NFL Coach Pegs Veteran Starter as Packers’ Top 2021 Free Agent

Packers Top 2021 Free Agent

Getty Head coach Matt LaFleur of the Green Bay Packers talks to Aaron Rodgers #12 on the sidelines against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of the NFC Championship game at Levi's Stadium on January 19, 2020 in Santa Clara, California.

The Green Bay Packers have taken a noticeably cost-efficient approach to 2020 offseason, steering clear of the big-market free agents and opting instead for more affordable choices to address the holes in their roster. But it is expected to pay off next offseason when the Packers have even more important decisions to make in free agency.

The Packers have five of their current starters set to become unrestricted free agents next season in a list that includes left tackle David Bakhtiari, center Corey Linsley, defensive tackle Kenny Clark, running back Aaron Jones and cornerback Kevin King — one of the leading reasons for their low-key activity during this year’s offseason.

But which among them is the most important for the Packers to re-sign?

ESPN’s Rob Demovsky wondered the same thing and consulted an unspecified NFL assistant coach and NFL scout to find an answer. They both agreed: Bakhtiari must be the Packers’ priority.

“If you have a dominant tackle in this business — right or left tackle, it doesn’t matter — you have to keep him,” the assistant coach said in reference to Bakhtiari, per Demovksy.

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Rankings for Packers’ Top 2021 Free Agents the Same

The assistant coach and scout, described as two “longtime NFL people,” were both asked to rank the five vital starters among the Packers’ next group of free agents and they surprisingly came back with exactly the same order: Bakhtiari, Clark, Linsley, Jones and King.

Jones being so low on the priority list might surprise some people after the dynamic running back’s breakout season in 2019. He is coming off a career season in which he set a Packers franchise record with 23 total touchdowns across the regular season and postseason and eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his three years in the NFL.

Here was the assistant’s justification for putting Jones at No. 4 on the list:

“Running backs are just so hard to keep healthy,” the assistant said, via ESPN. “Who’s paid a back and made it work? I don’t know. I’m asking. I can’t think of one. Look at what just happened with (Todd) Gurley.

“Jones is a tough one, though. He gave you 20 touchdowns. Even if he gives you 10 (this year), that’s a lot to replace. But hey, he was a fifth-round pick, so you can find them. I would not pay the running back.”

There is an argument to be made that Clark should top the list of priorities in 2021 considering the Packers star defensive tackle has been looking to get a contract extension locked down before the start of the 2020 season. But even at No. 2, Clark is still being valued with an appropriate amount of urgency.

It was also surprising to see Linsley valued so high after the Packers just last week allowed veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga to walk for $10 million per season with the Los Angeles Chargers, but the assistant coach also had a pretty compelling reason for putting him No. 3.

“Good teams pay centers,” he said, via ESPN. “And they pay them more than they’re probably worth and maybe past their (prime) years because they understand the relationship between the center and the quarterback. You can’t put a price on that relationship between him and Aaron Rodgers. And even if it’s a young QB, that’s important, too.”

The Packers are currently projected to have about $52 million in cap space next season to spend around for their various parts with an expected increase in the league cap also expected for 2021.

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