The Ted Thompson Era is gone. The former general manager rarely dipped into the free agent pool during his 13-year tenure with the Green Bay Packers. Brian Gutenkust, who took over as general Manager in 2018 has already signed multiple play-makers that the Packers can rely on for years. There are several free agents this off season that could immediately improve the rest of the team and perhaps put them back over the edge.
Last offseason, Gutenkust brought in the likes of safety, Adrian Amos, offensive lineman, Billy Turner and the prized possessions of pass rushers Preston and Za’Darius Smith.
The “Smith Brothers” (not related) ended up making the biggest impact of the four with the highest sack total among any two combined pass rushers on a team with 25.5. Zadarius also finished the season 6th in the league in sacks (13) finishing with the 4th highest grade among pass rushers according to Pro Football Focus.
While Gutenkust focused last offseason on defense, that left Rodgers and the rest of the offense with little to work with, other than proven stars of Davante Adams, Jimmy Graham, and breakout candidate Aaron Jones.
Jones and Adams delivered for the offense, while Graham, aged 31, did little to live up to his 3-year $30 million dollar contract he signed in 2018. Rodgers, with little to work with, was not able to put “Rodgers esque numbers,” though still had a strong season by any standard.
That leaves the question for Gutenkust and the rest of the front office: what will they do this offseason?
Hooper, entering his fourth year, has been linked to the Packers by multiple reports. Graham has largely failed to live up to the steep contract he signed and has left a large hole at tight end. His lack of production led to his release earlier this week, which will save the team a little over $8 million dollars. Hooper, entering his prime would be an instant difference maker alongside Adams that the team so sorely needs.
Kiawostki, the formers Chicago Bears linebacker, is relatively unknown to most of the football world, but was a key figure in a strong Bears defense. Kiawostki finished with a career high 76 tackles, three sack, four pass breakups and a forced fumble. While those numbers don’t jump off the charts and compare to the likes of Corey Littleton and Joe Schobert, he didn’t play consistently until the second half of the year. He will also come at a fraction of the price of Littleton and Schobert, and in an offseason where the Packers only have about $20 million in cap space according to over the cap, yearly salary is important.
Last, but not least, and the possibly most important free agent for the Packers, is their own. Bulaga has been anchoring the right side of the line for the last decade and is up for free agency this offseason. While Bulaga has had a fair share of injuries over his career, he no doubt is one of the top right tackles in the league when healthy. This showed last year when he was able to play all 16 games for the third time in his career, and only gave up four sacks. Not too bad against the likes of Khalil Mack, Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffin twice a year. Bulaga is on the wrong side of 30 and may cost the Packers a little more than they probably want to give him, but he is still their best option, internally and the rest of the market.
Gutenkust no doubt hit the jackpot in his first off season, can he do it again?
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