Packers must use free agency or draft (or both) to replace Davante Adams

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Davante Adams has 669 career catches in the NFL. What’s left of the Green Bay Packers' receiving corps has barely more than that.

And most of those belong to Randall Cobb with 591.

Next on that list is David Moore, who has 78 career catches -– none of them with the Packers. The rest are Josh Malone (11 catches), Juwann Winfree (eight), Amari Rodgers (four), Rico Gafford (two) and Chris Blair (zero).

Allen Lazard, and his 109 catches, would rank second on this list, but he hasn’t signed his restricted free-agent tender yet and isn't technically on the roster.

It's safe to say that’s not the group that will line up for the Packers six months from now in the season opener.

At least the Packers now have the draft capital -- four picks in the top 60 after trading Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders on Thursday night -- to maneuver through what is a receiver-rich draft. They could move up in the first round to take one of the best, Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson or USC’s Drake London. Or general manager Brian Gutekunst could channel a move one of his mentors, Ron Wolf, might make and take multiple players at the same position early in the draft. (Wolf once drafted defensive backs with each of his first three picks).

But this is also a team that has the NFL’s third-longest streak without drafting a receiver in the first round. They haven’t done so since Javon Walker in 2002. Only the Jets and Seahawks (both in 2001) have gone longer.

As demanding as Rodgers can be on receivers, there’s no guarantee a rookie would make an immediate impact.

Nevertheless, both Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay had the Packers taking a receiver with their original first-round pick at No. 28 -- Kiper with Alabama’s Jameson Williams and McShay Penn State’s Jahan Dotson. And that was before the Adams trade.

The Packers’ draft strategy also could depend on whether they’re able to add a veteran receiver or two.

For starters, one of their own free agents, deep-threat Marquez Valdes-Scantling, remains unsigned. The going rate for him is likely in the $5 million per year range. The Packers now have an added $20.14 million in salary-cap space by removing Adams and his franchise tag from their books.

They haven’t been known to sign veteran receivers, however, in recent years they flirted with Odell Beckham Jr. and Will Fuller. Both are available, although OBJ suffered a torn ACL in the Super Bowl. The best of the rest includes Julio Jones, Jarvis Landry, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jamison Crowder, Cole Beasley and Cordarrelle Patterson.

Whoever comes in will have a hard time replicating the connection Rodgers had with Adams.

Consider what Rodgers said after he and Adams hooked up for a 41-yard completion last season against the Chicago Bears by simply nodding their heads at one another:

“I told him in the locker room, the thing that I will miss 20 years down the line is moments where you make a subtle adjustment, you look over at the guy and it's a stud like 17 and he just went like this [nodding his head],” Rodgers said. “Like the whole body started tingling. I just knew it was gonna be one of those special plays, and the guys gave me enough time and he ran a nice route and almost scored, other than stepping out there barely.”

That play was actually one Rodgers and Adams called at the line of scrimmage unbeknownst to coach Matt LaFleur.

“Just great job by those guys, and he recognized the look and thought we could get it, so that’s what he did,” LaFleur said at the time. “Like I said, it’s nice to have big-time players that can make you look pretty good.”

Debating Adams’ importance seems like an illogical exercise, but there are factors to consider: He will turn 30 before this season ends, and the Packers have won the past seven games Adams has missed. Rodgers has thrown 19 touchdowns and just one interception, and the Packers have averaged 31.6 points in those seven games without Adams since the start of the 2019 season.

Perhaps it also could force Rodgers to stop forcing the ball to one receiver. Last season’s playoff loss to the 49ers was the perfect example. Rodgers targeted Adams 11 times, and while nine of them were completed for 90 yards, the ball should have gone to a wide-open Lazard over the middle on third-and-11 late in the fourth quarter, but he instead targeted Adams in double-coverage and threw incomplete. The Packers never got the ball back.

There’s no go-to receiver on the roster anymore. Time will tell if that changes for this season.