GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers don’t have much proven depth behind their top two wide receivers — and they did come up empty when they delved into the veteran free agent market earlier this offseason. Dez Bryant still hasn’t found a new home after being released by the Dallas Cowboys last month.
Could they wind up getting together? Bryant’s former Cowboys teammate — and new ESPN “Monday Night Football” analyst — Jason Witten certainly thinks so.
Speaking on The Adam Schefter Podcast along with new play-by-play man Joe Tessitore, Witten said this week that he believes Bryant will indeed wind up with the Packers after turning down an offer from the Baltimore Ravens and not generating as much interest among the Cowboys’ NFC East rivals as he’d hoped.
“I think he’s going to end up going to the Green Bay Packers,” Witten said. “I think that’s a great spot for him. Aaron Rodgers, he throws that back-shoulder throw so well, and Dez (can have) great chemistry with a good quarterback that can put the ball wherever he wants.”
The Packers released veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson in March after he turned down a major pay cut that three former teammates of Nelson’s described as “insulting” or “disrespectful.” A league source said the Packers’ offer was a one-year, $2 million deal with no guaranteed money; Nelson wound up signing a two-year, $13 million deal with the Oakland Raiders.
With Nelson gone and special-teams ace Jeff Janis having left for the Cleveland Browns, the Packers have openings on their wide receiver depth chart — and a dearth of proven talent behind No. 1 receiver Davante Adams and veteran Randall Cobb.
Third-year man Geronimo Allison, who is penciled in as the outside receiver opposite Adams as the Packers get set to start organized team activity practices next week, has 35 career regular-season receptions in two years. Trevor Davis, a 2016 fifth-round pick, has eight career catches.
The Packers did add five-time Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham in free agency, but the team’s other wide receivers are all young, unproven commodities.
Former basketball player Michael Clark, who spent most of last season on the practice squad, had four catches late in the season when he was promoted to the 53-man roster. The team also had DeAngelo Yancey, Jake Kumerow and Colby Pearson on the practice squad for some or all of last season, then added three wide receivers in last month’s NFL draft: fourth-rounder J’Mon Moore of Missouri, fifth-rounder Marquez Valdes-Scantling of South Florida and sixth-rounder Equanimeous St. Brown of Notre Dame.
The likelihood of one of the Packers’ rookies having a significant impact in 2018 is low, considering how most of their top wide receivers had minimal impact as rookies. Most recently, Nelson (33 catches, 366 yards, two touchdowns in 2008), Cobb (25 receptions, 375 yards, one TD in 2011) and Adams (38 receptions, 446 yards, three TDs in 2014) all had limited roles offensively as rookies.
“I still think Dez can still high-point the football as good as any other wide receiver in the National Football League,” Witten said. “You partner him up with Jimmy Graham and Aaron Rodgers, and I think that offense can put up a lot of points. … I think it’s a win-win for the Packers.”
Witten also said he thought Bryant could “go there and really help them take the next step and get back on a playoff run” after the Packers missed the playoffs last season and called Bryant “a smart football player (who) understands how important the quarterback position” is.
Witten said he didn’t have any inside information on what Bryant might be thinking, and in an interview last month with 105.3 The Fan in Dallas-Fort Worth, Bryant was dismissive of the Packers as an option. “It wouldn’t seem right,” he told the station. “Too much history.”
Of course, that was before Bryant’s market was limited in the immediate aftermath of his release. Perhaps he can look past the Cowboys’ 2014 NFC divisional playoff loss at Lambeau Field (the “Dez Caught It” game) and their last-second 2016 NFC divisional loss to the Packers and Rodgers at AT&T Stadium.
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst, meanwhile, must decide whether replacing the soon-to-be 33-year-old Nelson with Bryant, who’s set to turn 30 in November, makes sense. Playing in all 16 games last season, Bryant was targeted 132 times and finished with 69 receptions for 838 yards and six touchdowns. He played in 24 of a possible 32 games in 2015 and ’16 and hasn’t put up 1,000 yards since 2014 (88 receptions, 1,320 yards, NFL-high 16 TDs).
Gutekunst did pursue high-profile free agent wide receivers Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins when the market opened in March, and the team brought Jordan Matthews in for a visit later in free agency before Matthews signed with New England.
“A lot of times with the free agents that are (still) out there there’s more conversations about fit. Because the big money is gone, so now it’s about what is the right fit for that player, for the club,” Gutekunst said at the NFL meetings in March.
“You can’t count on (veterans becoming available) and there’s always surprises. There’s always phone calls of whether it’s trades or guys getting released that you didn’t expect. Our thing has been do our due diligence and always be prepared for the opportunity.”