Raise your hand if you thought the Green Bay Packers would have signed four free agents by now. Okay, now put it down again. I don’t want to sound mean here, but I think you’re a liar. Anyone who expected the Packers to be this active this early is either fibbing or should purchase a lottery ticket to take more profitable advantage of their clairvoyance.
Even acknowledging that Brian Gutekunst has pledged to be more active in free agency, this was unexpected. A day later, we’re still processing exactly what went down. Here are our early reactions to an exciting early portion of free agency in Green Bay.
Evan “Tex” Western: Pumped up
I’ve been a Ted Thompson defender for a long time, with the exception of one item: that he didn’t sign enough free agents on the margins. I’m talking specifically about guys who could contribute to the team’s depth or special teams. Of course, his draft-and-develop strategy only works when you draft and develop well, and his struggles to do so forced Brian Gutekunst’s hand this year, as it created a ton of holes on the roster.
Suddenly, those holes all seemed to be filled up -- or at least well on their way. Matthews and Perry are out, replaced by the Smith tandem and allowing the Packers the flexibility to not draft a pass-rusher at 12 if their board doesn’t call for it. Adrian Amos provides a terrific, versatile fit at safety, where the Packers’ depth has been ravaged by underperforming Thompson picks who played their way into trades out of Green Bay. And then there’s Billy Turner...well, at least he’s a versatile player who provides a possible starter at right guard and some insurance everywhere else. That’s solid.
Perhaps the best news, however, is the way the contracts are structured. Yes, in order to keep cap hits down they are backloaded, but there are a couple of critical items to keep in mind there. First is the fact that the deals all have outs after year two. Should any of these players fail to live up to their contracts, they can be released or restructured without much pain in 2021. The other factor is that the NFL will need to write up a new CBA that year, which should result in another big salary cap jump like the one that happened in 2011. It’s a great way to structure these contracts, and it allows the team to still make a couple of key moves for the 2019 team while avoiding cap hell down the road.
Paul Noonan: Very good, with knock-on effects.
I’m probably the biggest Ted Thompson guy around here and I think free agency should be approached with caution, but it’s hard not to like every single one of these moves. No signing is in any way back-breaking or crippling, now or in the future (Russ Ball still works just fine, as it turns out); every signing is an upgrade at worst. Turner is probably the least likely to stand out, but even he is a somewhat interesting prospect who could still excel if allowed to focus at guard. Even if Amos and the Smiths are just average they are still enormous upgrades over their incumbents, and taking Amos from Chicago is extra sweet.
Most importantly, all of these signings will allow the Packers to have enormous flexibility in the upcoming draft. While it is tough to create surplus value in free agency alone, the fact that they can focus on the best player available throughout the draft will allow them to create much more surplus value than they otherwise would have in their rookies. That’s a huge win and may be the best explanation of why Ted ultimately failed over the last 3 years of his tenure. While the draft is still the best pipeline for bargain players, you need to be more creative than ever in creating an edge over the other teams in the draft. Through deft use of free agency, the Packers now sit in an enviable draft position. Irony of ironies.
Jon Meerdink: Excited about the draft
As Paul alluded to in his entry, the Packers are now supremely well-positioned for the draft. In addition to whatever these players are able to offer on the field, that’s a huge benefit for at least two reasons.
First, for the first time in a long time, the Packers truly be able to take the best player available. They’ve mostly filled their biggest holes already. Smiths Za’Darius and Preston are at least capable starters and Adrian Amos is the best safety the Packers have had since before Ha Ha Clinton-Dix started to coast. The Packers won’t be obligated to address either position early in the draft, and if they do, it’ll be because they think the player they’re selecting is truly the best player they can get at that point.
Second, no matter who the Packers select, they won’t be counted upon to be a starter-level contributor immediately. The Packers were somewhat lucky that Jaire Alexander was able to be the player he was as a rookie. Sure, first rounders should be good, but having to depend on them the way the Packers have is probably not the best practice. Even if the Packers do take an edge rusher now, he’ll be able to have a more typical rookie development curve.
Bob Fitch: Unexpected pleasant shock
Consider me, alongside Paul, a big time Ted Thompson guy. Draft and Develop is paramount to a franchise’s success, and for a long time, Green Bay was able to do just that. As Ted’s tenure came to a close, however, it was clear there was a need for a change in strategy. Drafts hadn’t panned out well, and the coaching staff didn’t seem to get enough out of those draft picks.
Last year’s FA class under Gutekunst showed a glimpse of his strategy, but it’s Year 2 that has got me more excited for the future. There are two keys to the recent signings in my eyes; first, nobody over 30 was signed. Athletes age badly, particularly ones that spend so much time colliding with one another, so it was nice to see younger free agents sign. Secondly, two positions of need were immediately filled (well, half filled with regards to the safety spot), which alleviates pressure to draft for need in the upcoming draft. I’m not too happy about the Turner signing, but the cost wasn’t exorbitant and his play is at least trending in the right direction, so the impact is minimal.
I shouldn’t have been that shocked, I guess, but coming from a decade of not spending in free agency has got me excited for March again.
Mike Vieth - Extremely Encouraging
As we all waited (patiently I’m sure) through day one of free agency to see what path Brian Gutekunst would take the Packers this year we saw a good portion of the top free agents sign with other teams. My initial reaction to the lack of signings on day one was “fantastic.” The money that was getting thrown around to the guys at the top of the mountain was ridiculous. The Packers had just under $35 million to play with and making a huge splurge or two right away could have wiped us out quickly.
Then day two came. I was at the gym and my phone just started going crazy. First, Za’Darius Smith, then Adrian Amos, Preston Smith, and finally Billy Turner. The initial response was “Wow!” the Packers just filled in some major holes that needed to be filled. The one part that worried me was the contracts that it took to lock up those players. Needless to say, when those were reported I felt even better about everything.
The one thing that I probably loved seeing the most was the patience the Packers took in signing the four players. Russ Ball and Gutekunst had to work some magic in getting the contracts just right. The four players only count for $23.6 million against the cap this year and that gives the flexibility to try and resign Bashaud Breeland, Ibraheim Campbell and tender restricted free agents Geronimo Allison and Kentrell Brice.
Some might have a problem with the overall money to each player but they went for what the market was going for. Adrian Amos is probably my favorite signing of the group and he is going to get paid like he should have. Landon Collins, Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu were the top players available and they average about $14 million per year and Amos is in the second tier and getting on average $9 million per year. That’s perfect. The Smiths will both have contracts in the top ten overall for outside linebackers. That fits what the market for outside linebackers are at and the big benefit is that both are hitting the prime of their careers. These signings could be a bargain if they play like prime time players. The biggest question for me was Billy Turner. I think he’s the biggest gamble of the four but I’m encouraged that he has had better overall production at the guard spot in the past few years. Hopefully, having a solid starting spot will take his game to the next level.