Packers fans don’t want to hear this, but signing J.J. Watt in free agency is not the most cost-effective way for Green Bay to upgrade their pass rush.
Signing J.J. Watt in free agency would be just the sort of splashy move that helps a would-be Super Bowl contender like the Packers win the offseason. Unfortunately for fans in Green Bay, it may not be the move that helps them win the most games in 2020.
The problem with Watt is that he isn’t a perfect fit for the current defensive scheme in Green Bay. Joe Barry’s hiring will bring new ideas to the team’s defense, but it’s still fair to assume they’ll operate out of a base 3-4 alignment in 2021. Watt is certainly capable of holding up as a defensive end in that system, but it significantly blunts his ability to rush the passer in one-on-one matchups with opposing tackles. At this stage of his career, Watt is best served to play in a system that allows him to rush the passer in a four-man line.
That doesn’t mean landing Watt wouldn’t significantly upgrade the Packers’ pass rush. He’d give them a huge boost. The issue is that he’s not the most cost-effective way for Green Bay to accomplish that goal. Signing Watt would strip the franchise of almost all of its projected 2021 cap space. Sacrificing all that space for a player who is an imperfect fit would be a giant gamble by the Packers’ front office.
Green Bay Packers can afford to pass on signing J.J. Watt
Instead, Green Bay should strongly consider taking a more conventional path towards solving their pass-rushing issues. Spending the No. 29 overall pick in April’s draft to solve the issue would be a much cheaper solution. Former Tulsa standout Zaven Collins should be available at that spot and he’s just the sort of outside linebacker who can rush the passer from Green Bay’s projected 3-4 look.
No one is saying Collins is in Watt’s class as a player. The argument here is that he’s a much cleaner fit with Green Bay’s defense. He’s also a much cheaper potential acquisition. The first round pick required to land him is valuable to the Packers, but his rookie salary will comfortably fit onto their cap sheet for years to come.
More importantly, choosing Collins over Watt would also leave Green Bay with precious cap space to spend elsewhere in free agency. It’s not an issue of Collins vs. Watt. Instead, it’s an issue of Collins plus other free agents vs. Watt.
That’s what tips the scales in favor of the rookie. This won’t be a popular idea for Packers fans, but it’s the right way to build this roster for the long haul.