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Is Gutekunst’s Free Agent Strategy to Find Value?

As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, I’m assuming the Packers will indeed officially sign up the four players discussed below.

Leading up to the free agent sweepstakes, USA Today’s “For the Win” feature ranked the NFL’s 2019 free agents according to who provides the best value to the club that gets him. Now, they did this based on projected salaries or worth, not the actual salaries set forth in the signed contracts. Even so, let’s assume that it’s a fairly accurate appraisal of players’ values.

Number 1 on the list is Earl Thomas the All Pro Seahawks safety.

Right behind him at number 2 is OLB Za’Darius Smith – the about-to-be property of the Packers. While allowing that he doesn’t have a long track record of success, writer Steven Ruiz says “Smith’s 2018 season was legit, and, at 26, he’s only going to get better.”

Coming in at number 13 is Preston Smith, the Packers’ pending acquisition who was with the Redskins for his first four years in the league. According to the writer, “Trey Flowers figures to be the edge rusher who gets the biggest contract in free agency but imagine if Smith had a chance to work with Bill Belichick over the last few years. (Smith) has more talent and will cost teams far less.”

Number 36 on the list is Adrian Amos, a safety for the Chicago Bears from 2015-18. Though Amos was only a fifth round pick in 2015, Pro Football Focus just rated him the eighth best safety in 2018. Of the three presumptive new Packers, he probably has the most potential.

Ian Rapoport, usually a reliable source, is saying Za’Darius Smith will make over $16 million annually for four years. The Preston Smith 4-year deal is supposedly for $12M per year on average. Amos is also said to be about to sign a 4-year deal, at slightly over $9M per year.


With two experienced and proven OLB’s coming on board, and with Kyler Fackrell coming off a breakout season, the Packers are set at edge rusher. This simplifies things – they can now use their four picks in the top 100 of the upcoming draft to fill other needs.

Adam Schefter of ESPN is also reporting the Packers are going to sign up Denver guard Billy Turner, to the tune of $28 million for four years. If so, I’d say that’s it, the money well has dried up, and free agent acquisitions are pretty much concluded for this season.

Not only does the money appear to be largely spent, I think these deals suggest that a whole bunch of the Packers’ highly-paid but aging guys who become free agents soon won’t be pursued. Not only that, I’d guess that the math also dictates that several highly-paid guys currently under contract will have to be released.

While the USA Today article talks of value, from what I’m reading these players have not come at all cheap. I don’t have confirmed contract details yet, but if we were to put annual salaries in four tiers, under $1 million, $1-4 million, $5-9 million, and $9 million and over, all three of them appear to be getting top-tier pay.

I’d say that all four of the players mentioned above are second-tier ability players. They are starter quality, and they are just coming into their prime. All four appear to still be getting better. I don’t see any future All Pros, though one or the other could get selected to a Pro Bowl or two.

I’m pleased with the acquisitions and their ability, which will help the team immensely. I’d take issue, though, with describing these three defenders as “value” additions.

It looks like the bulk of the free agent funds went to Mike Pettine and the defense. Therefore, I suspect that Nathaniel Hackett and the offense will get the bulk of the love on draft days.

Final thought. The timing of these announcements tells us that Gutey and his team had a plan, had decided some time ago who they wanted, and weren’t interested in playing games or finessing their way to a deal. They didn’t mess around or haggle over money. You saw Murphy, Gutekunst, and Ball were unleashed on Tuesday – hopefully they weren’t unhinged.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. WinterIsHere March 13, 2019

    Spotrac has 3 of the 4 cap hits for 2019 posted. Everyone but Ladarius smith has a combined cap hit of 16m for 2019. So should still have some wiggle room since they are deferring most of their hits to future years when mike Daniels and co contracts are off the books. Doesn’t mean people still won’t get cut, aka tramon, Bulaga, Daniels, but it leaves things open.

  2. Stiggy March 13, 2019

    My “hot take”

    The packers free agency strategy is to surround number 12 and his hefty contract with as serviceable of players as possibly at whatever it takes to field a competitive roster. The packers have routinely trotted out below average to atrocious players surrounded by marquee or ascending players but the true contenders live for this year…and typically worry about next year next year. Shelling out big bucks is a lot more manageable with front loaded contracts so free agency is not the risk it once was.

    The top teams are regularly rotating a new cast of characters around their marquee players.

    If shelling out this cash keeps opponents from scoring as many points… gives the packers the ability to hold leads/make 3rd down stops a bit more consistently then it is successful. If it leads to an overall better team I am happy regardless of how individual x performs vs their aav.

    Judging team performance is more Inportant. I would rather get a player being paid 16 million dollars playing at a 10 million dollar a year level vs… a Udfa playing at a 550k a year level with 27 million in cap room.

    Players contracts need to be weighed on opportunity cost.

    Ie.. if one of the new Smith’s slightly underperform… and we win who cares. What else were you going to get with that money you spent besides roll over cap space..that could really only be used to acquire an even more overpaid player next year.

    When you draft poorly (as the pack has recently) you dont have to worry about reserving cap space for all but 2 players (Bak and clark) in the next few years.

    1. PF4L March 13, 2019

      I’d be happy with a 10 million dollar player playing at a 10 million dollar level. The last time that happened was Jordy in 2016. Of course, he’s then shown the door.

      It’s a crazy ass world we live in.

      1. Stiggy March 13, 2019

        I would be happy with a 4.5 million player playing at a 32 million dollar level (aka a great QB on a rookie deal) but you dont always get what you want.

        Unless of course the stars perfectly allign… every draft pick performs above their rookie deal then takes a hometown discount in lieu of the market which will by mere concept over pay them

        Players who perform or show potential are over paid. That’s how it works… unless you take fliers on players with character issues… old players who are descending… or find a guy like a nick Perry with an injury history/low production.. who possess all the physical tools on prove it deals.

        And Jordy did not perform like a 10 million dollar player after Rodgers went down…funny though… devante still did.

        Arent you always saying the pack should get rid of underperforming oft injured players?

        1. PF4L March 13, 2019

          Here’s what else is funny….In the last 22 games that Nelson and Adams played with Rodgers….Nelson caught 21 TD passes, and Adams had 16.

          There are reasons that Adams had more success being thrown to by Hundley. I can easily think up 4 or 5 legit football reasons, not lack of skill. But if you don’t see those things, you probably never will.

          Your last question (out of the blue). WTF are you referring to? Please be more succinct in your writing.

          As far as wanting players to perform to their contracts….Maybe Stiggy…. i’m saying that the Packers overpaying in relation to production, is a pattern and a yearly problem.

          But then again Stiggy….thanks for teaching me “how it works” in the NFL. (smfh)

          I appreciate all the knowledge that you teach me in here. It’s how i learn.

          In the future Stiggy, when you want to respond to me, keep in mind that in my house…stupid doesn’t live here.

          Thank you for understanding.

          1. PF4L March 14, 2019

            Yea…i’ve seen that. That play was just a symptom of one of the reasons i was referring to. I could write a novel on why Adams had more success. I can’t be responsible if others don’t have a clue. But they should stop pretending they do.

            Random thought…..I’ve never seen more designed plays that calls for the QB throwing to a receiver behind the line of scrimmage in my life.

            I will say this….Brett Hundley should be on his knees thanking God each time he gets a check deposited into his account.

            I smile big when i remember Hundley saying he how plans on getting into the NFL HOF…..you got a ways to go brother!! lol

  3. Deepsky March 13, 2019

    Outside linebacker, safety and guard were giant holes on this team. The Packers needed starters.

    Using Thompson’s approach to fill need, he would have drafted an outside linebacker in the first round and it might have been a little bit of a reach at #12 because it was a need. Thompson would then use the usually stockpiled 4th round picks and beyond to draft 3 safeties and 3 guards, thinking that at least one of them would be able to start.

    What’s happened here is Gutekunst is filling holes in free agency with players who can play today. Not all of these guys will pan out, but it means that up and down the draft they can now draft best available and not need.

    The #12 pick is going to be more best available regardless of position and less of a need player and that’s how you get game changers. Thompson too often was drafting for need.

    1. PF4L March 13, 2019

      Lets not pretend Gute didn’t draft for need last year, those picks were all for need. what will he do this year? We don’t know, but we will soon.

      When we draft a game changer, someone needs to let me know, I forgot what it was like. Having the twelve pick doesn’t guarantee anyone anything in this league. In the history of NFL drafts, game changers can be had from anywhere. It’s not mandatory to have a top 15 pick to land one.

      fuck…..forget game changer, give me better than average and we’ll start from there and see how this thing sorts out.

      1. Stiggy March 13, 2019

        Alexander is exactly as you describe.

        1. PF4L March 13, 2019

          A game changer? Better than average?

          I described more than one thing junior. Please try to make yourself better understood.

          BTW…Alexander has yet to prove he’s either…..we’ll see.

  4. PF4L March 13, 2019

    When i see the word value brought up, i take that as ROI. That’s how i judge it. Suffice it to say the Packers grade out a F in that category. Without knowing more info, it looks like these boys are being paid a kings ransom. I will withhold judgement until i see the details, which i’m not in a hurry to look at because i probably won’t like what i see.

    One thing this team HAS to stop doing…is bleeding money on non producers. I’m not exactly sure where that message gets lost at 1265 Lombardi Ave.

    Speaking of…i wonder what the Packers are giving Jimmy for his B-Day this Friday.

    No…it’s not actually his B-Day. It will just feel like it, for him.

    Nice write up Rob.