“It is time!”
Packer fans have heard that before. Kevin Greene pleading with Clay Matthews in Super Bowl 45 for him to step up and be leader when Charles Woodson went down with a shoulder injury.
“It is time!”
Perhaps Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst is hearing those immortal words as well. If he’s not, he should, because it is time for the Packers to knock it out of the park in free agency.
Gutekunst told NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport on his podcast that: “I think we’ll be really active, I’d like to be really active. The draft is how we build our team, but our team is ready to move in free agent areas more than we have.”
Gutekunst said similar things last year and the Packers, compared to other years, they were pretty active last year. Not just in signings, but Gutekunst was true to his word about being a part of every conversation. They were close to getting Khalil Mack that some Packers players went to bed thinking he was going to be on the team, only to wake up and see that the Bears swooped in. The Packers tried to get Kyle Fuller from those same Bears by signing him to an offer sheet. It was pretty evident the Bears would keep Fuller, but the Packers actually tried to do something in free agency.
But Gutekunst seems to be saying he wants, or they need, to do more this offseason. He’s putting the pressure squarely on himself by putting it out there in the media that the Packers will be active. You said it, now let’s see it.
It’s entirely possible that Gutekunst is constantly saying this in public as a PR move too. Since 2005 when Ted Thompson came aboard, the Packers were not big players in free agency. Agents knew it. Rival teams knew it. Players knew it. It’s a changing of the guard in Green Bay and Gutekunst is letting everyone know.
So what should his plan be? It’s anyone’s guess. But if I were the general manager of the Packers, this would be my game plan heading into free agency.
Get an Edge Rusher
Reports out of the NFL Combine said agents believed the Packers would invest heavily in a pass rusher and see what else was left in the budget. Good. It’s about time. Mike Pettine priorities pass defense and likes to put his corners in one-on-one situations. Help them out by getting a consistent rush.
The Packers should look to Za’Darius Smith from Baltimore. It sounds like he could get anywhere between $10-12 million a year. He’s coming off of a season where he had 45 tackles, 35 pressures, and 8.5 sacks. The Packers should have some good intel on him, as new Director of Football Operations Milt Hendrickson came over from Baltimore, where he was a longtime and highly respected national scout.
A nice bargain signing might be Shaquil Barrett from Denver. He kind of got lost in the shuffle after the Broncos drafted Bradley Chubb last year to pair with Von Miller. Barrett would be a nice depth addition.
Clay Matthews is a wild card. He’s not an every down pass rusher anymore, but he can still provide something for this defense either has a situational rusher or getting sometime as an inside linebacker. The Packers apparently met with his agent at the combine and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Packers asked Matthews to go see what the market value is for him and to come back to the Packers with those offers. I wouldn’t mind seeing him back on a good deal that won’t hamstring the Packers. No pun intended.
Get Secondary Help
Priority one for me in free agency for the Packers is safety. I believe the number position they need to upgrade is pass rush, but the fact that this free agency class is loaded with safeties, there is absolutely no reason the Packers shouldn’t be able to come out of free agency without a starting safety. Listening to Pettine last year talk about how vital the safety position is in his defense, it puts even more emphasis on grabbing one of these guys.
Landon Collins might get the biggest deal and he would be a nice fit. But he plays better towards the line of scrimmage and within the box. The Packers would need to pair him with a safety that excels in coverage. Maybe a low value signing like Jimmie Ward that has experience playing both safety and corner, the versatility Pettine loves.
Speaking of safety versatility, I would be very intrigued to see Tyrann Mathieu in this defense. He can play on the back end, blitz off the edge, and play the nickel. He’s a swiss army knife for a defense.
Earl Thomas could also be in play as Pettine was with the Seahawks for a year before he came to the Packers.
Speaking of the secondary, I would love to see the Packers bring back Bashaud Breeland. Having the corner depth chart be Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Josh Jackson, and Breeland would give the Packers a dynamic, playmaking group. But also, give them much needed depth as there is injury questions surrounding King.
Offensive Line Depth
The Packers could look to free agency to improve their depth along the line. Byron Bell might be an option to bring back, but they may also take a look at Quinton Spain, who was with Matt LaFleur last year with the Titans. The Packers could also look to Jamon Brown as they put in a waiver claim on him last November and was with LaFleur when they were with the Rams in 2017.
I think the Packers should stick with Bulaga this year, but also draft his replacement this year. The same strategy they had in place when they drafted Bulaga and he was the primary backup to Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher. Bulaga ended up in the starting lineup and winning a Super Bowl after Tauscher went down with a knee injury.
That’s it. That’s my plan. We’ll see what the Packers decide to do, but I think Gutekunst has the same feeling as many Packers fans feel with this team and free agency.
It. Is. Time.