Packers playing the long game in free agency
ORLANDO, Fla. - Free agency has many waves, from the initial scrum of the legal tampering period to signing aged veterans right before training camp, plus several months of scrounging in between.
Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst is aware of his fan base’s public outcries after the top cornerbacks flew off the market without a tour of Lambeau Field earlier this month. It was a major position of need for the Packers, and the only move thus far was to reunite with 35-year-old Tramon Williams.
What happened to the aggression Gutekunst spoke of during his introductory news conference? That's the question fans posted on Twitter more than any other.
Gutekunst has a response: patience. Free agency is more than just the opening fracas, and the Packers are playing the long game instead.
“There’s not a lot of panic,” Gutekunst said of his personnel department. “A lot of times with the free agents that are out there, there’s more conversations about fit. Because the big money is gone, so now it’s about what is the right fit for that player, for the club. There’s also going to be significant guys that are going to be traded or released over the next few months. That always happens.”
Just like Gutekunst made the decision to release veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson to clear salary-cap space, other general managers around the league will make similar decisions after the draft and into organized team activities. This secondary market, if you will, is one the Packers monitor closely and one where players can be had for far less than March’s top dollars.
Consider this sample of prominent players who were cut or traded between March and August of last year:
Nick Foles, QB, Chiefs declined option.
» Won Super Bowl for the Eagles.
Brandin Cooks, WR, traded by Saints.
» 65 catches for 1,082 yards and 7 TDs for the Patriots.
Ricky Jean Francois, DT, cut by Washington.
» Played in the Super Bowl for the Patriots after a brief stay in Green Bay.
Timmy Jernigan, DT, traded by Ravens.
» Started 15 games for the Eagles and received four-year, $48 million extension.
Jason McCourty, CB, cut by Titans.
» Started 14 games for the Browns.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, traded by Seahawks.
» Carried 207 times for 891 yards and 7 TDs for the Raiders.
Demario Davis, LB, traded by Browns.
» Started 16 games for the Jets with 135 tackles and 5 sacks.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, cut by Chiefs.
» Caught 40 passes for 440 yards and 3 TDs for the Ravens.
Eric Decker, WR, cut by Jets.
» Caught 54 passes for 563 yards and 1 TD for the Titans.
Sammy Watkins, WR, traded by Bills.
» Caught 39 passes for 593 yards and 8 TDs for the Rams.
Jordan Matthews, WR, traded by Eagles.
» Caught 25 passes for 282 yards and 1 TD for the Bills.
Ronald Darby, CB, traded by Bills.
» Started in the Super Bowl for the Eagles.
Laken Tomlinson, G, traded by Lions.
» Started 15 games for the 49ers.
“We’re constantly kind of aware of those things,” Gutekunst said. “You can’t count on them and there’s always surprises. There’s always phone calls of whether it’s trades or guys getting released that you didn’t expect. Our thing has been (to) do our due diligence and always be prepared for the opportunity. We certainly have in our draft room our list of guys that we think might have an opportunity go get released or traded, and we’re making phone calls about those things. You can’t count on it, but we’re always aware it might happen.”
In other words, don’t judge Gutekunst on his free-agency efforts just yet. There is a long way to go before the season opener in September.