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Cheese Curds, 3/5: Jimmy Graham is a cautionary free agency tale

With his release seeming more and more likely, Graham’s time in Green Bay should give fans of free agent spending pause

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

For years, Packers fans had a justifiable unmet urge to spend in free agency. Ted Thompson wasn’t just tight with the checkbook. He kept the checkbook in some sort of vault deep under Lambeau Field and posted Russ Ball outside to keep a 24-hour watch. In fact, he’s probably still down there. Someone should check.

And by and large, Thompson’s approach worked, despite whatever objections fans may have. The Packers never found themselves strapped for cash and never found themselves on the wrong end of a big miss in free agency. When Thompson did spend (on Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett, and Julius Peppers), his hit rate was high.

But that approach wasn’t without serious drawbacks, either. Thompson’s near-total abandonment of free agency left the middle of the Packers roster desperately thin. While their stars performed well, far too often the middle and bottom of the 53-man roster was populated by players either too young or unskilled to really suit bigger roles.

That’s why Brian Gutekunst’s approach has been such a breath of fresh air. He’s vowed to be “in on” every free agent, whether they come to Green Bay or not. 2019’s offseason spending spree showed exactly how that strategy can pay big dividends.

But as the national media gets wise to what’s about to happen to Jimmy Graham, it’s worth pointing out that Gutekunst has also shown the pitfalls of spending. Graham’s tenure in Green Bay can be, at best, generously characterized as disappointing. Less charitably, it’s an unmitigated disaster. Coupled with news of Muhammad Wilkerson’s ongoing legal troubles, Gutekunst’s 2018 free agent class is a cautionary tale, one worth remembering as the Packers prepare for another free agency period that could add playmakers to the tail end of Aaron Rodgers’s career — or set the Packers back in a big way for his final years.

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