PHOENIX -- When Odell Beckham Jr. made a surprise appearance at the Arizona Biltmore resort during this week’s NFL annual meeting, a symbolic -- albeit unintentional -- scene played out. Beckham and his entourage walked in one direction, while Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst went the other way.
As much as the Packers need veterans in the receiver room, they have ignored that market in free agency, and Beckham’s availability won’t change that. They also made little or no attempt to re-sign Allen Lazard, whose average of $11 million per year on his contract with the Jets priced himself out of Green Bay. Meanwhile, Randall Cobb remains unsigned and seemingly has no shot at a return to the Packers without Aaron Rodgers.
“We’re going to have to add some bodies to that room,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said this week. “What do we got, like five guys on the roster right now?”
Exactly five. Welcome to your new job as the Packers starting quarterback, Jordan Love.
At this point, Love has only three receivers on the roster who have ever played in more than one NFL game. And all three of those -- Christian Watson (14 games), Romeo Doubs (13) and Samori Toure (11) -- were rookies last season. The other two -- Jeff Cotton (one game, zero catches for the Jaguars in 2021) and Bo Melton (no games) -- have essentially no experience.
There’s always the chance that Gutekunst makes a late move in free agency to sign a veteran receiver like he did last year with Sammy Watkins, but that didn’t exactly pan out either. This year’s list of free agent receivers still available includes: Kenny Golladay, Jarvis Landry, Robbie Anderson, Marvin Jones Jr., Julio Jones and Cobb.
“Well, I think some veteran leadership would be nice,” LaFleur said. “Although I think guys like Allen and Randall did such a great job last year kind of taking those guys under their wing and showing them the ropes and the expectations and the practice habits that you need to have to go out there and play at a high level. But there’s going to be a lot of growth with those two guys, certainly Romeo and Christian. And then you’ve got Samori Toure and we’ve got a small glimpse of Bo Melton last year.”
What Doubs and Watson lack in experience, they make up for in potential. Doubs (2022 fourth-rounder) started fast while Watson (2022 second-rounder) had trouble with drops and injuries. Then Doubs was slowed by a midseason ankle injury.
“I don’t know if [Doubs] ever got back to what we had seen early in the year, but I expect to see that when he comes back,” LaFleur said.
“I want to temper this comparison here, but he’s got some Davante Adams-type movement skills in him. Now he’s got to learn when to use and how to harness that. I don’t think there’s a route he won’t be able to run. We just have to give him enough reps where he can continue his progression.”
When Doubs got hurt, Watson emerged. He was their biggest playmaker from Week 10 on. Together, they combined for 83 catches, 1,036 yards and 10 touchdowns despite being on the field together at the same time for fewer than 100 snaps all season.
The Packers are counting on those numbers from each one separately this season.
“I think the biggest thing with these young players is: Are they willing to take the corrections and criticism and then work and continue to work? -- and they did that,” Gutekunst said of Doubs and Watson. “[Receivers] coach [Jason] Vrable did a really nice job with the room because it was in transition, obviously, when you lose the guy [Adams] that leads that room. I think those guys did a really nice job. I’m excited to see how they grow this year.”
Then there’s Keisean Nixon.
What does the Packers’ All-Pro kick returner and backup cornerback have to do with the receiver room? Well, LaFleur said this week that he’s open to the possibility that Nixon could have a package of plays as either a receiver or ball carrier.
“I was joking with him, I said, 'Hey, you never know, there might be some opportunities offensively,'” LaFleur said. “And I know he was fired up to hear that. For us, it truly is if he can handle it, I've got no problem putting him in there in some situations on offense.”
The Packers are also thin at tight end, where they lost Robert Tonyan to the Bears in free agency and aren’t likely to re-sign Marcedes Lewis. While most know it has been more than 20 years since the Packers picked a receiver in the first round (Javon Walker in 2002), they haven’t taken a tight end in Round 1 since 2000 (Bubba Franks).
This is considered a strong tight end draft, and ESPN’s Jordan Reid has the Packers taking Georgia tight end Darnell Washington in the second round of his latest mock draft. He also has them with Michigan State receiver Jayden Reed in the third round.
“There are certain positions [in this year’s draft] that have really good depth that we haven’t seen for a while,” Gutekunst said. “I think that’s good, and they kind of line up with our needs a little bit.”