Brian Gutekunst Makes A Bang In The First Week Of NFL Free Agency

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Brian Gutekunst Is Hoping The Free Agents Who Just Recently Signed With The Packers Will Be Instant Contributors As Well. 

In 2019, which was Brian Gutekunst’s second season as the Green Bay Packers general manager, he made a big splash in free agency. That off-season, he signed free agents Adrian Amos, Za’Darius Smith, Billy Turner, and Preston Smith. All four free agents became instant contributors. Fast forward to the present and once again, the Packers made a splash. Brian Gutekunst is hoping the free agents who just recently signed with the Packers will be instant contributors as well.

Brian Gutekunst Makes a Bang in the First Week of NFL Free Agency

By no means are we saying that Brian Gutekunst has been a non-player when it comes to the NFL free agency since 2019. While Gutekunst and the Packers made a big splash in 2019, Gutekunst has signed other free agents. In 2001, during training camp, the Packers signed free agent linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. The veteran linebacker earned All-Pro honors that season.

That same year, Gutekunst signed cornerback Rasul Douglas off the Arizona Cardinalspractice squad. He would go on to make an immediate impact by intercepting five passes, returning two of them for touchdowns.

While Gutekunst has kept his foot in the water, he hasn’t made the big splashes like he had in 2019. But that all changed this week when he and the Packers signed two major free agents. With them come big contracts and big expectations.

The news of the signings brought unexpected excitement to the Green Bay Packers fan base. But to make the signings, they had to say goodbye to some longtime Packers. Players that will be missed. But their departures, either by being released or not being re-signed, opened up cap room to sign the two key free agents.

The Release of Bakhtiari and Campbell

Former general manager Ted Thompson made a lot of crucial draft picks during his tenure. Of course, former quarterback Aaron Rodgers tops that list. But right behind him was selecting David Bakhtiari in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Bakhtiari would go on to become an instant starter in his rookie season and would be a mainstay in the Packers starting lineup. Unfortunately for the two-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler, his career took a major hit late in the 2020 season. While preparing for a playoff run, Bakhtiari would suffer a season-ending injury. The injury was so severe that it caused him to play in just 13 games in the next three seasons. That injury was the driving force in the Packers releasing him this past week.

That wasn’t the only veteran Packer released this past week. Campbell joins Bakhtiari on the unemployed list. Campbell followed up his marvelous season with another solid season in 2022. But he wasn’t able to duplicate what he did in 2021. This past season Campbell’s play took a major slide. He also dealt with injuries, injuries that only allowed him to play in 11 games.

While Campbell only spent three seasons with the Packers, Bakhtiari was a longtime leader and most importantly, an upper echelon player for the Packers. His departure, even with his injuries issue, leaves a pretty sizable hole. But his release, along with Campbell’s, wasn’t the biggest release of this week by Brian Gutekunst.

Saying Goodbye to Aaron Jones

The Packers made headlines when it was announced that they had signed former Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs. The deal is a one-year deal with three-year options. By signing Jacobs, Gutekunst gets a running back that he has been looking for. Jacobs is a three-down back and one that has been productive during his five-year career. He has rushed for over 1,000 yards in a season three times. That includes 2022 which saw him rush for 1,653 yards with 12 rushing touchdowns.

To make room for Jacobs, the Packers released running back Aaron Jones. The release of Jones illustrates how cut-throat of a business the NFL is. Not only was Jones the Packers best running back for the past seven seasons, but he was one of, if not, their biggest offensive weapons. Similar to Jacobs, Jones has rushed for over 1,000 yards three times during his career. Along with being a homerun hitter out of the backfield, Jones also was a playmaker in the passing game.

A lot of factors went into the decision to sign Jacobs and release Jones. Age of course is one of the bigger factors. Jacobs is 26 while Jones is 29 and will become 30 during the 2024 season. Most NFL running backs lose a step when they turn 30. While it can be argued that Jones is the better overall player right now, he has had to deal with injuries the past couple of seasons. Jacobs is also the bigger back, which will allow him to play more snaps and allow Matt LaFleur to have his best running back on the field more.

While Jones was a playmaker during his Packers career, the biggest thing the Packers might miss from releasing him is his leadership. Gutekunst even called him the “heartbeat of the team” at the conclusion of 2023. That type of leadership will be darn near impossible to replace. Jacobs new contract will bring high expectations. But even if he doesn’t want to, he will be asked to fill a leadership role that Jones once held.

Bringing in Safety Help

As we recently wrote, it appeared that the Packers safety position was in store for a major makeover. That makeover has begun and it might not be over.

The first domino to fall was when veteran Darnell Savage signed a free-agent deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Brian Gutekunst selected Savage in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. His Packers career was very comparable to an amusement park roller coaster. He showed some glimpses of why he was selected in the first round. But most of it was filled with lows, the lowest being his benching in the 2022 season. Savage has the talent to be a quality NFL safety. But he struggled to tackle and never consistently made the big plays that were expected out of him. A change of scenery will be good for both parties.

It didn’t take long for Gutekunst and the Packers to find Savage’s replacement. They inked former New York Giants safety Xavier McKinney to a four-year deal. While the signing of Jacobs grabbed most of the headlines, the signing of McKinney might be the most important.

New defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley discussed the importance of safety in his defense at his opening press conference. McKinney is the type of player that it seemed like Hafley was describing. Pro Football Focus ranked McKinney as the fourth-highest-graded safety from last season. In 2023, the former second-round pick out of Alabama had three interceptions and 116 combined tackles. He is able to line up in multiple positions and is a sure tackler, which makes him an upgrade over Savage.

When we broke down possible free-agent safeties that would make sense, we didn’t include McKinney. But it was believed that the Packers would be tight for money. The releases of Jones, Bakhtiari, and Campbell, allowed salary cap room for Gutekunst to make the deal. It is a deal that should help with the transformation of the Green Bay Packers defense.