Free agency always starts with fans excited and hopeful that the Packers are going to make a big splash and sign huge names that will guarantee another Super Bowl. After last year, Packers fans are more excited than ever, some believing that last year’s big spending binge would be an annual event now that crusty old Ted Thompson was off the high seat.
Last year was a necessary reset. The Packers signed guys because they were lacking talent at key positions and went big to shore things up in a hurry, not because Brian Gutekunst is a crazy spendthrift.
But the Packers seemed to have a Midas touch last year.
This year, they didn’t push their luck.
They don’t need to and they really can’t.
They don’t need to because they proved they have the talent and coaching to run with the best teams in the league. They can’t because their cap is pretty maxed out, given the players they need to extend or replace in the near future.
But they did sign a couple guys.
WHO THEY SIGNED
They Packers signed a couple guys they hope will start, but neither of them had the flash or sizzle some fans were hoping for.
Christian Kirksey comes in to a position of need at inside linebacker. He has a lot of talent, but has had a couple years of bad injury luck. He’s better in pass coverage than Martinez and quicker and more instinctive in the run game.
His only knock is injuries. If he can stay healthy, he should be a noticeable upgrade. He shoots run gaps with the kind of quick reactions we never saw out of Martinez.
The Packers gave him a very flexible contract, too. If he plays, he should be a great value. If he’s hurt, he won’t wreck the cap.
Given the Packers cap position and team needs, it’s about as good as it gets without mortgaging the future.
Offensive Tackle Rick Wagner, signed from the Lions, is a name familiar to a lot of Packers fans. He played his college ball in Wisconsin and was one of the top college lineman in the nation for the Badgers.
As a pro, he’s been solid, but unspectacular.
Solid and unspectacular doesn’t break the bank.
Solid and unspectacular can win a lot of football games.
He’s missed 10 games in 7 years and has started pretty much every game he’s played in since his rookie year.
He won’t play as good as Bulaga played last year, but he provides a huge cost savings and should be more than serviceable as a starter.
WHAT THEY ACCOMPLISHED
The Packers biggest needs heading into this offseason were wide receiver, inside linebacker, and offensive tackle. They have a lot of young wide receivers who could make a jump, they’re entering a draft chock full of receiving talent, and there are still a lot of wide receiver options remaining in free agency.
The Packers have now patched their other two holes. This allows them to go into the draft without being forced into reaching for a player because they have a glaring position of need.
That’s the best spot a team can hope to be in for April.
They also improved the health of their cap and picked up some compensatory picks by letting Martinez and Bulaga walk (and, ahem, we called that).
One of the biggest risks of free agency is not knowing how a new player will fit into your locker room.
Last year, Milt Hendrickson had some input into the Packers star pickup, Za’Darius Smith. Milt was with the Ravens when Smith was there and gave some good input. Milt was also with the Ravens when they drafted Wagner, giving them insight into how he would fit on the team.
Likewise, Mike Pettine was with the Browns when Kirksey was there, so his input was likely used. I expect both of these guys to fit in well with what the team wants to do.
There’s always a risk bringing new players in, but having someone who knew them can lessen that risk.
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