For years, fans have been crying for the Packers to sign more free agents. They usually bring up guys like Reggie White, Charles Woodson, and Julius Peppers, to show that stud signings have had huge impacts.
This year, the Packers made waves by signing Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Adrian Amos, and Billy Turner, seemingly in a matter of minutes.
But this is unlike the type of free agency forays we’ve seen in the past.
Let’s look at the historic signings as well as the most recent signings to see how this year signals a change in approach to free agencies in more ways than we realize at first glance.
Reggie White, Charles Woodson, and Julius Peppers were all big-time signings. Every one of them said they came to Green Bay to win a Super Bowl, and every one of them did (except for Peppers, who had his ticket revoked when he told Morgan Burnett to lay down), showing how big their impacts truly were.
Here’s some other things they had in common:
- They were all former Pro Bowlers and All Pros
- They were all highly touted prospects who were drafted top 4
- They were all in their 30’s
These were big signings of premier players. They were also unique signings. Woodson and Peppers didn’t have huge blockbuster bidding wars – Woodson didn’t even want to come here – and White was an anomaly because no one really knew how free agency worked at the time.
Those were different stories than the Day 1 splash the Packers made this year.
The 2019 Free Agent Class
Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Adrian Amos, and Billy Turner have a lot in common that stands in stark contrast to the big names listed above:
- None of them were drafted in the 1st round
- None of them have even been to a Pro Bowl
- None of them are older than 27
We knew when we heard the names that these weren’t huge splashes like we listed above. We also knew that things would be different under Gutenkunst than they were under Ted. With a couple exceptions, Ted usually scraped the bottom of the barrel and Gutenkunst didn’t seem content to do that.
However, these signings by Gutenkunst are even different than the signings he made last year.
The 2018 Free Agent Class
Just last year, when Brian Gutenkunst took over as GM, he wanted to be more aggressive in free agency and started by signing Jimmy Graham and Muhammad Wilkerson.
Both of these guys were former Pro Bowlers. Wilkerson was 29, while Graham was 32. Wilkerson was a 1st round pick and Graham was a 3rd round, which is actually quite high considering he only played one year of college football.
These were premier pedigree players that were past their best days, but were still supposed to put the team over hump (along with a healthy Aaron Rodgers).
A Change In Philosophy
It’s not just a different kind of player that was targeted, this year signals a total change in philosophy.
In the past, the big name signings were brought in to try to put the team over the hump. No one is expecting this class to put the team over the hump. These guys were brought in to be core players at positions of need.
All of them came from the 2015 draft class and are getting their second contracts. They are ascending players, not old warhorses trying to win a ring before they retire.
Their average contracts ($16.5M for Za’Darius, $13M for Preston, $9M for Amos, and $7M for Turner) will be towards the top of the Packers roster, but they won’t dominate it. This is what you would expect of core players like this.
Also important is that, as younger players, their bodies have less wear and are more resilient. Za’Darius Smith and Adrian Amos have each missed only 4 games in their careers, while Preston Smith has never missed one. Each of the four first day signings played in all 16 games last year – it seems like the Packers roster didn’t even have 4 guys who played all 16 games last year.
All of these factors show the changing philosophy around free agency. The Packers aren’t looking for one player to put them over the top and they aren’t scraping the bottom of the barrel for their last few roster spots. Instead, they’re using it as a tool to round out the starting lineup with young, foundational players at market prices.
When a team does that to complement a roster featuring stars like Rodgers, Adams, Bakhtiari, Clark, and Alexander, it can mean that one good draft haul can propel them to a title.
And next month, we have 3 selections in the first 44 picks…