Packers 'pretty much in every conversation' for top cornerbacks
ORLANDO, Fla. - As the Green Bay Packers approached free agency, general manager Brian Gutekunst and his personnel department put together a board with all the players they believed could help the team. Near the top was cornerback Kyle Fuller, scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
By now you probably know the Chicago Bears placed the transition tag on Fuller in early March. The uncommon provision guaranteed him $12.971 million in salary for 2018 and ensured the Bears had an option to match any contract offer Fuller received.
It forced the Packers to revise their plans.
“That particular player was rated very high for us,” Gutekunst said Tuesday at the annual league meeting. “They put the transition tag on him, so we went down some other avenues.”
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The initial wave of free agency saw large sums of cash hurled at every cornerback near the top of the market, and team president Mark Murphy said the madness unfolded faster than the Packers anticipated. Five years and $72.5 million for Trumaine Johnson. Five years and $61.25 million for Malcolm Butler. Three years and $27 million for Prince Amukamara. And on down the line.
Gutekunst, though, disputed Murphy’s statement. He thought the market played out more or less as the Packers forecasted.
“I was really proud of our guys,” Gutekunst said. “We were pretty much in every conversation. We were very much in the know of what was going on in the marketplace. Not only corners, but every kind of position that we were kind of looking at. We kind of knew where things were going. There were some things that got to a certain point and we backed off because that wasn’t going to be in our best interest. And there were some other things that we kind of pressed and got accomplished.
“I felt really good about our knowledge of where everything was happening with all the players that we were interested in, which was good. I think the message to the agent representatives to a lot of these players through the combine and stuff got out that we were somebody they should consider, and so we were very much a part of that conversation.”
After reaching contract agreements with tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, the Packers had enough cap space to make a run at Fuller as the cornerback market dwindled. They signed Fuller to an offer sheet worth $56 million over four years — including $18 million guaranteed — knowing a portion of that money would be tied up while the Bears mulled whether to match a deal negotiated by Russ Ball, the Packers' executive vice president/director of football operations.
“We got through a certain period of free agency and we didn’t feel there was a risk of tying those resources up for the time we’d have to tie them up, we thought it made sense to maybe go into that,” Gutekunst said. “I think Russ did a really good job of structuring it in a way that may make it difficult for them, with the understanding we knew it was a low-percentage chance. … We knew the whole time, especially being within the division, that there was probably a small chance that we’d actually acquire the player.”
The Bears made it known they would match the deal within two hours of the initial news, though Gutekunst said the paperwork wasn’t official until the last day of a five-day window. Already on the hook for nearly $13 million via the transition tag, it cost general manager Ryan Pace only $5 million in additional guaranteed money to secure Fuller on a long-term deal.
Chicago never blinked.
“I don’t know how friendly a four-year, $56 million contract is to anyone,” Gutekunst said. “I know from our aspect of it, it was something we had to think through thoroughly. You add a piece like that to your team, it has ramifications. I don’t really know how to answer that question as far as (being) friendly (to the Bears).”