GREEN BAY, Wis. — Shortly after the news broke that All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander had agreed to a record contract extension with the Green Bay Packers on Monday, one of his teammates posed a rhetorical question on Twitter.
“What wins championships,” Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith posted.
The defense sure did its part last season, finishing ninth overall and holding the San Francisco 49ers without an offensive touchdown in the NFC divisional playoff loss in January.
It’s also how the Packers might have to win in the post-Aaron Rodgers era — whether that’s in a year or three.
What wins championships 👀
— Preston Smith (@PrestonSmith94) May 16, 2022
Either way, it sure seems like general manager Brian Gutekunst agrees with Smith.
Consider all the moves he has made to fortify that side of the ball:
Made Alexander the highest-paid defensive back in the NFL with a four-year, $84 million contract.
Brought in veteran defensive tackle Jarran Reed on a one-year, $3.25 million deal.
Signed cornerback Rasul Douglas to a three-year, $21 million deal.
Signed linebacker De’Vondre Campbell to a five year, $50 million deal.
Signed Smith to a four-year, $52.5 million extension.
Used his 2021 first-round pick on a defensive player, cornerback Eric Stokes.
“I think we’re excited about it,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said recently of his defense. “But … you’ve got to recreate that magic that we finished with, and any year is never the same.”
While Gutekunst moved on from outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, releasing him in March, that helped free up salary-cap space for some of the other moves.
“I would say the expectations we have for our whole football team, but specifically our defense, is really high,” Gutekunst said last month after the draft. “I thought they played really well last year and they ended on a very high note, playing at a very high level. We’ve got some guys coming back who will be here for their second year and be important. I like the way that group is growing together. It’s a new season, and they’ve got to put in the work and the time and the chemistry and all the things that go with that, but I think the expectation level for that group is going to be high.”
Alexander is one of the key players of the group.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Alexander has allowed a completion percentage of 55.5% as the nearest defender in his career. That’s eighth-best in the NFL among players with at least 250 targets as the nearest defender since 2018.
He seemed like a perfect fit to play wherever defensive coordinator Joe Barry needed him last year. One of Barry’s featured spots on defense is what he calls the “Star” position, which is essentially the slot cornerback spot. Alexander’s shoulder injury that knocked him out after four games last season (he returned for the playoff game) prevented Barry from exploring that further. But with Alexander’s shoulder healed and his long-term future sewn up, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Barry move him around more.
“He can shadow, he can play on the outside and lock guys down, he can move inside, he can kind of do it all,” Gutekunst said earlier this offseason of Alexander. “So I imagine that might be a little bit game by game, but that’s probably something we’ll get to once we get down in the season.”
While the Packers’ offense appears to be in a state of flux after the trade of receiver Davante Adams to the Raiders, the defense looks well-positioned.
“The more playmakers we can have on defense,” Preston Smith said last month, “the more chance [it] is going to increase our success.”