Long time starter’s release leaves questions.
By: Jim Boyce
Most fans of the Green Bay Packers, heck most fans of the NFL, were pretty stunned Saturday afternoon when it was reported that the Packers would be releasing veteran guard Josh Sitton if they were unable to trade him. This is obviously a pretty unexpected move by Ted Thompson and one that might take a few days to fully digest. Nonetheless it leaves some immediate questions about the Packers offensive line.
WHO PLAYS GUARD?
In a perfect world versatile backup J.C Tretter could have slid in to the giant hole left by Sitton’s departure. However Tretter is currently the starting center, as Corey Linsley will begin the season on the PUP list. With a healthy Linsley you could have sold me on releasing Sitton more easily, but instead the Packers will have to look at other options. Lane Taylor is the first backup guard on the roster and the Packers gave him a two year deal earlier this offseason. However Taylor played pretty poorly in the final preseason game against Kansas City’s backup defense. Perhaps he has shown enough in practice over the summer to suggest that the Chiefs game was just an off night, but he is not nearly the same caliber of player as Sitton is.
Coach McCarthy could choose to shuffle a few players around on the line. Perhaps moving T.J Lang to left guard and having Bryan Bulaga shift from right tackle to right guard. Rookie Jason Spriggs would then start at right tackle. The Packers are obviously quite high on Spriggs as they traded up to get him in the 2nd round. No doubt Spriggs was drafted with a starting role in mind as the Packers have Lang, Tretter, and David Bakhtiari heading for free agency after this season, as was Sitton. This move simply accelerates the plan with Spriggs.
A line consisting of Bakhtiari, Lang, Tretter, Bulaga, and Spriggs is still a pretty good line, however it leaves some real concerns about depth. As mentioned earlier Corey Linsely is out for awhile, which means Taylor, Don Barclay, and rookie Kyle Murphy figure as the main backups. No Packers fan wants to see any of those guys taking snaps this season, and things could get ugly quick if one or more of the starters goes down with an injury. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, a thin offensive line is playing with fire.
If the Packers were looking to move on from Sitton or shed his remaining salary, why did they not trade him earlier in the offseason? With several teams already showing interest in meeting with him, could Thompson not have at least got a draft pick for him had he acted earlier? The Browns were able to get a 6th round pick for a first round bust in Josh Gilbert, what would a team have given up for an All-Pro guard, even if only for this season?
Sitton only had one year remaining on his deal, for a guy who covets draft picks, it’s surprising Thompson didn’t let him leave via free agency after the season in order to accumulate a compensatory pick. Thompson himself did not use any financial lingo when discussing his decision.
“We want to thank Josh for his contributions during his time in Green Bay,” Packers general manager Ted Thompson said in a statement. “He has been an important part of the success we have enjoyed on the field.
“While these decisions are never easy, this was done with a focus on what is best for the team and the growth of the offensive line. We wish Josh and his wife, Kristen, all the best in the future.”
I don’t know how cutting a still very good offensive lineman is best for the team this season. Sometimes I wonder if Thompson wouldn’t enjoy overseeing a rebuilding team more where young players getting game action would be more of a priority. In 2016 the Packers are in contention for a Super Bowl, is letting Sitton play one more season really going to stunt the growth and future of the offensive line? Sitton himself sure did not see this move coming, but took the high road when discussing his release.
This move is confusing to me right now, and perhaps there is more information behind the scenes that has yet to come out. If healthy, Sitton is clearly better than anyone the Packers plan on replacing him with. Nonetheless he is no longer a Packer, and the end seems far too abrupt for one of the better linemen Green Bay has had in recent history. It is now up to the coaches to put the best line out there that they can, and Thompson to sign the remaining starters on that line to long term deals. Green Bay fans will miss number 71, a durable and consistent performer during his time on the team. We wish Josh Sitton good health and fortune as he continues his NFL career.