The Green Bay Packers were very active as free agency opened this week, adding four potential starters Tuesday in Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos and Billy Turner. The Pack upgraded the talent level on their roster and filled some major holes. During this process, general manager Brian Gutekunst gave more of an indication of the kind of GM he will be in Titletown. Here are four key things we learned about Gutekunst and his leadership style in free agency this year:
1. Gutekunst Is Not Afraid to Use Free Agency
In his first year at the helm, Gutekunst said he would be more involved in free agency than Ted Thompson had been, and he backed that up by signing several players headlined by tight end Jimmy Graham.
This offseason, Gutekunst proved 2018 was no fluke. By signing four players on the second day of free agency, he showed that he will continue to utilize this method of roster building when and where appropriate.
Since the Packers missed the playoffs for the second straight season, Gutekunst had several positions that needed significant and immediate upgrades and he addressed them promptly.
Gutekunst knew ahead of time that the team would be active in free agency. That’s why he traded Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to Washington at the trade deadline. He knew the Packers wouldn’t be receiving compensatory draft picks because he intended to spend money in March to build the roster. By trading Dix, a player the team did not intend to keep, he freed up cap space and maximized cap space in advance of free agency.
2. Gutekunst Learned from Last Year’s Mistakes
Last season, the Packers made Graham the highest-paid tight end in the NFL despite the fact he was on the wrong side of 30. The signing made headlines, but it didn’t work out as planned. Graham was a major disappointment. The Packers made headlines, but they didn’t get an elite tight end, they got a workmanlike one.
This year, Gutekunst didn’t participate at all on the first day of the legal tampering period. Some of the biggest names available came off the board but all remained quiet on the Packers front.
By waiting till the second day, the Packers were able to fill their needs without breaking the bank. Landon Collins signed a six-year deal with Washington worth $84 million with $44.5 million guaranteed. One day later, the Pack signed Adrian Amos to a four-year deal worth $36 million with $12 million guaranteed. As a result, the Packers were able to sign additional players and fill more needs.
Gutekunst has adjusted and learned from last year’s errors. If he decides to sign another big-ticket free agent in the future, he will unquestionably be more calculating before taking such a big risk.
3. Gutekunst Aimed for Younger Players
This year, all four players the Packers signed were in or entering their primes. Amos will be 26 when the new season start. Preston Smith is also 26, Za’Darius Smith will be 27 in September and Turner will be 28 in October.
This means that if all these new players stay with the team for all four seasons of their contracts, they will be giving Green Bay the primes of their career. Barring injuries, this means that the best years of these players’ careers will be spent with the Packers.
Last year’s signing of Graham had the threat of diminishing returns as the player got deeper and deeper into his 30s. This crop of free agents doesn’t come with that risk.
4. All These Deals Give the Team Flexibility
While each of the new crop of free agents signed a four-year contract, the Packers gained flexibility by backloading these deals. That means that the players need to prove their value in order to remain with the club for the duration of the agreement. If the players fail to meet expectations, they can be let go after year two without too much dead money hurting the Packers future cap situations.
This sets the team up for less risk. If they players meet expectations, they will earn their money. If they don’t, they’ll be gone, and the team can move on without major difficulty.
Gutekunst has shown he’s smart and aware of the long-term implications of signing free agents. That can only be good news for the Packers and their fans.