As expected, the Green Bay Packers lost starting center Corey Linsley in free agency. The long time starter agreed to a five-year, $62.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Chargers on the first day of the legal tampering period earlier this week. That means Green Bay will have to replace Linsley with a new center in 2021.
The Packers have several viable options available to them when deciding who should take over in the middle of their offensive line. The team has several offensive linemen who can play multiple positions and some young players who may be ready to become starters in 2021.
Here is a look at the top five options for the Packers at center as of now:
- Draft a New Center
This is the least likely option at least as far as finding a starter for 2021. The Packers may draft a center again in 2021, but it most likely to be on day three of the draft and be a developmental player who may be ready to assume the starting duties in a year or two.
The last time the Packers drafted a center who stayed at that position in the first three rounds of the draft was in 1996 when they selected UCLA’s Mike Flanagan in the third round.
- Add a Free Agent Center
This is also an unlikely scenario. The Packers don’t have much room under the salary cap and they have more pressing needs that they are likely to address first at cornerback, offensive tackle and several other positions.
A veteran like Alex Mack would be a stopgap answer at center if the Packers could sign him to a one-year deal at a team friendly price, but this is an unlikely scenario given the Packers cap situation, their current roster and overall needs at this time.
- Jake Hanson Takes Over as the Starter
The Packers selected Hanson in the sixth round of the 2020 draft knowing that Linsley’s contract was up after last season and that they would need to groom a successor.
Hanson spent part of the season on the Packers practice squad and part of the season on the practice squad injury list. He has yet to be active in an NFL game.
In addition to learning the Packers playbook, Hanson must make the adjustment to snapping the ball directly to the quarterback under center, something he rarely had to do at the University of Oregon.
If Hanson is ready to start, he would give the Packers a young and inexpensive starter at center but it remains to be seen whether he’s ready to start in the NFL after one season on the practice squad.
- Move Elgton Jenkins to Center
Jenkins filled in at center on several occasions last season when Linsley was hurt and he played well there. The Packers Pro Bowl left guard played tackle, guard and center for the Packers last season and showed he could excel at all three positions.
Moving Jenkins to center may give the Pack the best option at that position, but it would also weaken the guard position unless one of the team’s young guards like Jon Runyan, Jr or Simon Stepaniak are ready to assume starting duties there and are capable to playing at a level close to what Jenkins can provide. This is unlikely at this stage of their careers.
Constantly changing positions may also hinder Jenkins’ development as he enters his third year but that’s a decision the coaching staff will have to make.
- Move Lucas Patrick to Center
Patrick has also played center for the Packers and he’s done an adequate job. Patrick has not approached the level of play that Linsley reached but he would be a solid player at the position.
The former Duke star grades out as a good run blocker and pass blocker and he’s tough and tenacious. He doesn’t have the mobility to block on the second level that Linsley showed but he will be able to get things done in a phonebooth in the middle of the offensive line.
Patrick may also be a short-term answer at center. If he moves to center, then Stepaniak and Runyan can continue to play their natural positions. This means they wouldn’t have to adjust to the NFL and adjust to a new position as well.
At this point, Patrick is likely the first option for the Packers at center, but this can obviously change between now and the start of training camp in July.
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