GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers turned 35 in December, and although he has said he wants to play into his 40s, who knows how many more legitimate chances the Green Bay Packers will have at another Super Bowl with him.
But that wasn’t the impetus behind Brian Gutekunst’s aggressive foray into free agency.
Or so says the second-year general manager.
“No, I don’t think so,” Gutekunst said Thursday. “Obviously, this is Green Bay, Wisconsin; we’re in a win-now mode all the time. I thought we needed to add to our defense significantly, and I think these guys will. So, I don’t think it’s any different than it ever has been.”
However, locking up four players as free agency opened and paying out $56 million in signing bonuses to pass-rushers Za’Darius Smith ($20 million) and Preston Smith ($16 million) plus safety Adrian Amos ($11 million) and offensive lineman Billy Turner ($9 million) was a significant change not only from the way the Packers did business under former GM Ted Thompson but also how Gutekunst operated last year. That was when all three of his main free-agent signings were aging players (Jimmy Graham, Muhammad Wilkerson and Tramon Williams). The two Smiths are 26 and Amos won’t turn 26 until next month.
“Every year your team’s in kind of a different situation, and I think you have to be honest with yourself, and I think this year our team was in a situation where I thought this was the right thing to do for our team moving forward,” Gutekunst said. “Won’t always be. But it will be year to year and what we need to do to win. Obviously, you can’t kick the can down the road forever, but at the same time I don’t think we really did that here. I think if you really look at it, we didn’t really jeopardize anything in the future.”
However, all four of those deals pushed significant salary-cap money in future years while counting just $23.4 million on the Packers’ 2019 cap.
“I think our roster at the time, this was something we needed to do to help our team,” Gutekunst said. “At the same time, we’re always looking out, ‘How’s it going to affect year after year?’ And I feel really good about where we’re situated, how that affects the years to come.”
Myriad factors went into the need for Gutekunst to make these moves. A poor 2015 draft class in which not a single player remains in Green Bay and a major need for upgrades on defense were chief among them. All three defensive players he signed this week were in the 2015 class.
“I don’t think it was a different mindset,” Gutekunst said of his approach to free agency this time around. “I think my mindset last year was the same. But I do think that’s an important point, that we did want guys that we thought that their best football was ahead of them. I think all four of these guys probably had their best seasons last year, and I think their best football is, they were trending in the right direction. So I do think that’s the way we look at it. It doesn’t always happen that way, but like I said, I think all four of these guys have really good football ahead of them.”