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Brian Gutekunst’s normal approach to free agency should be clearer after year 3

While each year is different, year three of free agency should more clearly identify Gutekunst’s overall approach to the period.

NFL: FEB 25 Scouting Combine Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In just two years as General Manager of the Green Bay Packers, Brian Gutekunst has proven to be the opposite of Ted Thompson when it comes to free agency. Gutekunst followed up a first offseason of moderate activity with a high-volume spending spree in 2019. But with only two springs of oversight, it’s still too difficult to predict how quickly Gutekunst and the Packers will operate during this year’s free agency period.

Last offseason, Gutekunst made quick work by reportedly finalizing four different deals on March 12, the second day of the period. Gutekunst identified three areas in which the team could make significant talent upgrades and pounced, adding a starting right guard, safety, and pair of edge rushers to the roster. He made those moves after re-signing defensive lineman Fadol Brown the week before and re-inking Marcedes Lewis the day after on March 13. Finally, Gutekunst restructured a deal to keep Geronimo Allison in the fold on March 15, ending a busy first week for the Packers’ brass.

Even in year one, the Packers made moves on the second day of the legal tampering period. Green Bay was reported to have deals in place with defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson as well as tight end Jimmy Graham by the end of day two, with the duo representing two of the team’s most significant free agent signings in several seasons. But the deals temporarily ended there. Gutekunst and the Packers made a pair of additional noteworthy short-term signings, but they would not take place until March 22 and April 13 with Tramon Williams and Davon House, respectively. Though these were smaller deals than those signed by Graham, each came well after the busy first-week signing period.

While Gutekunst’s first free agency moves were more spread out in 2018, his spending was much more of a well-planned flurry in 2019. This difference could have been a product of experience, with more time to prepare in year two than he did in year one when taking over the reigns on January 8. However, it could also be a signal of a desire from the Gutekunst regime to swiftly identify main targets and lure them in. At times last free agency, it appeared that Green Bay was willing to set the market on key individuals, such as Za’Darius Smith, rather than risk losing them and waiting-and-seeing on veteran leftovers. Unfortunately, two offseasons is far too small of a sample size to realize a trend, but year three should signal this general manager’s free agent philosophy.

As the contact-and-negotiate period kicks off today, it will be interesting to see if the bulk of the Packers’ activity once again takes place on day two, though they already inked a linebacker, Christian Kirksey, to a new deal — which they could do since he was released by his former team last week. New to the storyline this year is a pair of higher-profile internal free agents in Blake Martinez and Bryan Bulaga. Not only will it be intriguing to find out if the Packers retain either player, but how long it takes the team to lock either in before another team can negotiate. It is hard to predict a timeline even for lower-priority players such as Jared Veldheer, who have been signed at varying times of the spring.

Perhaps the Packers will surprise and make waves on day one of the free agent period for the first time under Gutekunst. Or maybe they will continue to make all of their biggest moves before the end of week one. Either way, the 2020 offseason should signal a bit more clearly how Gutekunst and the Packers will operate during free agency for years to come.