This article is part of our NFL Free Agency series.
The Packers traded Davante Adams to the Raiders on Thursday in exchange for the 22nd and 53rd overall selections in the 2022 draft. This blockbuster would have been fully unexpected as of around a month ago, but beginning roughly one week ago concerns quickly began to mount regarding Green Bay's ability to re-sign Adams – even after re-signing Aaron Rodgers in early March. It was recently widely believed that Rodgers and Adams would be a packaged deal for wherever they played in 2022, and that turned out to be the furthest from the actual case. The trade reunites Adams with Derek Carr, his college quarterback at Fresno State, and leaves Rodgers with a suddenly barren wide receiver rotation.
While these developments apparently aren't entirely surprising to Rodgers and the Packers, the current state of their wide receiver depth chart could lead you to conclude otherwise. Allen Lazard should be back and should provide upwards of 900 solid reps from a variety of alignments, making him a useful glue guy, and one who improves as the field gets shorter. He's currently a restricted free agent on a second-round tender, which should keep other teams away. Everything beyond him is dubious.
Amari Rodgers is a promising slot prospect the Packers selected in the third round of the 2021 draft, but he might be blocked in the slot by Randall Cobb, who Aaron apparently might rather lose with than play without. If the Packers don't or can't make Amari their primary slot receiver, or if they don't acquire an additional, competent candidate for that role to play ahead of both Amari and Cobb, then that's a bad sign because Cobb can only project for so much usage. Cobb's efficiency was quite good last year, scoring five times and generating 9.6 yards per target on 39 targets, but that efficiency will fall off a cliff if he's forced to carry a volume higher than 39 targets on 352 snaps at a low depth of target. If Cobb plays more than 400 or so snaps then the Packers need nothing less than another Davante Adams type to pick up the remaining slack at the third receiver position. The Next Davante Adams is apparently on backorder, so more realistically the Packers need to forget about replacing Adams and instead seek more modest upgrades from two receiver positions just to break even. Those would be the snaps played previously by Cobb and free agent Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
The team wants to bring back Valdes-Scantling, and his downfield speed does serve a crucial purpose in play infrastructure, but the fact is he's a liability in every other respect and there's too much slack with Adams gone to look past that fact as easily as in previous years. Moreover, speed specialists can be found easily – MVS himself is evidence of this fact as a fifth-round pick. There exists a category of receiver who both has the field-stretching speed and can serve as an actual volume target, but the Packers appear unlikely to find any in free agency. They really could have used DJ Chark, but they let the Lions sign him instead. That was a unique opportunity to reload and the fact is that the Packers missed it and won't get another comparable opportunity this offseason. Will Fuller is a very talented player who could be a killer deep target for Rodgers when available, but his durability history makes the availability assumption a bit hasty. In any case, the Packers might want to seriously think twice about paying MVS given that he can't draw productive targets beyond a modest rate and his decoy function no longer has a Davante Adams to clear space for underneath.
Other than Fuller the most interesting wide receiver free agents for the Packers might be Julio Jones, from whom we can count on nothing, or Sammy Watkins, who is sometimes vaguely dependable. Other available wide receivers who are skilled but run the risk of underneath-target redundancy in Green Bay are the free agent duo of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Jarvis Landry, as well as Robert Woods potentially available by trade from the Rams.
Whatever the Packers do in free agency will need to be supplemented with at least one standout . receiver prospect in the draft. Luckily for Green Bay, there are a number of intriguing options. Alabama's Jameson Williams and Ohio State's Chris Olave stand out as memorable speed-oriented downfield prospects, and either would do a lot to help maximize a JSS/Woods/Landry type. Justyn Ross from Clemson is another interesting one – he could basically be like if MVS could actually play receiver. If the Packers secure their fill of speed outside of the draft then big wideouts like Drake London (USC) and Treylon Burks (Arkansas) could capitalize on the space created by that speed. A yards-after-the-catch wideout like Garrett Wilson (Ohio State) becomes more interesting the less Amari Rodgers and Cobb play, but it might be a bad idea of Green Bay to give up on Amari so early.
Adding Adams has to be good news for Derek Carr and the Raiders offense as they head into the Josh McDaniels era. Even if Carr's production is more or less maxed out, adding a player like Adams should at the very least boost Carr's consistency and ability to avoid turnovers. The question of whether this offense can specifically become one of the league's best is less clear, though certainly possible.
If there's a limitation in the Raiders offense at this point it's the downfield speed element. To add speed at this point they'll need to bench Bryan Edwards, which would be a shame because he would probably otherwise stand to benefit from the McDaniels offense after running too far downfield in the previous scheme. Edwards did next to nothing last year because he was asked almost exclusively to do things he's not good at. McDaniels would cut that ADOT (13.8) almost in half and Edwards would likely benefit. The problem is that Edwards is probably a high-4.5 guy at best, and even the McDaniels offense had a nominal speed threat in Nelson Agholor, ill-conceived as that approach might have been. Perhaps McDaniels is willing to shed that function and make an exception for Edwards, but that's specifically the question with Edwards and nothing is guaranteed for him in the meantime. What's guaranteed is the respective usages of Adams, slot man Hunter Renfrow, and elite tight end Darren Waller. Waller is the fastest, best downfield threat of that trio. If McDaniels is okay with Waller being the fastest player on his offense, then Edwards might be okay after all.
But if the Raiders do stick with Edwards, then it will be an interesting case study on just how much an offense can succeed while restricting nearly all of its passing activity within eight yards of the line of scrimmage. This would be less experimental in the CFL, where the wider field puts to rest the question of space, but in the NFL there literally might not be enough room for these pass catchers to function to their customary level of efficiency. It's hell to cover Adams, Waller and Renfrow in any scenario, but ask any defense and they'll tell you they'd prefer to cover them on a small field rather than a big field. When you have no speed you end up playing on a small field regardless of the actual field positioning, because you can't run farther than that before the play is over. Defenses recalibrate in response to this realization, and sometimes that forces the offense to counter-adjust. If you have no second attack to use in this scenario then this is sometimes the point in a game where an offense realizes it has been whooped.
If the Raiders bench or move Edwards and replace his reps with a true speed threat, then that would give them a means of counter-adjustment in the event that defenses discover a good way to spam the part of the field where Adams, Waller and Renfrow run. With no draft picks until 86th overall in the third round, the Raiders would be hard-pressed to find imposing competition for Edwards in the draft. Someone like Ross from Clemson or Alec Pierce from Cincinnati would maybe have the kind of speed the Raiders need to make benching Edwards worthwhile, but those are the only three-down types of that category and neither is a guarantee to make it to 86. They could also target Baylor's Tyquan Thornton and his 4.28 speed in the third round to have him rotate with Edwards situationally, but at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds Thornton might be too skinny to play more than 600 snaps or so per year.
OTHER NEWS FROM THURSDAY
-Allen Robinson agreed to a three-year deal with the Rams. It's not clear whether the Rams plan on moving Robert Woods (ACL) to make room for Robinson, but if their base loadout is Robinson and Woods outside and Cooper Kupp in the slot, then the Rams offense will be significantly slower than it was in 2021 (Van Jefferson and Odell Beckham are much faster than Woods and especially Robinson). Still, regardless of the structure of the broader Rams offense, Robinson should enjoy strong fantasy production with a quarterback like Matthew Stafford.
-Damien Williams agreed to a one-year deal with Atlanta. Normally a player of Williams' background warrants little or no attention for a signing like this, but on Atlanta's horrifying depth chart Williams could earn a big workload, especially if they don't retain Cordarrelle Patterson.
-Byron Pringle agreed to a one-year deal with Chicago. Pringle is a fast player with a decent build and should give the Bears some quality reps, especially with Allen Robinson gone. Pringle is likely a replacement-level talent overall though, so he might need to see rapid progress from Justin Fields to push for mainstream fantasy relevance.