In college football recruiting, and sometimes even the NFL Draft, an influx of new talent is met by the phrase “we will see in four years.” Those four years provide ample time to fully evaluate what the team has in its newest players and grade them appropriately. It is safe to say that the Green Bay Packers graded out miserably four years ago in the 2015 NFL Draft, with all of its prospects aside from Jake Ryan (whose future is still to be determined) failing to be extended into a second contract.
With four signings on Tuesday, the Packers swooped into the free agent market with an unexpected determination. But it will be less than four years to assess if Green Bay was able to amend its 2015 draft disaster with a wide-scale pay day.
In signing Adrian Amos, Preston Smith, and Za’Darius Smith, the Packers acquired three players from that very 2015 draft class. Amos and Za’Darius Smith were fifth- and fourth-round picks, respectively, while Preston rose into the second round as an elite athletic prospect. In a pessimistic sense, one could argue that their respective teams did not see enough value in the three players to offer them a second contract. But perhaps the Packers were able to withstand the payroll jolt their former teams could not justify or afford. Either way, the Packers broke from the norm, choosing to significantly bolster their roster by rewarding external free agents instead of their own.
In the case of the Packers’ 2015 class, there was not much left to re-sign. Green Bay had cut ties outright with Quinten Rollins (2nd), Aaron Ripkowski (6th), Christian Ringo (6th), and Kennard Backman (6th) prior to the beginning of the 2018 season, while dealing away Damarious Randall (1st) and Brett Hundley (5th) in pre-regular season trades. Ty Montgomery (3rd) became a mid-season trade chip while Jake Ryan (4th) landed on Injured Reserve in August. Needless to say, the Packers received little compensation for their selections four years ago on the field, while receiving backup quarterback DeShone Kizer, a 2019 sixth-round pick, and a 2020 seventh-round pick as future assets from the trades.
While some of the increase in free agent activity is due to second-year General Manager Brian Gutekunst making his mark and building the roster to his liking, much of it was due to necessity. Gutekunst inherited a mess of a 2015 draft class to go along with several other ineffective final selection years under Ted Thompson. Green Bay’s cannonball into the free agent pool was truly a byproduct of having to fix years of personnel development issues and it was a last resort to field a competitive defense next season.
While Green Bay certainly could draft an upper-echelon pass-rushing prospect in next month’s draft, the team immediately upgraded the position already. And they did so without having to rely on the quick development necessary to produce a first-year contributor. After all, the Packers have struggled over the past two decades in drafting early-round defensive linemen. In acquiring the pair of Smiths, the Packers did not settle on the draft-day lottery ticket to solve a persistent issue that has struggled to be fixed via that route.
In Amos, Green Bay lured a former Chicago Bear who can slide into either safety position, but most likely the free safety spot. Amos is lauded for being in the right place at the right time to avoid errors in the back half of the secondary, although he is not the turnover-creating machine Nick Collins once was. However, the Packers just need Amos to be a steady, dependable player to help their young cornerbacks and strong safeties. Unfortunately, Green Bay never found a model of consistency with Randall or Rollins after their rookie seasons, even if Randall was playing out of position. With Amos on board, the Packers added a capable veteran to fill a pressing need without having to draft a fringe first-round talent in a down year at the position.
The Packers added three instant-impact defensive players on Tuesday, along with their probable starting guard Billy Turner. They spent significantly — almost stupidly, to steal a phrase from the Philadelphia Phillies’ management this past baseball offseason — in immediately fixing three areas of concern. In the process, the Packers afforded themselves the luxury of being able to truly draft the best available player with their first three picks. With a little luck, the next four years will see a lot more success from new draft selections than the past four.
In the end, the Packers gave several players the second contracts they deserved — just not the players they expected.