We are barely into free agency and new Green Bay Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst has already proven that he is a different man than former GM Ted Thompson. Tuesday afternoon, even before free agency officially started, the Packers signed tight end Jimmy Graham right from under the nose of the New Orleans Saints. Then, Tuesday night, the Packers signed defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. If Wilkerson plays like he did under Mike Pettine with the Jets, the trio of Wilkerson, Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark could form one of the best defensive lines in the NFL.
It was a running joke that Thompson basically took a nap all through free agency, so this is refreshing. Even though Gutekunst said he’d be more active, no one knew just how much more active, and how soon he’d dip his feet in. As it turns out, he dove in feet first into the free agency pool.
It is no secret that Thompson liked to sit out free agency and use the ‘draft and develop’ approach. But how little he used it is a little frightening. In his 13 years as the Packers GM, he signed two or fewer free agents in nine of those seasons. And it isn’t like he went out and signed many difference makers.
From 2007-2011, the Packers just signed a total of six players in those five years. The best of the bunch may have been defensive back Charlie Peprah, who was signed in 2010. The list is not impressive. In 2007, he signed cornerback Frank Walker. In 2008, it was linebacker Brandon Chillar. In 2009, it was offensive lineman Duke Preston and safety Anthony Smith. As I mentioned, they signed Peprah in 2010, and then they followed it up by signing linebacker K.C. Asiodu.
Peprah was a solid player for Green Bay, playing 30 games and starting 25. He had seven picks in the two seasons he was with the team, and was the leading tackler in the Super Bowl XLV win over Pittsburgh. Chillar started 12 games in three seasons, recording 127 tackles and five sacks. But the other four combined for just 16 games and zero starts, and two of them did not even make the 53-man roster.
He did make some nice signings, most notably Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett and Julius Peppers. However, of those three, only Pickett was an unrestricted free agent while the other two were cut. You can even throw Jared Cook in this as well, considering he made one of the best plays in Packers history. Thompson made sure he received a number of compensatory picks, and signing released players do not count toward that.
Not only did he rarely jump in the free agent pool, he signed players who would end up being on the fringe of making the roster. In the 13 years, only three years did Thompson actually sign a free agent within the first eight days of the opening of free agency. In case you were wondering, the Packers signed Marquand Manuel (2006), Julius Peppers (2014), Letroy Guion (2014) and Martellus Bennett (2017) in those three years.
I did not count last year’s crop of free agent signings, but up until then, Thompson signed 28 free agents during his tenure. Of those 28, 22 only lasted one year with the team, and a whopping 13 were cut or traded before the season. For all you people who struggle with math, that is nearly half. Not good.
Through only a few days of free agency, you can tell this regime is different. Green Bay will never throw out silly money, which is smart, but Gutekunst has shown a willingness to make a splash. Only time will tell, but it is easy to be excited with what the new general manager has done so far.——————
Jonathon Zenk is a writer for PackersTalk.com. He is a huge Packers fan, and a graduate of The University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. You can follow Jonathon on Twitter at @jzenk42