GREEN BAY — General manager Brian Gutekunst and the rest of the Green Bay Packers’ brain trust is in Phoenix this week for the annual NFL meetings at the Arizona Biltmore.
And while there aren’t many bargains to be had at the posh luxury resort — even the snack shop is pricey there — Gutekunst and new coach Matt LaFleur still have plenty of options to alter their roster now that the less expensive portion of free agency has arrived.
Two websites dedicated to calculating NFL team’s salary-cap situations peg the Packers as having roughly $13 million in salary-cap space after their spending spree on outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, safety Adrian Amos and offensive lineman Billy Hunter earlier this month. Spotrac.com has them with $13.72 million in cap room, while OverTheCap.com has them at $13.14 million.
The Packers will have to allocate between $4 million and $5 million to their draft class, and they do have a free agent or two of their own — led by defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who is coming off a major, season-ending broken leg suffered in Week 3 of last season — they might bring back.
So far this offseason, the Packers have re-signed veteran blocking tight end Marcedes Lewis to a one-year, $2.1 million deal and fourth-year wide receiver Geronimo Allison, who had been a restricted free agent, to a one-year, $2.8 million deal.
Meanwhile, the team let franchise all-time sack leader Clay Matthews leave for a reported two-year, $9.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Rams and veteran wide receiver Randall Cobb depart for a one-year, $5 million deal with the Dallas Cowboys.
The Packers’ remaining in-house free agents are offensive lineman Byron Bell, tight end Lance Kendricks, safeties Ibraheim Campbell and Eddie Pleasant, cornerback Davon House and Wilkerson. Between injuries and young players in the mix at their positions, none can be considered a high priority as the team gets ready for its offseason program to kick off on April 8, and it's possible none will be brought back.
While the unrestricted free agent market might be a bit picked over at this point, Gutekunst pointed to players who are released at this time of year as other possible additions. One example? Ex-Packers safety Morgan Burnett, who spent last season with the Pittsburgh Steelers after eight seasons in Green Bay. Steelers GM Kevin Colbert told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sunday the team intends to release Burnett if he cannot find a trade partner.
Another example? Ex-Washington Redskins inside linebacker Zach Brown, whom Washington released earlier this month. If the Packers decide they need help there — and after losing Jake Ryan in free agency and parting ways with Antonio Morrison, their depth inside isn’t great — and if Brown doesn’t find a starting gig elsewhere, the Packers would make sense because their new inside linebackers coach, Kirk Olivadotti, coached Brown in Washington.
“As you go through, you’re constantly monitoring where everything’s at. And then, if it makes sense for us, then we go forward,” Gutekunst said when he introduced the team’s free agent signees. “So, we’re in that phase and we’ll continue to be in that phase going forward. As these other guys sign, there’ll be guys that get let go. That’s a really good market to be in as well.
“I think the one thing our personnel staff’s done a really good job of is always kind of touching base and knowing where things are at — because things do happen quickly and we have to be ready to go when that happens. So yeah, (looking for bargains) is part of it, and that will continue really all the way up until training camp and beyond.”
The Packers have a pair of first-round picks, three picks in the first 44 selections and six picks in the first four rounds, giving Gutekunst plenty of capital to spend on filling roster holes.
“You’re always trying to get better and improve the roster. Obviously, (with) free agency, there’s still guys out there we’re kind of peeking at and seeing what can help us after the draft, which is really the foundational piece in how we build our team,” Gutekunst said. “We have some pretty good resources going into that and we’re excited about the draft class this year.
“So, we’ll get through that period of time, take a little bit of a breather and then head into training camp and we’ll continue to look to always improve the back end of the roster if we can. It’s kind of never-ending. I don't know if you ever really feel, ‘Hey, wow. It’s just exactly how you want it.’ Things change, and as things change, you have to change and have to adapt. But we’re excited. We’re excited to improve the team and we’re excited about what’s coming up in the draft. We’ll see where it goes.”