Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst indicated that the team is looking to add veteran help at positions like safety, wide receiver and tight end but he also admitted the team does not have a lot of cap space to work with this offseason especially with the dead cap hit they will take when Aaron Rodgers is ultimately traded.
Team President Mark Murphy reiterated this on the team’s official Web site, saying this week in his monthly column, “Unfortunately…given our salary cap situation, we are not in a position to sign any big-name free agents. That doesn’t mean that we will not sign some very good players, though.”
In recent years, Gutekunst and the Packers have a mixed record when signing bargain free agents. At times, these players have far exceeded expectations while at other times, they’ve been a big disappointment.
The most glaring success story has been inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. Before signing with the Packers on a one-year, prove-it deal before the 2021 season, the former University of Minnesota star had spent five seasons in the NFL as a starter but had never approached a Pro Bowl level campaign.
Campbell had been a good tackler and a steady player but he was hardly considered elite. After four years with the Falcons and one with the Cardinals, his career was at a crossroads.
When he joined the Packers, however, he had a breakout season as he found himself in a defensive system that allowed him to maximize his ability to run sideline to sideline and make plays. He finished his first season in Green Bay with a team high 146 total tackles which was also his career high. He added two sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and six tackles for loss while being named All Pro for the first time in his career.
The Packers re-signed Campbell last offseason and he started 13 games for the team in 2022. After a slow start, he finished strong after recovering from a mid-season injury. In addition to what he does on the field, Campbell has provided the Packers with leadership in the locker room and he has also called the signals on defense during his tenure with the team.
Other recent bargain free agents that have worked for the Packers include Keisean Nixon and Rudy Ford. In-season bargain free agents that exceeded expectations for the Packers include Rasul Douglas and Jared Veldheer.
Meanwhile, there have been other bargain free agents that failed to pan out. The Packers brought in Sammy Watkins as a veteran wide receiver to make up for the loss of Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Davante Adams. The logic behind signing Watkins was he was familiar with Matt LaFleur’s system and could provide the team with a spark if he could stay healthy and return to the form he showed earlier in his career.
Unfortunately, that didn’t pan out. After playing well in Week 2 against the Bears, Watkins got hurt and missed the next four games due to injury. He never really had much of an impact after his return to the lineup and finished his brief Packers career with 13 catches for 206 yards in nine games played. He did not score a touchdown with Green Bay and was released by the Pack later in the season. He finished the year with the Baltimore Ravens and is currently a free agent.
Other low-cost free agents who didn’t really pan out for the Packers in recent years include inside linebacker Christian Kirksey and B.J. Goodson.
Because the Packers don’t have a lot of money to spend this offseason, hitting on some lower-priced free agents will be even more important as they transition from Rodgers to Jordan Love. The team has indicated they are interested in getting veteran help at wide receiver and tight end which will help the inexperienced quarterback during his first year as a starter. If low-priced free agents aren’t available, the trade route is another possibility with rumors abounding that the Packers could add a veteran receiver as part of a potential Rodgers trade with the Jets.
Either way, because of the Packers cap restrictions this offseason, it will be more important than ever that Gutekunst hits on those bargain-priced free agents this year.
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