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WWJD #33: Packers Have Gone All In



There is common theme for the Green Bay Packers at the start of every free agency peroid, or the NFL new year. That thought from fans and NFL pundents alike is that the Packers don’t spend on free agency and won’t spend for players, or “go all in” to win a Super Bowl.


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Former Packers general manager Ron Wolf went out and got/spent on players like Santana Dotson, Andre Rison, Eugene Robinson, Sean Jones, and of course Reggie White. Ted Thompson spent early in his tenure as GM adding Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett, but after there were a few misses, namely Martellus Bennett, with players like Jared Cook sprinkled in-between. Now under Brian Gutekunst, the Packers seem to be “in on everyone,” as he stated during his opening press conference three years ago. In 2019 he signed Billy Turner, Adrian Amos, Preston Smith, and Z’Darius Smith. Last season he signed Christian Kirksey and Rick Wagner.

Packers fans were not happy, though, just like they weren’t happy when Thompson was running the show. They want to have the Packers be in on every big-name player at a position of need for Green Bay. Gutekunst didn’t go get a receiver in free agency (or the draft), so “he sucks!” Ted Thompson was labeled as “Tightwad Ted” because he wouldn’t or didn’t get trades done for Randy Moss or sign free agents fans and pundits deemed a “need” for the Packers. He stuck to a “build through the draft” approach and punted in free agency.

But I want to let you in on a dirty little secret that is known in league circles: The Packers are always one of the NFL’s highest-spending teams; they just spend it on their own players!


But this offseason the Packers signed the three of the top players at their positions to huge deals. Those three players were also scheduled to be free agents this year.


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Before the start of the season, the Packers locked in defensive tackle Kenny Clark to a 4-year, $70 million in new money with cap hits will be $6.69 million in 2020 and $7.1 million in 2021 before increasing to over $20 million during each of the final three years of the deal. If you include the final year of Clark’s rookie deal, it is a 5-year, $77.69 million deal.

During the season, the NFL’s best left tackle, who also happens to be the BFF to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, was also scheduled to hit the market. David Bakhtiari and the Packers agreed to an NFL record 4-year, $92 million contract extension with a $30 million signing bonus, $61.5 million guaranteed with an average annual salary of $23 million.

Last but not least, the Packers and one of the most explosive and productive running backs in the NFL, Aaron Jones, who agreed to a 4-year, $48 million deal, including a $13 million signing bonus on the eve of free agency Sunday. Jones was the best running back in the free-agent class and had interest from the Jets, 49ers, and Dolphins reportedly.

So the Packers did spend big money on three 2021 free agents. These players just happened to be their own guys. There is nothing wrong with the way they do business; in fact, it has kept them out of salary cap hell since the inception of the cap. Credit Russ Ball, the Packers salary cap czar, for the way he structures the contracts and maneuvers the Packers through the salary cap waters.


So why do fans continue to think that the Packers don’t pay players or spend money in free agency?


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Is it because they aren’t spending huge money on other teams, free agents? Is it because they aren’t “winning the offseason” after day 1, 2, or 3 of free agency? That is about as smart as analysts proclaiming, “______ won the draft for drafting players X, Y, and Z” as soon as the draft is over. You never know how things will play out until they actually play out, and that takes time.

There is a reason why teams let players test free agency, and there is a reason why teams lock their guys up before they can hit the market. There are very few Reggie White’s that hit the market. Hell, go back to Charles Woodson when he became available. The Oakland Raiders let him hit the market because he had a history of injuries and didn’t act like a professional. He had two teams that were interested in him, Tampa Bay, as a free safety, and the Packers. Things changed after Woodson came to Green Bay. After a spirited meeting with then-head coach Mike McCarthy, Woodson became a pro’s pro, defensive player of the year, a leader, an icon, and a champion.

In 2019, Gutekunst went all-in on a group of guys that are making an impact on the field, off the field, and even with this year’s salary cap. The Packers were in need of a safety and an outside linebacker who could get to the quarterback. They also could have used some help on the offensive line, but fans and experts deemed it highly unlikely the team would spend on any of the free agents that were available. But shortly after day 1, the Packers signed Preston Smith and Billy Turner. Then the team entered day 3 with Z’Darius Smith and Adrian Amos locked up, surprising not just Packers fans but the experts.

In 2020, the Packers locked in Kirksey and Wagner just before the start of the new league year and had a relatively quiet free agency, signing Devin Funchess, who ended up opting out of the season. During the season, they added Snacks Harrison, but Gutekunst was hell-bent on locking up his own guys to deals that kept them in Green Bay.


With the 2021 free agency class, the Packers will be prudent and deligent with who they will add to the team. They will also be an attractive destination since 10 of the 11 starters on offense will be returning and the core of the team is locked in beyond one year, oh, and they have a guy named Aaron Rodgers, the NFL MVP at quarterback.


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The Packers do have needs. A starting cornerback opposite of Jaire Alexander is a huge need, as is some defensive line help. The Packers need more depth on the offensive line, a slot corner, and yes, they could use another playmaker at receiver. But to for them to keep Clark, Bakhtiari, and Jones is a huge win for Gutekunst, Ball, head coach Matt LaFleur, and the Packers fan base.

This year’s free-agent class will also be different since they will be forced to take shorter deals due to the salary cap being down 8% from last year. While this could have hurt the Packers, the way they maneuvered the cap, they could come out BETTER than last year.

The team could add players like Marvin Jones II, Will Fuller, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Curtis Samuel, T.Y. Hilton, or Corey Davis to bolster the receiving group. Brent Jones could be the replacement for Corey Linsley at center, and the Packers could add a cornerback like Mike Hilton, Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, or Justin Coleman to the mix.


In the end, the Packers do go “all-in” and not spending is a misnomer. In fact, they do spend and most of the time they use it to keep their own players in Green Bay. So, I ask that Packers fans spare me the “we dont’ do anything in free agency” when they do, but it is just before their guys hit the market.




-Joe Arrigo – Franchise Sports Media

Follow Joe on Twitter @JoeArrigo

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