Packers pleased with free-agency efforts despite inability to add outside talent
GREEN BAY - Two years ago, general manager Brian Gutekunst seemed to pull the Green Bay Packers out of their traditional free-agent rut, making a splash with a spending spree consisting of Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos and Billy Turner.
It might seem longer ago for fans who experienced a very different spring in 2020. With their backs against the NFL’s pandemic-deflated salary cap, the Packers showed a familiar reluctance to sign outside free agents.
Gutekunst said the Packers’ inability to add outside talent doesn’t mean it was a quiet offseason. Not after signing running back Aaron Jones, left tackle David Bakhtiari and defensive tackle Kenny Clark to new contracts since training camp opened last August.
“The way I look at it,” he said Monday, “is we were able to kind of sign the No. 1 running back on the market, the No. 1 left tackle on the market and the No. 1 defensive tackle on the market. They just all happened to play for us, which is great. Kudos to Ted Thompson there. But I thought we were very active.”
Retention is one thing. For a team coming off consecutive 13-3 seasons that ended with losses in the NFC championship game, improvement is still necessary. From both lines to linebacker to cornerback to, yes, receiver, the Packers have plenty of needs to address.
Gutekunst acknowledged the lack of free-agent additions could affect this week’s draft, starting with the Packers' first selection with the 29th overall pick in the opening round. Teams traditionally target the best player on their board in the draft. This year, Gutekunst said, he might be more willing to target a specific need.
“I think it maybe slightly alters it,” Gutekunst said. “I think we kinda did add a lot to our football team in free agency with the guys we re-signed. But I do think it probably alters it slightly, and maybe gives a little bit more weight to the guys that could help us in the right now.
“But that's a little bit of a risky game because you really don't know until you get them here, until you get them in your system and you see how they adapt to what Matt (LaFleur) and the coaches are trying to do with them. You really don't know. So again, it has an impact, but I think it's pretty slight.”
Bakhtiari recovery promising
The Packers are encouraged enough with Bakhtiari’s recovery from a torn ACL in December that Gutekunst said he doesn’t expect the injury to affect his draft decisions.
“I haven’t seen Dave in three weeks to a month,” Gutekunst said, “but all the reports are fantastic, and when he left here he was way ahead of schedule. We have a lot of confidence in David and the way he takes care of his body, the way he works, how important it is to him, what a professional he is, that he’s going to be on target with all that stuff.”
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Bakhtiari tore his ACL in late December, three days before the Packers traveled to Chicago for their Week 17 finale against the Bears. The standard nine- to 12-month recovery from a torn ACL would put Bakhtiari’s chances to open this season on the field in question.
Gutekunst left open the possibility the Packers could have their franchise left tackle Week 1.
“Nothing would shock me with him,” Gutekunst said. “He’s a unique individual. He’s different than most with how he attacks things, his mentality. Nothing would shock me.”
King a surprise re-signing
There was a time Gutekunst said he doubted whether the Packers would be able to re-sign starting cornerback Kevin King this spring.
“I think certainly as we finished the 2020 season heading into this offseason, it wasn’t something I thought was going to be a great possibility to bring Kevin back,” Gutekunst said. “But as the pandemic affected the market a little bit, I think we were able to get him back, and I was super pleased about it.”
The Packers signed King to a one-year, $5 million deal in March. Gutekunst described it as an easy decision, even with King’s inability to consistently stay healthy and his struggles in last season’s NFC championship game loss.
“Kevin has had his ups and downs and his injury history here,” Gutekunst said, “but he’s played a lot of good ball for us, and we’re better with him on the field than we would be without him.”
Picking up Alexander option
King won’t be the only cornerback who will entice the Packers to make a transactional move this offseason. Though the Packers haven’t yet, Gutekunst said the team will pick up cornerback Jaire Alexander’s fifth-year option by the May 3 deadline. The Packers have that option because they drafted Alexander in the 2018 first round. Alexander was a second-team All-Pro last season.