Packers in no hurry to make decision on tight end Jimmy Graham's future

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GREEN BAY - Brian Gutekunst knows a decision is coming this spring regarding Jimmy Graham’s future with the Green Bay Packers, whether he’ll return for the third and final season of his contract or be released, but said there’s still time to think it through.

“I’ve learned this through my first couple of years,” the Packers general manager said, “that after we get through free-agency meetings, after we get through draft meetings, and then we get back from the combine, the picture starts to get a little clearer.”

Gutekunst said he doesn’t expect a decision on Graham to come until after the combine. If the Packers released him this spring, he would only count $3.6 million in dead money against the salary cap. The Packers would clear $8 million off the cap.

Graham has been a disappointment since signing a three-year, $30 million contract. The deal was Gutekunst’s first major addition after becoming GM but has not yielded much production. After a disappointing first season with the Packers, Graham’s decline continued in 2019. He caught 38 passes for 447 yards, the fewest since his rookie season.

Packers tight end Jimmy Graham makes a reception against Seahawks strong safety Bradley McDougald during their NFC playoff game Jan. 12 at Lambeau Field.

The Packers are expected to overhaul the receiver and tight end position this spring, though Gutekunst believes he has some building blocks in place. In addition to Pro Bowler Davante Adams, Gutekunst said he was pleased with receiver Allen Lazard. Initially, Gutekunst said, he considered moving Lazard to tight end, but that’s no longer an option after Lazard’s successful 2019.

“When he came out of college and we scouted him,” Gutekunst said, “we certainly saw his frame and the ability to probably move up in weight if he wanted to do that, and when we first got him, same thing. I think what he’s proven over the past year is that he’s a pretty valuable receiver so I wouldn’t expect him to move.

“… Allen did the things you need to do at the right times, third downs, big games. Not everybody is built for that, and I thought he did a really good job at the end of the year.”

Gutekunst was similarly pleased with rookie tight end Jace Sternberger’s progression. After returning from injured reserve late in the season, Sternberger was a surprisingly effective blocker, able to line up in-line and as an H-back. He caught his first touchdown pass in the NFC championship game at San Francisco, a confidence builder entering his first full offseason.

Sternberger’s test numbers are “pretty close” to the top tight ends in the league, Gutekunst said. He believes the third-round pick will become a valuable asset to the Packers' pass game.

“I think Jace in time has a chance to be the kind of guy that can be a mismatch for us,” Gutekunst said. “He has some dynamic ability in the passing game. … We’re pretty excited about what he did as a blocker.”

CBA doesn’t muddy extension waters

As Gutekunst met with members of the media Friday, the NFL Players Association was considering a proposal from the owners for a new collective bargaining agreement. Gutekunst elected to avoid making any statements on potential schedule changes that could be a part of a new CBA, but he did allow that he and director of football operations Russ Ball are keeping an eye on what is happening regarding any potential effects on contract extensions.

As it stands, core players such as defensive tackle Kenny Clark and left tackle David Bakhtiari along with starters Aaron Jones and Corey Linsley are heading into the last year of their contracts.

“Obviously, Russ is pretty squared away with what it is now and if it stays this way what it will be and what it will be if it changes,” Gutekunst said. “I think the agents are pretty well aware of it, too. So there's just kind of dual conversations going on a little bit. I think we'll know pretty well ahead of time before these things have to be decided."

Crosby a tag candidate?

Gutekunst said he’s not opposed to using the franchise tag, nor is he opposed to using it at any position, which potentially opens the door for the Packers to hold on to veteran kicker Mason Crosby if the two sides cannot agree on a new contract by March 10.

"I think all options are on the table,” Gutekunst said. “But I'm not going to get into the individual discussions we've had with any of those players."

Under the CBA, a decision to tag any player must be made by 3 p.m. March 10. The first day clubs can use the tag is Tuesday.

"I think it's situational. It depends on the player,” Gutekunst said. “I think sometimes I guess you can look at it that way, but I think sometimes it may be what's best for your club at that time, what your salary-cap situation is, who that player is, what they're dealing with, whether it be injury-wise or whether it be where they are in their career. There's just a lot of variables to that. It's an option that's always on the table if you need to use it, but it just really depends on the player."

Crosby, 35, is coming off a career year after making 91.7% of his field goals and 97.6% of his extra points. He is due to become a free agent.

Crosby was the sixth-highest paid kicker in the league in 2019 with an average annual contract value of $4.166 million after his $16.1 million deal signed in March of 2016. Franchise and transition tag values are not set yet, but the franchise projection for 2020 is $5.151 million while the transition tag is projected to be $4.6 million.

Packers get a sixth-round pick for Gilbert

Gutekunst clarified how many draft picks the team has as the club received a sixth-round selection for sending outside linebacker Reggie Gilbert to Tennessee.

Heading into the draft, the Packers have 10 selections, which include three sixth-round picks and two seventh-round selections. They have one each in the first five rounds.

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