Packers free-agent possibilities: What big swings could GM Brian Gutekunst take?

The Green Bay Packers are slowly but surely crawling out of the cap hell that going “all in” during Aaron Rodgers’ final years with the franchise created.

 

According to Over the Cap, Green Bay ranks 20th in the league in cap space as of Tuesday at approximately $13.6 million under the cap. The Packers can still free up chunks of cap space by, for example, releasing left tackle David Bakhtiari (about $21 million) and inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (about $2.6 million) and restructuring running back Aaron Jones’ contract to reduce his 2024 cap number that sits around $17.6 million.

 

Packers GM Brian Gutekunst has Super Bowl in sight a year after Aaron Rodgers saga

 

The cap skyrocketed more than $30 million this offseason to $255.4 million, giving teams more spending room than they might’ve expected.

 

“We’re usually kind of pretty accurate with those things in kind of predicting it, but that was a bit of a surprise. But a welcome one, that’s for sure,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said at the NFL Scouting Combine last week. “Like I said before going into it, there wasn’t going to be anything that prevented us from going after players or doing what we wanted to do, and this kind of cements that.”

 

Brian Gutekunst addresses the media during last week’s NFL Scouting Combine. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

With the Packers set up nicely entering the start of the new league year next Wednesday and perhaps only a handful of moves away from being Super Bowl contenders, let’s look at 10 impending unrestricted free agents outside their own — these are home runs, triples and doubles — who could make sense in Green Bay. Gutekunst will surely hit some singles — bargain-bin signings, if you will — but you won’t find those here.

 

Xavier McKinney, safety

The Packers’ top three safeties from last season — Darnell Savage Jr., Jonathan Owens and Rudy Ford — are all set to be unrestricted free agents. McKinney is positioned to be the best safety on the market after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tagged Antoine Winfield Jr. The position is arguably Green Bay’s biggest need this offseason as it enters Year 1 under defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, who is keen on play-making post safeties who roam the deep middle of the field. McKinney had three interceptions, 11 passes defensed, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries while starting all 17 games for the New York Giants last season.

 

Derrick Ansley, 42, was the defensive backs coach at Alabama, where he was the lead recruiter for McKinney, who played for the Crimson Tide. What does Ansley do now? He’s the Packers’ new defensive pass game coordinator.

 

Saquon Barkley, running back

Hear me out on this one. The Packers were reportedly interested in trading for Indianapolis Colts star running back Jonathan Taylor last season, indicating they’d be willing to pair two feature backs together for the short term instead of settling for a clear-cut No. 1 and No. 2, as they had with Jones and AJ Dillon. Barkley and Jones would instantly become the NFL’s best backfield, even if it’s only for one year, and give the Packers a guy in Barkley whom they could keep for multiple years to headline their running game (he turned 27 in February) assuming they part ways with Jones (who turns 30 in December) earlier than that and don’t re-sign Dillon this offseason.

 

Yes, paying a hefty amount for two running backs in one year like the Packers would do for Jones and Barkley in this hypothetical would give anyone pause. If they plan to keep Jones for more than one more season, that probably eliminates the possibility of this happening altogether. That’s why it’s strictly a hypothetical. Big swings aren’t meant to be conservative, though. Just allow yourself to imagine for a second!

 

Jordan Fuller, safety

Fuller isn’t a bad fallback option if the Packers don’t land McKinney. He was a Los Angeles Rams captain and had three interceptions, three forced fumbles and eight passes defensed last season. The 2020 sixth-round pick loves Hafley from their time together at Ohio State in 2019, when Hafley called plays for a Buckeyes defense that produced three 2020 first-round picks — edge rusher Chase Young, cornerback Jeff Okudah and cornerback Damon Arnette — in addition to a solid pro in Fuller.

 

“His name was ‘The Wizard,’” Fuller told The Athletic about Hafley. “I think his superpower is his mind and how he sees the game and how he understands the game. His in-game adjustments and him having us ready for certain looks that offenses would give us and stuff like that, it really felt like he gave us a winning edge.”

 

 

Jordan Fuller is very familiar with new Packers defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley. (Ryan Kang / Associated Press)

Julian Blackmon, safety

Can you tell the Packers need safeties? Blackmon turns 26 in August and had four interceptions, eight passes defensed and five tackles for loss in 15 games with the Colts last season.

 

Josh Jacobs, running back

On this list for the same reason as Barkley, Jacobs led the NFL in rushing yards in 2022 and is a year younger than Barkley, almost to the day. He missed four games last season and ran for half as many yards and touchdowns as the year before (12 in 2022, six in 2023), but there’s still an enticing skill set with a guy who also caught 90 passes over the past two seasons.

 

Jordyn Brooks, inside linebacker

Brooks was selected a pick after Jordan Love in 2020. In discussing last week how he found Love, Gutekunst mentioned a trip to Texas Tech to pick the brain of Love’s former head coach at Utah State, Matt Wells, who was then the Red Raiders’ head coach. “Jordyn Brooks was there at the time, so it was a good trip to talk about a couple really good players,” Gutekunst said. The Packers just so happen to have a need at inside linebacker, where they lack depth and could also be cutting Campbell.

 

Devin White, inside linebacker

White has given the Packers headaches over the years but fell out of favor with the Buccaneers in 2023. He is only 26 and offers an intriguing complement to Quay Walker if Green Bay’s 2022 first-round pick is allowed to play more downhill in Hafley’s scheme.

 

John Simpson, offensive guard

Let’s throw one interior offensive lineman on here for good measure. Simpson started all 17 games last season for the Baltimore Ravens’ No. 1 rushing attack. The Packers might have an opening at right guard, where impending unrestricted free agent Jon Runyan Jr. started last season. The guy he split snaps with, 2022 third-round pick Sean Rhyan, played less than 17 percent of the offensive snaps.

 

Packers starting RG Jon Runyan Jr. is set to be a UFA and switched his agent to Drew Rosenhaus. Per source, Rosenhaus met with Packers brass in Indianapolis and there is mutual interest in Runyan remaining a Packer. Would have to be right price for both sides, of course.

Gideon Canice

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