While the Packers don’t have a lot of recent signings of free agents from other teams to assess, they do have a fair number of free agent “re-signings” of players who contracts with the team are expiring.
For these purposes, I’m defining a mid-range player as being paid getting paid from $1 to $4 million per year.
Based on the team’s free agent signings going back around seven years, I’m sensing a bit of a pattern, which leads me to propound a theory of free agency strategy. Below, I’ve broken down a number of Green Bay’s recent free agent signings into three groupings, according to the average annual salaries of their contracts.
The list is far from complete, especially in the lowest-paid group, as the Packers make a dozen or more such signings every year. In a few cases, players were restricted or exclusive-rights free agents. In the case of Perry (and maybe some others), I believe he signed his big deal in 2017 just days prior to entering the free agent market.
Over $4 Million/year
OLB Nick Perry (2017) – $12M
TE Jimmy Graham (2018) – $10M
WR Randall Cobb (2015) – $10M
Julius Peppers (2014) – $10M
Sam Shields (2014) – $9.75M
TE Martellus Bennett (2017) – $7M
OT Bryan Bulaga (2015) – $6.75M
Lane Taylor (2017) – $5.5M
T.J. Lang (2012) – $5.2M (Extension)
CB Tramon Williams (2018) – $5M
OLB Nick Perry (2016) – $5M
DT Muhammad Wilkerson (2018) – $4.7M
K Mason Crosby (2016) – $4.025M
$1 Million – $4 Million/Year
DT Letroy Guion (2017) – $3.75M
OLB Ahmad Brooks (2017) – $3.5M
RB James Starks (2016) – $3M
CB Davon House (2017) – $2.85M
TE Jared Cook (2016) – $2.75M
G Jahri Evans (2017) – $2.25M
TE Lance Kendricks (2017) – $2M
DT Ricky Jean Francois (2017) – $2M
RT Byron Bell (2018) – $1.6M
OLB Jayrone Elliott (2017) – $1.6M
RB James Starks (2014) – $1.58M
G Don Barclay (2017) – $1.3M
CB Davon House (2018) – $1.005M
Up to $1 Million/Year
CB Bashaud Breeland (2018)
G Justin McCray (2018)
CB Tony Brown (2018)
NT Tyler Lancasster (2018)
TE Marcedes Lewis (2018)
WR Geronimo Allison (2018)
TE Robert Tonyan (2018)
S Ibraheim Campbell (2018)
TE Emanuel Byrd (2017)
OLB Joe Thomas (2017)
OLB Reggie Gilbert (2017)
DT Quinton Dial (2017)
S Kentrell Brice (2016)
RB Christine Michael (2016)
I was going to try to rank each player according to whether it was a good or bad deal, but I found that too difficult and subject to disagreement.
Some disasters are easy to spot (Perry, Cobb, Bennett), and a few bargains (Breeland, Cook, Allison), but after that things get murky.
By the way, the matter of Bashaud Breeland is a sticky one. He had a contract averaging $7.5 million negated when he failed a physical (with a non-football-related foot infection). The Packers swooped in and got him on September 25 for the veteran minimum price of just under $750,000. He played well, and showed no ill effects from his foot condition. It will probably cost the Packers around $8 million a year if the team is to retain his services in 2019.
If there’s a pattern here, I’m seeing a disproportionate number of high-dollar contracts that haven’t worked out – some due to poor performance and some due to injuries. In the “Up to $1 Million” group, I’m not seeing many players whose play well exceeded their pay. Nor have we had much luck in bargain-rack players sticking with the team for several productive years.
My tentative conclusion is that the Packers should focus on acquiring mid-range-pay free agents – who most often have mid-range ability. Injuries factor into this theory to a great extent. If you lose a Jimmy Graham, Sam Shields, or Nick Perry, you get no return from your $10 million or so investment.
On the other hand, say you sign up three players at around $3.3 million each, or four players at around $2.5 million. If one, or even two, are injured for a good portion of a season, you still aren’t out your entire investment. It’s like an investor diversifying his or her portfolio.
Huge contracts might even be an incentive to no longer put forth maximum effort, or to not want to play when slightly injured.
Of course every top-level team needs some highly talented players – game-changers – especially at the skills positions. If a team has failed to obtain such players via the draft, a GM has little choice but to go after them through either free agency or by way of trade. Perhaps this is the situation Brian Gutekunst believes himself to be in at the moment?
Packers’ Free Agency Windfalls
Green Bay has at least two monumentally successful free agency ventures, but you have to go back a ways.
In 2006, the Packers gave Charles Woodson a 7-year deal that averaged $7.52 million per season. He played at a pretty high level for all seven years, and only missed more than two games in the final year. Green Bay made the playoffs five out of those seven years, and won the Super Bowl following the 2010 season.
That signing was eclipsed by that of Reggie White, who the Packers brought on board in 1993 for four years at $4.25 million per year – at the time an astronomical payout. In that time, plus two additional years with the Packers, Reggie missed but one game. The Packers made the playoffs all six years, and that 1996 team won it all. Before White’s arrival, the Packers had gone twenty years, with but one trip to the playoffs.