The Green Bay Packers should consider signing a veteran free agent at safety and inside linebacker.
Gutekunst did however, do so through his actions. He said early in the offseason the Packers will be involved in every conversation when it comes to free agents. For the most part, he stuck to his word and even came through with a few big signings.
Gutekunst now has a chance to separate himself and provide for the Packers in ways Thompson didn’t.
Injuries struck the defense in Monday’s practice. Down went inside linebacker Jake Ryan and safety Kentrell Brice to possible long-term injuries. Both opened training camp as starters at their positions.
Ryan went down with a season-ending knee injury, and Brice injured his ankle. Brice’s outlook seems better than Ryan’s, but considering he had surgery on that ankle last year, there’s no telling how long the injury will affect him.
In his first statement after the injuries, Gutekunst stated they will stick with their young guys and move forward. The general manager feels good about his roster and its depth as most GMs do right now. But that shouldn’t stop him from making moves.
Safety Josh Jones is a promising young second-round draft pick and should take a leap in his second year. Marwin Evans and Jermaine Whitehead are in their third year on the team. But none of the three have a proven track record in the NFL.
At inside linebacker, the depth is even thinner. The only draft picks of the group are Blake Martinez and Oren Burks. The rest are all undrafted free agents. Outside of Martinez, not one player has played a game in the NFL.
The Packers are high on Burks, and considering he was a third-round pick, he will be given every chance next to Martinez. But he is a rookie.
This is where the new GM can make his mark and set himself apart from his predecessor. At this point, general manager Thompson would have either stood pat or signed another undrafted free agent. Gutkekunst now has a chance to be different and sign a veteran.
There is plenty of starting-caliber talent available on the free agent market. A strange offseason for safeties has seen the market go stagnant and veteran players are still available.
Players like Eric Reid, Kenny Vaccaro and Mike Mitchell are without a team and could provide valuable depth with starting experience. Jones can still start, while either veteran player could be used in sub-packages.
Ryan is limited in his skill set and was destined for a two-down role at best in the Packers’ new defense. There are veteran players still available who can do the same.
NaVorro Bowman has seen injuries take away some of his speed, but he still provides veteran experience and sure tackling as an early-down linebacker. The same can be said for Brain Cushing and Lawrence Timmons. Signing anyone from that group would allow Burks to still play in nickel and dime situations where his talent is needed most.
Experience, or a lack of, was already going to be an issue at safety and inside linebacker. The positions weren’t deep with veteran players. Another injury at either position could put the Packers in a familiar but bad spot, playing inexperienced, undrafted players at key positions in big moments.
Regardless of how Gutekunst feels about Jones or Burks, signing veteran depth would be a good move. The players available should be able to be had on the cheap and wouldn’t take many planned snaps away from either player. And, in the event of another injury, would be able to start.
The defense using unreliable players has kept the Packers from another Super Bowl ring. Breaking the cycle of relying on undrafted free agents could push the team back to the mountain top.