5 Irreplaceable Players For the Green Bay Packers During the 2013 NFL Season
5 Players the Packers Cannot Afford to Lose
If you have Super Bowl aspirations, there are certain players and positions you cannot do without. The Green Bay Packers are one of a handful of teams that have legitimate championship aspirations in 2013. There are five players they cannot afford to lose if they expect to add a 14th NFL championship to the trophy cases at 1265 Lombardi Avenue.
Not making this list are notable performers B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Bryan Bulaga, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward and some high-achieving receivers. Raji has the talent, certainly, to be considered a vital core player. However, his 2012 season consisted of only 16 tackles in 14 games and no sacks. Injury (Bulaga, Williams) and age (Pickett) have cast shadows on their 2013 expectations, but each will factor heavily in the Packers' fortunes in 2013. Hayward is only in his second year. It's too soon to hang the "need" requirement on the former second-round draft pick, but the needle is definitely pointing up.
The five players selected here reflect proven veterans in the primes of their careers. Three of them were extended this offseason with new multi-year contracts by Packers General Manager Ted Thompson. The burden of leadership is upon these three highly compensated core players and two other key veterans. Of the remaining two, one already earned a contract extension in 2011 and the other is in the third year of his four-year rookie deal.
If the Packers can avoid injuries to these five core veterans, the prospects for success look good for this year and for several seasons to come.
It's no surprise that quarterback Aaron Rodgers tops this list of irreplaceable players. With a new five-year, $110 million extension signed in April, Rodgers is rightfully regarded among the very best at his position in the NFL.
Rodgers' 2011 quarterback rating of 122.5 and career rating of 104.1 stand as the best of all-time. His career interception percentage of 1.8 also ranks No. 1 in the NFL. Losing Rodgers for any length of time would almost certainly derail the season. The drop-off to the Packers' backup quarterback, either Graham Harrell or second-year player B.J. Coleman, would likely signal the end of the team's playoff hopes.
Linebacker Clay Matthews is also no surprise on this list of irreplaceable Packers. Despite missing four games in 2012, Matthews led the team in sacks with 13.
The Claymaker has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons. He is the undisputed lead playmaker on the Packers' defense and is the first element opposing offenses must figure out how to stop. The Packers locked up Matthews with a six-year, $69.77 million contract extension in April.
Rookie Casey Hayward led the Packers in interceptions in 2012, but it was the continuing steady performance of safety Morgan Burnett that makes the fourth-year veteran the most vital cog in the secondary. The Packers just re-committed to Burnett with a new four-year contract extension worth $24.75 million.
Burnett posted more than 100 tackles in each of his last two seasons — starting every game in that span, including playoffs. While the Packers can legitimately feel comfortable with the talent level they have stocked at cornerback in Williams, Hayward, Sam Shields and Davon House, the athletic Burnett has been the rock. The Packers' biggest question mark in the secondary is who to pair with Burnett at the other safety spot.
For as much as the Packers offense and special teams ran through the versatile and dynamic Randall Cobb in 2012, the Packers received great bang for the buck. With a base salary of $520,883 in 2012 and $666,766 in 2013, Cobb is among the lowest-paid regulars on the team. For comparison, he is slated to make less than Brett Goode, the Packers' long-snapper.
Cobb is in the second-to-last year of his rookie contract, which he has clearly outplayed. He led the NFL in all-purpose yards with 2342, edging out Adrian Peterson by 28 yards. Look for the Packers to continue to build the offense around Cobb's unique talents and possibly reduce his exposure on special teams.
The Green Bay Packers have one Pro Bowl-caliber offensive lineman on the team: Josh Sitton. This season, the Packers will rely upon Sitton more than ever now that he has switched from his customary right side of the line to left guard. Former starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga is also flipping from right to left, in an effort to better shore up Aaron Rodgers' blindside.
Sitton will also be called upon to lead the interior blocking for the expected improved rushing attack. New emphasis on developing a run game is promised for 2013 with the addition of rookie running backs Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin. Sitton will play a vital role in ensuring its success, while continuing to keep Rodgers upright.