Pete Dougherty and Olivia Reiner discuss the Packers' active day leading up to the start of free agency. Olivia Reiner, PackersNews
GREEN BAY - Brian Gutekunst has been forthright on his view of free agency: It’s a tool for roster construction, and the Green Bay Packers general manager is not afraid to use it. And at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Gutekunst said this free-agent class could help him build the 53-man roster for new head coach Matt LaFleur.
“I think we can help our team in free agency this year, I really do,” Gutekunst said back on Feb. 27. “We’ll see how it goes. It’s an unpredictable market, it’s a small market, but I think we can help ourselves.”
And, on paper, they did.
After reaching agreements in principle Tuesday with pass rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, safety Adrian Amos and offensive lineman Billy Turner, the Packers were expected to announce the signings sometime after the start of the new league year at 3 p.m. CST Wednesday.
Not only did the team add two new starting linebackers, a starting safety and potentially a starting right guard, PackersNews.com learned that the four players will carry a salary-cap number for 2019 of just $23.6 million (for comparison, Aaron Rodgers has a cap number of $26.5 million), giving Gutekunst flexibility to continue to bolster the roster as free agency continues.
Packers bringing back Lewis
Since taking the Packers job in January, LaFleur has talked openly about how important a blocking tight end is in his new offense – and the Packers made sure to keep one they had by re-signing Marcedes Lewis, per a league source.
Lewis, 34, played in all 16 games last year and was primarily a blocker. The former Pro Bowl pick saw just four targets and caught three balls for 39 yards. But he will likely be used in pass routes, and he is familiar with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. When Hackett called plays in Jacksonville for two seasons in 2016-17, Lewis caught 44 balls for 487 yards and six touchdowns.
Lewis rejoins Jimmy Graham and Robert Tonyan in the tight end room.
Allison retained, Brice freed
The Packers elected not to tender a contract offer to restricted free agent safety Kentrell Brice, PackersNews.com confirmed. The Packers would have likely offered the low tender of $2.025 million to Brice but elected to let him test the free-agent market.
Though Brice played through injury all season, he still struggled with ankle issues even after surgery.
PackersNews.com also confirmed that restricted free agent wide receiver Geronimo Allison will be back for 2019, and that the club did tender him the original-round offer of $2.025 million.
Other teams have about a month to tender an offer to Allison if they choose, but the Packers would have the right of first refusal to match it. If they chose not to, they would receive no compensation as he was an undrafted free agent. Allison is recovering from a torn adductor muscle that forced him to finish the season on injured reserve.
What’s next for Breeland?
Perhaps the most surprising Packers free agent to not receive a deal by the start of the new league year was cornerback Bashaud Breeland. Just a year ago he signed a $24 million contract with Carolina ($11 guaranteed), but a freak foot injury caused him to fail his physical and voided the deal.
He signed a one-year, minimum-salary contract with the Packers on Sept. 26. Breeland played seven games, starting five, and finished second on the team with two interceptions and scored a touchdown. He also stepped in to return kicks.
At 27 years old and with 67 career games and 10 interceptions, Breeland is one of the more accomplished younger corners left on the unrestricted market. Only Philadelphia free-agent corner Ronald Darby (25 years old, 67 games, 10 INT) is younger with a similar track record, and he is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Matthews, Cobb in limbo
Edge rusher Clay Matthews and wide receiver Randall Cobb have also yet to receive much public interest early in free agency. PackersNews.com reported that Matthews’ representatives and the Packers have discussed a potential reunion prior, and a league source indicated the team was ready to move on from Cobb at the outset of free agency. But as the league year turns over and both players remain on the market, Gutekunst could decide that either (or both) remain good fits for the club in 2019.
In his last meeting with the media at the combine, Gutekunst said he had yet to make any final decisions on the pair.
“It’s really just about information gathering,” he said then. “To kind of see where their markets are going to be at. Obviously they’re free agents coming up here, seeing where that’s going to be, and does that fit what we’re trying to do as a football team. As that information comes in, me and Matt will sit down and make decisions how we want to go forward. I’ve always felt that, it’s unfair to your football team to make those decisions before you have all the information, so that’s where we’re at.”