Brian Gutekunst: Packers will be 'very aggressive' in free agent conversations

-- While the make-up of the Green Bay Packers' roster could look relatively different by training camp, there's one thing that has been made apparent.

Brian Gutekunst isn't scared to utilize free agency as an avenue of roster building.

The team's general manager tested the market in his first offseason at his post as Ted Thompson's successor, making three crucial pick-ups by inking defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, cornerback Tramon Williams and tight end Jimmy Graham to deals. Tight end Marcedes Lewis and offensive lineman Byron Bell -- an eventual starter at interior guard -- were also a pair of signings made.

Wilkerson suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the third regular-season game, Graham, despite accumulating 636 receiving yards, never truly found a bond with quarterback Aaron Rodgers on offense -- but he'll be back for a second season in Green Bay -- and Williams was a veteran fill-in at free safety after the Packers shopped Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at the trade deadline.

Each signing had its own impact to the Packers' 2018 campaign, even despite its 6-9-1 finish. 2019 could see drastic improvement if Gutekunst is able to hit on his free agency signings -- if any -- and take advantage of the 10 selections he sports in the upcoming draft.

"I think we can help our team in free agency this year, I really do," Gutekunst said at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, according to Packers.com. "We'll see how it goes. It's an unpredictable market, it's a small market, but I think we can help ourselves."

Among the lack of hesitance in testing the market, Gutekunst has also shown that the Packers are indeed going to be involved in any and all conversations regarding free agents or potential trade partners. They were semi-finalists in the Khalil Mack sweepstakes last summer before the Oakland Raiders opted to send Mack to the Packers' rival, the Chicago Bears, a team who was presumed to offer the Raiders higher draft compensation.

There's a belief that the Packers are also going to be involved in discussions revolving around Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, for which the Steelers are doing their own due diligence in locating a worthwhile suitor for a trade.

"We're going to be very aggressive in the conversations that we have," Gutekunst continued. The Packers are currently sitting with $36 million in cap space -- the most in the NFC North -- with even more set to roll in once they dump expired contracts or release any players.

With Rodgers entering his age 36 season, there's an urgency to remove the complacency that had settled in under the previous regime. The first step in doing so was hiring Matt LaFleur to succeed Mike McCarthy as the team's head coach.

The next step? Surrounding Rodgers with as much talent possible to get the Packers back into competing shape in a season following the second consecutive offseason filled with change.

"Free agency is a small market," Gutekunst said during the open media availability in Indianapolis. "There’s not a ton of players in that market, but it’s a tool that can help us with our roster. But you do have to be careful because of the amount of money these guys are making in free agency can hinder you down the way.

"It's a tool that I think we’ll try to be in every conversation, and when the right opportunities present themselves, we’ll be ready to go. The way we build our team, the foundation of our team, will always try to be through the draft."

__________________________

Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Comments (32)

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Lphill's picture

February 28, 2019 at 05:36 am

Justin Houston I bet is a target I think we have
One of his former coaches now. With him and a young edge rusher in the draft that’s a great improvement already for the D .

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stormin's picture

February 28, 2019 at 08:21 pm

Yes, put up or shut up. Trade for Houston !

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Lphill's picture

February 28, 2019 at 05:41 am

Although I know the chiefs are looking to trade him I don’t think the price would be terrible a later round pick maybe?

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Rak47's picture

February 28, 2019 at 06:08 am

If they're looking to trade him it's most likely because he's 30 and carries a 15.5 million cap hit this year. Also considering they're going to have to pony up big to keep Dee Ford, especially if they franchise him this year. With his [Houston's] age and cap hit, it stands to reason they will probably release him if they can't trade him. I personally can't see teams lining up to take on his contract at the age of 30 which also carries a 17.5 million cap hit next year when he'll be 31. Imho, the Packers should just wait on K.C. to release him then they can sign him for a much lower contract. They do have some ties to him with Mike Smith coaching OLB's in GB now. He's basically in the same boat as Nick Perry but his cap hit is a bit over a million more than Perry's 14.3 million cap hit, and his OLB teammate is due a huge payday.

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Rak47's picture

February 28, 2019 at 06:01 am

"The Packers are currently sitting with $36 million in cap space -- the most in the NFC North -- with even more set to roll in once they dump expired contracts or release any players."
At 36 million under the cap currently, the Packers will be 55 million under once Mathews and Cobb's contracts expire. I was thinking they'd have about 40 mil to spend on FA's not realizing it's gonna be closer to 60 million. Although they can't spend it all on FA as they need to sign their draft class and have some cushion for flexibility during the season.

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NickPerry's picture

February 28, 2019 at 06:03 am

Rak47... Cobb and Matthews aren't on the Packers books for 2019, those contracts are DONE so the Packers gain nothing with them playing elsewhere

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Rak47's picture

February 28, 2019 at 06:15 am

That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is as of right now their contracts are on the Books until they expire once FA period starts. If they are currently 36 million under as of today, once those contract officially come off the books in a little less than two weeks that should put them 55 million under. Theoretically anyways.

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Dzehren's picture

February 28, 2019 at 07:33 am

Estimate of 36M will Cobb and Matthews of the books.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 28, 2019 at 09:41 am

No, Rak, the $35M estimate by OTC is based on what GB will have March 13 at 4:00 p.m. (when the new league year begins) and it assumes that GB will have $7.8M to rollover from 2018 into 2019, and that the new cap limit will be $190M.

We should know the numbers in 10 days or so.

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Dzehren's picture

February 28, 2019 at 06:12 am

The Chiefs are transitioning from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 as Spagnoli is new D coordinator another reason Houston will be jettisoned.

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Guam's picture

February 28, 2019 at 08:34 am

Whatever the right number is, deduct $13 million from it. The Packers will need $5 million to sign their new draft class and they typically keep another $7-8 million in reserve for in-season signings to cover injury replacements.

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stockholder's picture

February 28, 2019 at 07:25 am

There's a belief that the Packers are also going to be involved in discussions revolving around Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, for which the Steelers are doing their own due diligence in locating a worthwhile suitor for a trade. Ok - Why keep bringing in players that eat your cap and make up for poor drafting? Protecting your QB should have been priority one last year. Instead we got a 5th round no show. Brown no longer is a difference maker. Keep him out of GB. Who's the talent scout for veterans. Seems were wasting money on scouting, if Free Agency and trading for retreads is the answer.

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porupack's picture

February 28, 2019 at 08:01 am

Agree w Stockholder. Big names often don't produce in other schemes and the price tag is big cost/risk with ABrown.

Put that money on the Oline Guard and Safety and GB can use a FA RB. Much better value for money, so that premium draft picks can go to positions with much higher price tags; OLB, DT, CB, OT and a premium grade TE.

These are the core and nucleus of the team and best building that cohesiveness via draft and develop.

I hope they bring in a vet OLB as well.

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RCPackerFan's picture

February 28, 2019 at 07:29 am

I really do expect them to be active in FA.

I think we will see them go after more mid tier FA's rather then the big name ones.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if they sign 4-5 FA's.

If they can come away with an Edge player, Safety, OL depth I'd be happy. Maybe then they could go after a TE or WR or RB. Maybe DL or CB depth.

For TE, I'd love to have Jared Cook back. Add him with Graham and it should be an upgrade.
RB I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to go after Tevin Coleman. LaFleur has worked with him in Atlanta. I wouldn't be surprised if they went after him.

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dobber's picture

February 28, 2019 at 07:54 am

They need to kick the tires all around. Even if they really aren't a suitor for a higher-end player, you never know when an opportunity will present itself.

I agree: they need to find those lunchpail guys who won't command the top salaries but that raise the overall talent floor on the team. I think 4-5 FAs who can compete for starting roles or meaningful situational snaps sounds about right. People talk about the Patriots and how they churn their roster every year through the draft and both high-profile and under-the-radar FA signings. If a player doesn't fit, they deal him or cut him. It takes a unique eye to see those players and how they fit, but roster churn seems to be what the Packers will need to upgrade quickly. When the coaching staff changes dramatically, there's usually player attrition.

Tevin Coleman is the kind of RB they would covet for the outside zone runs they're talking about, but I'm hesitant to invest too many $$ in a FA RB. Just not a fan of Jared Cook at this stage. He's at that tipping point age...I'd rather find the next Jared Cook (or better) in the draft than pay limited cap $$ to this one (especially if they're keeping Graham). There will be more bang for the FA buck at other positions where the upgrade will be significant.

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RCPackerFan's picture

February 28, 2019 at 08:31 am

Oh I agree. I think they will be in conversations for some of the bigger names. Lets not forget last year they were in talks with Allen Robinson, Kyle Fuller until they were signed by the Bears. They were in other talks too.

I just think in the end they will likely sign more of the 2nd level type of FA's.
I could see them making a run at Earl Thomas or Landon Collins. Also maybe make a run at one of the top pass rushers, Trey Flowers is a guy to watch here. So I guess I should change my statement. I can see them going after 1 upper level FA and then going after some more mid tier players.
A few of the next level pass rushers to keep an eye on IMO are Brandon Graham, Ziggy Ansah, Dante Fowler.

The key is to find players that can contribute and are an upgrade over what they have. Its what the Patriots do.

I doubt Coleman will command much for salary. I just can see him being a target because LaFleur worked at Atlanta. He is familiar with Coleman.
Honestly. I like Cook. I sign him. He can offer a lot to the team yet. But yeah I want the next one. Think about Finley though. It took him 3 years to develop really. I'd love to not have to rely on a rookie TE to be the guy. Now if they draft one in the first few rounds, they could allow him to develop at his own pace and can use him in certain packages.

Some interesting connections to keep any eye on.

CJ Mosley, Za'Darius Smith, John Brown, Terrell Suggs - Milt Hendrickson
Sheldon Richardson - Mike Pettine
Tevin Coleman - Matt LaFleur
Tj Yeldon - Nathaniel Hackett

I'm sure there are others, but these are some that stood out to me. The Milt Hendrickson addition is going to be really interesting to see how much influence he has in maybe going after some former Ravens players.

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Guam's picture

February 28, 2019 at 08:51 am

I am concerned about our expectations in FA. I believe the right number for available Packer FA dollars is about $23 million. That is $35 million less $5 million for the new draft class and less $7 million for in-season injury replacement signings. That leaves $23 million assuming we don't resign any of our own free agents (Breeland, Wilkerson, Allison, Matthews, Cobb, etc.)

As Bearmeat has often reminded us, every team has more FA money this year so the prices will likely go up from last year. That means 4-5 FA additions are likely a pipe dream unless they are bottom of market talent. $23 million probably means two of the better free agents who are not edge rushers (usually a very expensive category) and maybe resigning Allison or Wilkinson.

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fthisJack's picture

February 28, 2019 at 09:22 am

i also think Breeland needs to be kept. you never have too many good CB.

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dobber's picture

February 28, 2019 at 09:28 am

It's all about how you structure the deals.

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Guam's picture

February 28, 2019 at 10:34 am

Yes, but the players have a say in those deals too. It is a negotiation.

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dobber's picture

February 28, 2019 at 09:36 am

I don't know that Finley is a great counterexample. Finley came out as 20-year-old redshirt sophomore and he still caught 55 balls in his second season (Donald Lee also caught 33 passes) even though he missed 3 games. His best season was 61 catches. I think the issue with most pass-catching TEs is their blocking. Many are playing earlier and earlier and finding success.

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leaerin4's picture

February 28, 2019 at 07:35 am

LeVeon Bell would be an excellent addition to the Packers offense. I've heard the new HC wants his running backs to catch the ball out of the backfield. Sounds like Bell is the answer.

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Dzehren's picture

February 28, 2019 at 07:46 am

Josh Jacobs, not Le’Veon Bell, should be the target if the Packers upgrade at RB. Bell is 15M & Jacobs is 3M.we have to start hitting on draft picks to rebuild the roster.

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Handsback's picture

February 28, 2019 at 08:08 am

Two weeks ago I would have said your comment was crazy, now I'm finding myself agreeing with you. There is no question ML wants to run that outside read option, and he is expecting a run first offense. Bell would be the one FA that could make the biggest difference in Green Bay's offense. Now how much better is he than Yeldon, or Ingram from NO? I don't know. But if Bell wants to play again, it will be for fewer dollars to prove he can still be that competitive back. A one year prove it deal could be in the offering.

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fthisJack's picture

February 28, 2019 at 09:24 am

no to Bell or Brown........thats champaign taste on a beer salary.

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leaerin4's picture

February 28, 2019 at 08:33 am

Until we have all the pieces in place on the defensive side,I believe a running game is so important to our offense. Running the football has clock management on your teams side. Controlling the clock with a running game and Rodgers is an excellent Red Zone QB ,we'll be able to win more games and keep our defense fresh when they come on the field. It's no secret that this formula works . Just ask the Dolphins and the Redskins and the 49ers. All these Super Bowl Champions had excellent offensive lines and ran the football to set up the passing game. Bell would do this for the Packers!!!

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leaerin4's picture

February 28, 2019 at 08:34 am

Our first three picks should be EDGE,Offensive Line, and tight end or wide receiver.

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fthisJack's picture

February 28, 2019 at 09:26 am

our first 3 picks should be BPA.

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AgrippaLII's picture

February 28, 2019 at 01:23 pm

I don't look for Gutekunst to "aggressively" pursue Thomas, Bell, or Brown...he's surely not that stupid!

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Doug Niemczynski's picture

February 28, 2019 at 07:15 pm

That will be TJ Hockenson - TE IOWA

Don't pass him up Gute or you will forever regret it.

Hall of Famer. .Dude

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Donster's picture

March 01, 2019 at 07:05 am

Ten teams with over $50 million in cap space, with the Jets and Colts with over $100 million. Prices will be driven higher by the Jets and Colts. Pack is going to have trouble signing any big name free agents.

Please don't go after Bell or Brown. They are a cancer to a locker room. They will cost to much, so much that instead of signing 4-5 decent free agents, the Pack could only sign one, two if the second is cheap.

Signing a TE like Jesse James, a WR like Cole Beasley or Adam Humphries lets say. Do they sign Geronimo Allison to a new contract if he gets an offer from another team since he is a RFA?

I'd like to see the Pack sign a premier edge guy. But can they afford it, or will they just get out bid? If they can sign a top 5 edge guy, then they won't have the cash for much else. They will have to depend on the draft. You might get 3 starters out of the draft. So they could possibly only be able to plug four holes of need with one FA and three rookie starters.

We have to remember that rookies are a crap shoot. You never know, no matter how early in the draft you select them, that they work out. J'mon Moore comes to mind. Spriggs too. Mandarich. Harrell. Jamal Reynolds, etc.

I'd like to go with multiple FA signings that can bring in immediate help, and add depth, than just one high price guy. Get your edge rusher, TE and Safety in the first two rounds. A tackle and or Guard in the third and fourth round, add a RB too. A Cobb replacement has to fit in their if can't sign an FA.

Team has a lot of needs to fill. Can't do it all this year, but can make a significant impact with decent, multiple FA's that can replace under performing current players on the roster.

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Cartwright's picture

March 01, 2019 at 10:57 am

Been hearing rumors Odell Beckham may become available, if the Packers can land him that may be all we need.

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