We are over a week into this year’s NFL free agency. The action, even with a tight salary cap for the 2021 season, has been fast and furious. Teams like the New England Patriots are spending big on free agents to overcome mistakes they made in recent NFL drafts. While other teams are doing their best to keep their key core players. For the Green Bay Packers, they fall in the latter group. So far, this year’s Green Bay Packers free agency has been about keeping their own players.
Green Bay Packers Free Agency Starts With Their Own
When it comes to the Packers, Packers free agency always starts with keeping their own. This year was no different for general manager Brian Gutekunst and vice president of football operations Russ Ball. But to do this, the Packers first needed to get under the salary cap.
While other NFL teams are used to reworking their players contracts, this isn’t standard practice for the Packers. But with the tight salary cap for 2021, the Packers found themselves in new territory.
To achieve this, the Packers reworked the contracts of David Bakhtiari, Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Billy Turner, and Adrian Amos. On Monday, it was reported that the Packers are working with franchise player Aaron Rodgers on reworking his contract. If they are able to do this, it might give the Packers some room to finally bring in help from the outside.
As former NFL executive Andrew Brandt recently pointed out, it doesn’t take a “salary cap wizard” to constantly rework a contract. That is a credit to Ball, who heads up the Packers salary cap. Reworking deals isn’t something the Packers usually do. Still, the Packers had to do it because of the special circumstance with the salary cap.
The contracts Ball reworked have allowed them to re-sign one of their key offensive players.
Packers Surprise Many by Bringing Back Their Star Running Back
To the surprise of many, the Packers re-signed Jones to a four-year contract worth $48 million dollars. When the Packers season concluded, many had wondered if the Packers could afford Jones. However, Gutekunst and the Packers deemed Jones worthy of a new deal. The deal illustrates how important Jones is/was to the Packers.
You really can’t argue with Gutekunst if that is truly the way he feels. The past two seasons Jones has combined for 2,188 rushing yards with 25 rushing touchdowns. Jones has been one of the biggest playmakers for the Packers offense. By re-signing the 26-year-old running back, the Packers ensure that they have one of their biggest playmakers on offense.
Was Re-Signing Jones the Right Decision?
The re-signing of Jones does present some questions and concerns. The running back position has been devalued in recent years. Right or wrong, the theory has become that running backs are replaceable. However, Jones just might not fit into that category. With the Packers offense based on the run, which opens up the play-action passing game, Jones is a crucial piece to their offense.
The re-signing of Jones also makes you wonder why they selected A.J. Dillon with their second-round pick in 2020. Ian Kenyon from Bleacher Report shared those sentiments on Twitter to the ire of the “In Gute We Trust” Packers fans. While Kenyon took quite a bit of heat from that group, it is a legitimate question. If Gutekunst foresaw Jones in the Packers future, why spend a valuable second-round pick on a running back who would be a second-string running back for the foreseeable future?
With the salary cap so tight, and the Packers roster in need of help at several key positions, there is a chance that Jones contract might prevent them from spending on bringing in outside help. There is no arguing, Jones is a special running back. But at the position he plays, it could be argued that the money they signed him at could have been spent somewhere else, especially with Dillon on the roster.
The Loss of Their All-Pro Center
With the Packers choosing to re-sign Jones, that meant the Packers had to say goodbye to several players. The biggest name departing is their All-Pro center, Corey Linsley.
Linsley, a former fifth-round pick, started 99 games for the Packers throughout his career. Last season, which saw him start 13 games in 2020, earned All-Pro honors for the first time. While Linsley was a longtime standout for the Packers, the Packers felt comfortable enough with possible replacements they currently have on the roster to allow him to depart. Linsley signed a free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Chargers.
As stated earlier, the Packers have options to replace Linsley at center. Last year’s starting right guard Lucas Patrick has taken some snaps at center throughout his career. Some experts believe that center would be a better fit for Patrick.
They also could move their Pro Bowl left guard, Elgton Jenkins. When Linsley was out with an injury (Linsley’s injury history could have also played a part in his departure) in 2020, Jenkins shifted over from guard and never missed a beat. While at Mississippi State, Jenkins was a standout center.
Jamaal Williams Dances Onto Motown
With Aaron Jones being the key piece to the Packers free agency and re-signing, that meant that fellow running back Jamaal Williams became expendable.
Williams, one of the better backup running backs in the NFL, became the odd man out when Jones was re-signed. The Packers spent a very valuable second-round pick on Dillon in 2020, which cemented his place in the Packers backfield in 2021. So with Jones as the number one and Dillon his backup, it was Williams who is moving on.
It didn’t take long for Williams to find work. He was quickly signed by the Detroit Lions. The Lions are gaining a running back who isn’t afraid to do the dirty work. While with the Packers, Williams played on special teams, was a solid runner, an underrated pass catcher, and the Packers best pass protector at running back. His ability to pass protect will be very difficult for the Packers to replace.
Putting the Band Back Together
Albert Einstein once stated that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Something to think about when discussing the way the Packers free agency is approached.
For the second straight season, the Packers fell one game short of reaching the Super Bowl. For most teams, that would put a fire under their butt to go out and find one or two players to get them over that hump. But it appears that Gutekunst, under the watchful eye of Ball, as NFL.com’s Michael Silver pointed out, will once again lean on their three-time MVP quarterback to cover up the deficiencies of this roster.
This isn’t being negative, this is just stating the facts. The Packers have a very solid roster and they have the talent to win a lot of games. While winning games is great, isn’t the goal to win championships? If that is the case, then the off-season goal should be improving your team’s chances to win a Super Bowl. Again, we are only over a week into free agency, but as the days go by, and Gutekunst and Ball sit on their hands, the list of available free agents gets less and less by the day.
Kevin King, Yes That Kevin King, Returns To the Fold
Today, news broke that the Packers are bringing back cornerback Kevin King on a one-year deal. Yes, the same King who has struggled with injuries throughout his career. Yes, the same King who had a very disappointing 2020 season. It appears he will be paid 6 million dollars for next season. Which for a free agent cornerback, is quite cheap. But as they say, you get what you pay for. Which in this case is a fragile cornerback who struggled to cover NFL wide receivers last season.
While we applaud the re-signing of Aaron Jones, you have to wonder why Gutekunst and Ball are emphasizing bringing back players who struggled last season. Preston Smith, Dean Lowry, and now Kevin King all struggled last season. It can be argued that all three struggles played a part in the Packers not getting to the Super Bowl. But Gutekunst and Ball believe that bringing them back will help propel the Packers to the Super Bowl in 2021. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
There is still time for Gutekunst and Ball to actually bring in some help from free agency. The defensive line, offensive tackle, and cornerback, even with the blockbuster news of King returning, are all in need of help. There are still players available that could help the Packers, but are Gutekunst and Ball even interested?
For Packers fans who are just happy to win a lot of games, they might be okay with Gutekunst and Ball rolling with close to the same roster that came up a game short to reach the Super Bowl. But for the other fans, the ones that want Aaron Rodgers to win his second Super Bowl, this might cause them to pull their hair out of their heads.
Embed from Getty Images