Packers Poised to Land Former 1st-Round Pick on ‘Bargain’ Deal

The Green Bay Packers are going to be looking for inexpensive ways to shore up their run defense during NFL free agency, and there is a former first-round pick set to hit the market who they might be able to land at a “bargain” rate.

Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox recently connected the dots between San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and the Packers, identifying Green Bay as a “logical suitor” to sign him in NFL free agency. He is coming off a career-best 3.5-sack season for the 49ers and could sign for a more affordable rate as a late bloomer in the league.

“The Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, two teams that struggled against the run in 2023, would be logical suitors if Kinlaw’s limited resume keeps his asking price low,” Knox wrote in his February 1 article about bargain-bin free agents.

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst acknowledged the team is going to be in a better place in terms of the salary cap during the 2024 offseason. While Over the Cap projects them at about $2.86 million over the cap right now, they have options with veteran cuts, restructures and contract extensions that can help them clear space.

“We’re getting to a little bit better spot than it has been in the past,” Gutekunst said during his end-of-year news conference on February 1. “It’s never perfect, but I do feel that whatever opportunities are out there in free agency that we’ll be able to do that.”

Kinlaw has not lived up to expectations as the No. 14 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. He underwhelmed for San Francisco’s Super Bowl runner-up defensive line as a rookie, then dealt with significant injuries over the next two seasons that limited him to just 10 total games between 2021 and 2022. Before the 2023 season, the 49ers appeared ready to move on from him, signing Javon Hargrave and declining Kinlaw’s fifth-year option.

Fortunately for him, Kinlaw bounced back noticeably during the 2023 season, finishing the regular season with 3.5 sacks and four tackles for loss while playing in all 17 games. He has also added two more tackles for loss thus far in the playoffs, one in each of the 49ers’ postseason wins. There were still rocky performances along the way, but he showed growth throughout the season and helped himself ahead of NFL free agency.

The problem — as it relates to the Packers — is Kinlaw does not have a strong record as a run defender. According to Pro Football Focus, he finished with a career-low 31.3 grade as a run defender during the 2023 season, the 15th-worst mark in the league among the 213 defensive linemen who played at least one snap against the run.

Kinlaw’s ineptitude against the run showed all over his tape, too. Run blockers have taken advantage of his slow get-off throughout the 2023 season and bullied him into submission more frequently than he has won his matchups. He did finish with 15 total defensive stops in his fourth year, but it does little to cover up his limitations.

Now, that might not sound like the most appealing sell on a potential free agent for the Packers, but it does sort of fit Gutekunst’s modus operandi. In the past, he has shown a tendency to sign players with untapped potential who are either buried on some team’s practice squad or struggling to find a job due to injury concerns. Sometimes that approach fails, but it also turned out De’Vondre Campbell and Rasul Dogulas.

Maybe Kinlaw did enough in 2023 to drive up his price for his first venture into NFL free agency. But if the first wave comes and goes without him landing a multi-year contract, perhaps Gutekunst and the Packers can explore an affordable, one-year arrangement with the former first-round pick that suits their financial situation.

That’s what Pro Football Focus projects for him. In their NFL free agency rankings, they predict he will sign a one-year deal worth $5.5 million with $2.5 million guaranteed.

On the other hand, the Packers also have a good amount of draft capital in their hands. They own five selections inside the first 100 picks, including the No. 25 pick in the first round and the New York Jets’ No. 41 pick in the second round. Illinois’ Jer’Zhan Newton, Texas’ Byron Murphy II, Michigan’s Kris Jenkins and LSU’s Mekhi Wingo could all be options for them in that 25-to-41 range.

Gideon Canice

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