It's a New Era in Titletown and That's a Good Thing.Posted:Mar 14th, 2018 3:16 pm
The dawning of free agency has ushered in the dawning of a new era in Green Bay. And while there will be some difficult realities to digest, the reality of a seven year Super Bowl drought has amped up the urgency meter.
Brian Gutekunst has already demonstrated that he will work the roster harder in March than we ever saw under Ted Thompson. We've gotten used to watching teams spend gobs of money in March, while the Pack waited for the Marshall's counter to open a couple of weeks later to peruse the discount bins.
The Pack's draft and develop philosophy will always hold center court, but with salary caps in the stratosphere and a five year window to return to the top with Aaron Rodgers, Gutey understands he can do some considerable tinkering before he turns his attention to his 12 draft picks.
If you would have told me the Pack would sign two free agents before the official window opens, I would have assumed one, if not both, would be cornerbacks. Obviously, that was not the case. There was a run on corners Tuesday, but the Pack sat on the sidelines.
The first signing was the most un-Thompsonest signing ever. Would Ted have ever considered a 31 year old skill player, giving him the richest deal at his position? Um, no. But Jimmy Graham is now a Packer, taking care of the biggest hole on the offensive side of the roster. Graham was never the playmaker in Seattle that he was in New Orleans, but he remained one of the most dangerous red zone targets in the league.
The Packers will count on him to be more than a red zone magnet, envisioning that he will draw plenty of attention in the middle of the field, providing favorable matchups for Davante Adams and the running game. It's a three-year deal, but essentially two years, with the 22 million guaranteed over the first 24 months. It's been reported that Rodgers lobbied for this signing--I wonder if he knew it would cost him his favorite receiver.
It's disappointing, and a bit surprising, to learn that Rodgers didn't hear about Nelson's release until after the fact. Their production and chemistry were better than any in the NFL over the past seven or eight seasons. Packer nation will need some time to get over this divorce, but it's one of those bitter realities. Most receivers, when they get to be 33, slow down and aren't worth seven-figure contracts. With all the money committed to Adams, Nelson and Cobb (north of $30 million on the cap)--plus Graham, there was no way that was going to work. When he was unwilling to play for substantially less, he became a cap casualty. Nelson has been considerably underpaid for years--I don't blame him for wanting to get paid one more time.
Now the Pack has a hole at outside receiver opposite Adams. Geronimo Allison and Michael Clark will be in the mix, but the Pack will keep their eyes open for good value there, and will likely add another or two in the draft.
The move that most excited me was the signing of Mo Wilkerson, on a one-year prove it deal. He was at his most productive in '14 and '15 with the Jets, when Mike Pettine was his coordinator--that's undoubtedly why he made the Pack a priority. We all know that a stout pass rush can make up for deficiencies in the back end, and suddenly the Pack has a three man line that will rank among the league's best. Adding Wilkerson alongside Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark could be scary.
Obviously, there is still plenty of work be done at edge rusher and cornerback, along with figuring out what's going on on the right side of their offensive line. Bryan Bulaga's status is one of the big pieces to be sorted out, as well as whether they bring back Jahri Evans or go younger there. They'll also likely face the prospect of losing Morgan Burnett, who will likely be looking for a big money deal that the Pack will feel they can't afford. With Josh Jones and Kentrell Brice waiting in the wings, they may swallow hard and let Burnett walk away.
It's a brave new world in Green Bay. In the nine years I've been writing this blog, I've never worried that one of my posts could get outdated quickly in March. But Gutey has already demonstrated that he will look to improve his roster wherever he can in free agency. And he's proven he won't be blinded by sentimentality. Two positive developments in Titletown.