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How the Packers can cash in on some compensatory draft picks in 2021

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Embracing some street free agents this year could net the Packers a couple of extra draft picks next spring.

NFL: JUL 24 Green Bay Packers Shareholders Meeting Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In 2019 and 2020, the Green Bay Packers were shut out of the compensatory draft pick process. Brian Gutekunst’s first two offseasons as general manager in the preceding years brought a number of big-name and big-contract free agent signings to 2165 Lombardi Avenue, with Jimmy Graham arriving in 2018 and the Smith Bros. et al last spring.

As a result, the Packers have had to stick with their own draft picks in the past two selection meetings. This came after a 2018 draft that gave Gutekunst four bonus selections — one fourth-rounder, two fifths, and a sixth — as the result of the team losing free agents T.J. Lang, Micah Hyde, JC Tretter, and Jared Cook. In fact, under Ted Thompson, the Packers almost always received at least one compensatory pick each year, often accruing the maximum of four.

In 2020, however, the Packers’ free agent needs and situation suggest that they could make a run at acquiring a handful of significant compensatory picks for the 2021 NFL Draft.

First, examine the list of players slated to hit free agency for Green Bay. One player, Blake Martinez, seems likely to receive a big contract this summer from a team not wearing green and gold, and he could be worth a fourth or even a third-round comp pick. Bryan Bulaga may command a deal worthy of a 4 or 5 if he departs, while Kyler Fackrell could be in line to draw a later-round draft pick as well.

Meanwhile, the Packers could find ways to fill some of their major needs with street free agents — players who were released by their old teams rather than those whose contracts have expired. Signing these players would not affect the comp pick calculation, and there are some intriguing players available already, with more sure to hit the market as the days tick down to the start of free agency. At wide receiver, Green Bay could snag a former Chicago Bear in Taylor Gabriel, who had great success in Atlanta when Matt LaFleur was on the coaching staff. Linebacker Nigel Bradham may be an option as a veteran on the inside, having just been released by Philadelphia. And if the team wants another run-stuffer on the defensive line, the Lions just cut Damon Harrison, who is still a productive nose tackle.

A plausible free agent strategy could involve making a run at a few of these street free agents to fill a few holes, plus re-signing Bulaga to keep the offensive line together. That would then preserve that high comp pick for Martinez’s expected departure, giving Green Bay another decent ticket in the lottery that is the NFL Draft next spring.

While a fourth-round pick is hardly a premier selection, it is notable that the Packers have found major contributors with their compensatory picks in that range in the past. Davon House, Mike Daniels, Richard Rodgers, Dean Lowry, and even Martinez himself were all comp picks in rounds three or four in the past decade. In a way, it would be fitting that Martinez’ departure would result in a comp pick for the team.

Of course, the benefit of extra picks in, say, the fourth and sixth rounds in 2021 may not be worth the addition of an unrestricted free agent signing. If the Packers can squeeze a Cory Littleton contract in under their budget and under the salary cap, losing out on a fourth-rounder a year later should not be enough to keep the team from making that investment. But if the team is deciding between options like Bradham and a comparable or only marginally better unrestricted free agent like Danny Trevathan, going with the street free agent is the wise option to give the team some additional draft capital next year.