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It's time for the Green Bay Packers to start looking for help on their defensive line


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GREEN BAY - It’s a little early for the Green Bay Packers to trade for help on their defensive line.

But it’s not too early for general manager Brian Gutekunst and his staff to start looking. Hard.

The Packers, to put it kindly, are struggling early on defense. It’s also true they need time to see how steep the learning curve is for new coordinator Joe Barry and his players

But if anything jumps out after two games, it’s that the Packers’ defensive line play hasn’t been good enough for a coordinator who favors five-man fronts. Kenny Clark has been fine, but the Packers were expecting a lot more from Kingsley Keke, Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster than they’ve gotten so far.

Maybe that group will get better in the weeks to come as it learns the nuances that distinguish Barry’s 3-4 defense from Mike Pettine’s before him. But going into the season if you’d asked where the Packers’ roster is light, defensive line stood out, and so far it has been the weakest link.

It's time for the Packers to scour rosters around the league for trade partners. It’s early for a lot of teams because almost everyone is still in the playoff race, but a month from now players will come available. 

There are different ways the Packers could go. They could try swinging a big deal, improbable as that is. More likely, they’d look for a rotational player at a reasonable price.

Packers should look at Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett 

A name that jumps out as a possible big swing is Atlanta’s 28-year-old Grady Jarrett. At first glance he seems like a non-starter because of a salary ($13.5 million this year, $16.5 million in 2022) that goes with his status as one of the game’s better defensive tackles.

The Packers, of course, have serious cap issues. According to independent Packers capologist Ken Ingalls, they in effect have about $6.3 million in cap room left this year, and that’s after mortgaging just about every contract worth mortgaging. It seems a big stretch to bring in a contract like Jarrett’s on top of that. So to be clear, yes, it’s a long shot.

Still, it’s not out of the question for Gutekunst and team vice president Russ Ball to make it work. It would among other things require extending Davante Adams' contract, which through giving Adams a huge raise could lower his cap number from $16.8 million to the $11 million range. The Packers also would have to wait until much closer to the NFL trade deadline (Nov. 2) so Atlanta would have paid close to half of Jarrett’s $13.5 million salary. That would cut his cap cost to the $8 million range for the rest of the season.

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Would the Falcons trade him? It's worth checking out. Jarrett is a very good player (two-time Pro Bowler) but at 28 is nearing an age where guys his size (305 pounds) and position start to decline. The Falcons have a new GM (Terry Fontenot) and coach (Arthur Smith) who might prefer a high draft pick and extra cap room over a player who likely will be on the way down by the time they get their program going in a couple years.

One NFL scout I asked thought it would take a second-round pick to do the trick.

“He’s a (butt)-kicker still playing at a high level,“ the scout said. 

But Green Bay typically doesn't trade high draft picks for players

This wouldn’t be a Packers-type move, at least not since Ron Wolf was their GM. They have not been in the business of trading high draft picks, though knowing the prospect of getting multiple high picks for Aaron Rodgers in the offseason might change that thinking this year.

It’s a long shot because they’d have to do a new deal with Adams, and they’ve been working on that since the offseason to no avail so far. And it would be an un-Packers-like short-term move — Jarrett probably has only a couple good years left in him.

But a player such as Jarrett could change their defense, and this year has been more of an all-in endeavor for the Packers anyway. So long shot though it is, never say never.

Street free agents like Geno Atkins, Kawann Short are risks but could be options

Short of pursuing someone like that, the Packers should be looking at aging street free agents and veterans available because of young players behind them ready for bigger roles. This would be an incremental upgrade.

Two street free agents whose names jump out are Geno Atkins (33 years old) and Kawann Short (32). Both are former standouts well past their primes. The question with both is whether they have enough left in the tank to make signing them worthwhile. Last year the Packers tried the same thing with Damon Harrison, and that didn’t work.

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Both players have had recent injury histories that are big red flags for guys their age. Atkins has knee and shoulder issues — he played only 11% of Cincinnati’s defensive snaps last season — and Short missed 27 games the last two years combined with multiple injuries. Either would be a big medical risk.

Atkins reportedly had a good workout with Seattle in late August but didn’t sign.

“These guys are like Damon Harrison, a name that’s a shell of their former selves,” the scout said.

As for defensive linemen on other rosters, you never know who might be pried loose, especially in five weeks, when some teams’ playoff chances will already be slim.

Maybe by then the Packers’ need won’t look as acute. But I wouldn’t bet on it, so the time to start looking is now.

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