Grading Gutekunst In Free Agency

This is the first time in his four forays into free agency that general manager Brian Gutekunst didn’t sign a player within the first 24 hours. That’s probably because this is the first time the Packers were actually over the salary cap when the legal tampering period began. But Gutekunst will eventually get involved, and when he does, he’ll be looking to accomplish two things – acquire good players and do it for as little money as possible.

How has Gutekunst fared in free agency three years into his tenure? I graded each of his signings based on the performance of the player and the size of the contract. This means a lesser player could receive a higher grade depending on how much he was paid. For example, a player who was paid $10 million and played at a Pro Bowl-level wouldn’t be graded as high as a player who was paid $6 million and played at a Pro Bowl-level. Similarly, a player who was paid $2 million and played poorly wouldn’t be graded as low as a player who was paid $6 million and played poorly.

(If you’re reading this post on a cell phone, you’ll probably have to turn the phone horizontally in order to read the chart below).

Jimmy Graham3 years/$30 million/$11
million guaranteed
$22.5 millionCaught 93 passes in two seasons, but scored only 5 TDs. Made minimal impact on offense, but worked hard and provided leadership.73Paid like a star, but didn't play like one. Probably didn't deserve a second season with the Packers.
Mo Wilkerson1 year/$5 million/$3.5 million guaranteed$3.6 millionPlayed only 3 games before suffering a season-ending injury. Did OK vs. the run, but showed little burst as a pass rusherINCWas a shell of the player who starred for the Jets, but had he stayed healthy, probably would've been worth the relatively small investment.
Tramon Williams2 years/$10 million/$4.75 million guaranteed$10 millionPlayed over 800 snaps in both seasons, and while no longer elite, he was an above-average starter both outside and in the slot.85Performance on the field and leadership in the locker room made this a very good investment.
Byron Bell1 year/$1.6 million/$500K guaranteed$1.6 millionSigned as a backup tackle, and wound up starting 9 games at right guard. It didn't go well.70You usually get what you pay for in sports. Luckily, the Packers didn't pay much for this player.
Marcedes Lewis1 year/$2.1 million/$500K guaranteed$2.1 millionPlayed over 1,200 snaps the past 3 seasons. Has provided solid blocking and great leadership both on and off the field.80Last two seasons were better than his first in Green Bay. Does whatever is asked of him. That's why he keeps coming back.
Za'Darius Smith4 years/$66 million/$20 million guaranteed$40.5 millionMost impactful player on defense. A pair of Pro Bowls and 26 sacks in two seasons. Many thought this was an overpay at the time. They were wrong.92Paid like a star, and has performed like one. Better in 2019 than 2020, but was still the only front 7 player offenses really had to worry about last season.
Preston Smith4 years/$52 million/$16 million guaranteed$31 millionVery good in 2019 and very average in 2020. Took a sizeable pay cut this month to avoid being released.83Went from slightly underpaid to extremely overpaid. Whether this was a good signing or not will be determined six months from now.
Adrian Amos4 years/$36 million/$12 million guaranteed$27.1 millionSigned to add experience and dependability to a very young secondary. He's done that... and more.85Not flashy, but he's been one of the 10 best safeties in the league for the past two seasons. That's money well spent.
Billy Turner4 years/$28 million/$9 million guaranteed$18.3 millionAverage starter, but being an average starter at three positions is pretty impressive. The Packers don't have the No. 1 offense last season without him.81Not worth $7M per at any one position, but unique versatility makes that number a lot more palatable.
Christian Kirksey2 years/$13 million/$4 million guaranteed$6.1 millionInjury-prone veteran missed 5 games with a pectoral injury. Played a few good games late, but was a liability for much of the season.70Cut last month after only 1 season. Wasn't an upgrade from B.J. Goodson, who wasn't good enough in 2019.
Rick Wagner2 years/$11 million/$5.75 million guaranteed$6.5 millionStarted the season as the No. 7 O-lineman, but wound up starting 9 games at right tackle. Held up surprisingly well until the NFCC.82Looked like a waste of money in week 1, but was worth of every penny of his modest salary by the end of the season.
Treyvon Hester1 year/$850K/$25K guaranteed$25KNever had a chance. COVID-19 followed by an injury ruined his training camp and led to his quick exit.NGProbably would've been worth the modest investment had he been healthy, but we'll never know.
Devin Funchess1 year/$1.8 million/$300K guaranteed$300KOpted out of last season due to COVID-19. Took a pay cut to return.NGNo down side to keeping him around. At best, he helps the offense at minimal cost. At worst, he's released at minimal cost.

According to my very subjective analysis, the average for the free agents signed by Gutekunst is 80%. That letter grade would be a B –  high enough to get a person into a good college, but not high enough to get them into the best college. And that pretty much sums up the Packers the past two years. They’ve been good; they just haven’t been the best. Gutekunst has a chance to raise this grade in the next few weeks. If he can squeeze just the right players under a tight cap, perhaps next season won’t end in the NFC championship game for the third year in a row.

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Packers Notes is the creation of Michael Rodney, who has been writing about the Green Bay Packers for over 30 years. His first blog, Packer Update, hit the internet in 2004. Before becoming a public educator, Rodney worked as a journalist for a couple of newspapers in his home state of New Jersey and covered the Philadelphia Eagles for WTXF-TV. He's had numerous articles on the Packers published, and he's been featured on both television and radio over the years.
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