata to start 10 games in 2020, which launched him into beating Dillard out for the starting left tackle job in 2021, head coach Nick Sirianni’s first season at the helm. The Eagles rewarded Mailata with a four-year, $64 million extension, and Dillard’s place as a starter has suddenly evaporated. Green Bay should be able to get the impending free agent at a discounted price.