The Green Bay Packers, once again a prime contender to win a championship, will have to do it without Josh Sitton.
In the huge news of Cutdown Saturday, the Packers released their three-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro left guard.
It was a shocking decision for a team attempting to once again climb to the mountaintop. However, as has been general manager Ted Thompson’s custom, he’s built a team with one eye on today and the other eye on tomorrow.
Is moving on from Sitton good for this team’s championship chances? Of course not. The Packers are deep up front, but none of the reserves can measure up to Sitton. He started all but two games in the previous seven seasons. Sitton was a second-team All-Pro last season, when he played all but eight snaps despite laboring through a sore back.
Lane Taylor, one possible option to step in at left guard, didn’t have a great training camp and was penalized three times and was late on a blitz that resulted in a sack vs. Kansas City. He did, however, play well in two starts last season, which earned him a two-year, $4.15 million contract. Don Barclay has had a good camp at center but has been up-and-down in 23 career starts at offensive tackle. Bryan Bulaga could go from right tackle to left guard, but second-round pick Jason Spriggs has been planted at left tackle for weeks and sixth-round pick Kyle Murphy was miserable at right tackle vs. the Chiefs.
In light of that, this transaction could have ripple effects throughout the offense.
“Josh made David Bakhtiari better than what he really is because Josh covered the inside,” said a league source familiar with Green Bay’s offense. “David never had to worry about getting beat to his right, which allowed him to make sure he never got beat to his left.”
Here’s a better point: Part of the excellence of the Packers’ offense has been quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ ability to extend plays. Rodgers didn’t have to concern himself with pressure from the edges against Bakhtiari and right tackle Bryan Bulaga because he could always step up into a solid pocket provided by Sitton, center Corey Linsley and right guard T.J. Lang, escape to his left or right and make something happen down the field. Will the pocket be as solid without Sitton?
“We’ll see,” the source said. “It’s a good organization and they usually make smart decisions. Ted always stays ahead of the curve but they might wind up ruing the day. That’s a lot of leadership, a lot of chemistry and a lot of feistiness.”
However, it’s worth noting that Sitton didn’t have the best of seasons last year. Statistically, in fact, it was his poorest, with career-worst figures of 6.5 sacks, eight penalties and six holding penalties, according to STATS. Two of those sacks came in the finale vs. Minnesota, when he played left tackle. Over his previous five seasons combined, Sitton had given up six sacks. In 2014, Sitton allowed no sacks and was flagged only three times (once for holding). The Packers ranked just 24th in rushing average behind left guard, according to league data.
Beyond the impact to the lineup, the transaction eradicates the offensive line depth. Sitton is gone. Center Corey Linsley will spend at least the first six weeks on the physically unable to perform list. Josh Walker was placed on injured reserve. Taylor or Barclay will provide the interior depth with the rookies on the outside.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.