Packers will be 'aggressive' in free agency, GM says

By Rob Reischel, The Sports Xchange  |  March 1, 2018 at 1:13 AM
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Packer Nation, listening to their new general manager speak during the NFL Combine on Wednesday, had to be salivating.

"Aggressive," Brian Gutekunst said of free agency.

Head coach Mike McCarthy was one of those awfully excited by the term.

"Well we like the word aggressive," McCarthy said.

After more than a decade of mostly free-agent inactivity, it appears the Packers will attack that period with gusto when the new league year begins on March 14.

Gutekunst, who was named Green Bay's general manager in January, made no secret his philosophy will differ from his former boss, Ted Thompson.

"There's limits in what you can do, but we'd like to be really aggressive and see (if) we can be in every conversation," Gutekunst said. "Now whether that leads to us ending up signing a bunch or not, we'll see.

"Like I said, there's limitations there. But we'd like to be as aggressive as we can to try to improve our football team. At the same time, it's a smaller market (of players) and it's a little bit riskier market. So I think as my mentor and predecessor (Thompson) would say, you have to be very cautious as you enter that. But I think we'd like to look at every option we can."

Thompson was Green Bay's general manager from Jan. 2005 through Jan. 2018. And for the majority of that time, the Packers hibernated through the free-agency period.

Thompson signed seven unrestricted free agents during his first two seasons -- an average of 3.5 per year.

But during Thompson's final 11 years as general manager, he signed seven UFAs -- the same total as his first two years. That's a paltry average of 0.64 per season.

Gutekunst, a first-time general manager, appears willing to take far more risks than his conservative predecessor did. And that seemingly has given a jolt to many in the organization -- including McCarthy.

"We've spent pretty much our 12 years here really focusing on improving from within," McCarthy said. "But we need outside resources, we've determined that. But at the end of the day it's a market, it's a market that every team is involved in and we'll see what happens."

Even though Thompson hit it big in free agency with players such as cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, he began avoiding that roster building approach like the plague.

Thompson signed only one UFA per season from 2007-09. Then in six of the next seven seasons, Thompson eschewed free agency altogether.

Thompson's only trip to free agency during that stretch came in 2012, when he signed washed-up center Jeff Saturday and defensive end Anthony Hargrove.

Thompson had a four-year streak of free-agent inactivity from 2013-16, before he signed tight end Martellus Bennett and guard Jahri Evans in 2017.

Odds are that when free agency begins, Gutekunst's approach will be substantially different than Thompson.

"I think right now we're just trying to improve our team overall," Gutekunst said. "We have a really good team, some really good players. There's been a lot of change, the coaching side and obviously the personnel side and stuff like that. But I don't think we're very far off."

--Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have begun negotiating a new contract. Rodgers has two years left on the five-year, $110 million extension he signed in 2013, and is the sixth-highest paid quarterback in football.

Green Bay would like to make Rodgers the highest paid quarterback in the game.

"I don't know if there's pressure," Gutekunst said. "I think we certainly would like to get it done sooner rather than later. When you have the best player in the National Football League, it's not going to be inexpensive, you know what I mean? Obviously, Aaron is a high priority, he's a great player and I think that should take care of itself at some point."

--Ty Montgomery, who played primarily wide receiver in 2015 and 2016 before moving to running back last year, could play both positions in 2018.

"Ty is a very, very versatile player," Gutekunst said. "He can do a lot of things. I think having a guy like that (means) we can kind of plug him in where we need him. I thought he was an outstanding running back. Making that transition is not an easy one, and I thought he did it fairly quickly. I think we're big on trying to acquire as many versatile players -- whether it be on offense or defense -- as we can, and Ty is one of those guys. So I think he can do a multitude of things. I don't think you have to pigeon hole him in one thing."

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