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Packers need to hit on more March deals than in past

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Nick Perry’s contract seemed like a risk at the time and two years later we know just how bad of a deal it was for the Green Bay Packers.

But this isn’t to bag on the oft-injured former first-round pick; that has been done enough.

Rather, it’s a reminder both of the caution NFL teams must take in re-signing their own free agents plus chasing others during the March frenzy that began with Monday's so-called "legal tampering period," and that current Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst must do better than what the previous regime did in its latter years – when GM Ted Thompson and his right-hand man, Russ Ball, were making the decisions.

In their last three years, their major March signings can be broken down into seven bad signings and six good ones. While that number seems tenable, most of the bad deals were far more expensive than the good ones. For example, they paid out $47.725 million in guaranteed money in the deals that were deemed bad and just $8.625 million on the good ones.

While Ball remains the Packers’ contract negotiator, it’s clear that Gutekunst and his staff have wrestled away control of the decisions.

Perry’s five-year, $60 million contract almost certainly has to be terminated or adjusted after just two seasons before he’s owed a $4.8 million roster bonus later this week. It was one in a recent run of deals that turned out to be mistakes during the last several offseasons of the Thompson-Ball tandem.

Here’s a look at some of the key moves they made in and around the March free-agency period and whether they were good deals or bad deals (Note: it’s too early to judge what Gutekunst did last year in his first offseason as GM):

2017

  • Perry: In a year in which they probably knew they’d lose defensive contributors Micah Hyde, Julius Peppers and Datone Jones, Thompson and Ball surprisingly gave Perry an $18.5 million signing bonus. Yes, Perry was coming off a career-best 11-sack season in 2016 after playing on a one-year, $5 million prove-it-deal, but his injury history suggested it was a big gamble. Two years and $28 million paid out later, the Packers got only 21 more games and 8.5 sacks (including just nine games and 1.5 sacks last season). Verdict: Bad deal.

  • Martellus Bennett: When negotiations with fellow tight end Jared Cook broke down, the Packers panicked and turned to Bennett, who had worn out his welcome in several previous stops. The Packers gave him a $6.3 million signing bonus as part of a three-year, $21 million contract. He played in only seven games before the Packers released him with the designation that he failed to disclose a medical condition. They tried to recoup the signing bonus but were denied. The inability to re-sign Cook and the Bennett mistake led Gutekunst to sign Jimmy Graham to a three-year, $30 million deal last offseason. Verdict: Bad deal.

  • Jahri Evans: The veteran guard is the kind of value signing that Thompson and Ball often got right. He proved to be a capable starter for most of the season while playing under a one-year, $2.25 million deal. He did not play in the 2018 season and is presumably retired. Verdict: Good deal.

  • Lance Kendricks: A value signing that produced little. The best thing anyone can say is he made it through the entire two-year, $4 million deal. The veteran tight end never was able to replicate the production he had with the Rams. Verdict: Bad deal.

2016

  • Perry: This was the right way to handle Perry, whose five-year option on his rookie deal was declined. They signed him to a one-year, $5 million deal and he produced his best season with 11 sacks. The mistake, however, was the next offseason thinking he could replicate it. Verdict: Good deal.

  • Mason Crosby: The Packers never wanted to climb aboard the kicking carousel so they signed Crosby to a four-year, $16.1 million contract that still makes him the NFL’s fifth-highest paid kicker. He’s an 80.4 percent field goal kicker and was 81.1 percent last season despite a few key misses in losses to the Lions and Cardinals and a tie with the Vikings. Verdict: Good deal.

  • James Starks: Starks was coming off a career-best 601 yards rushing and signed a two-year, $6 million deal. He was 30 with an injury history. He played in only nine more games and averaged 2.3 yards per carry without a rushing touchdown after that deal. He was released the following offseason with the non-football injury designation after the 2016 season ended because of a concussion that he was believed to have suffered in a car accident. Verdict: Bad deal

  • Jared Cook: The Packers signed Cook to a one-year, $2.75 million deal about six weeks after he was released by the Rams. Although he battled an ankle injury early in the season, he quickly connected with Aaron Rodgers and was key to their “run the table” finish to the 2016 season that went all the way to the NFC title game. Verdict: Good deal.

  • Lane Taylor: Scheduled to be a restricted free agent, Taylor received a two-year, $4.15 million deal instead of the one-year restricted free agent tender that would have been worth $1.61 million. Taylor then replaced Josh Sitton as the starting left guard and less than two years later signed a three-year, $16.5 million extension. Verdict: Good deal.

2015

  • Randall Cobb: The slot receiver picked a good time to have his best season. He caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2014. On the eve of free agency, he signed a four-year, $40 million contract. Although Cobb played through the entire deal, he never came close to replicating that kind of production and ended with an injury-riddled season in which he caught just 38 passes for 383 yards and two touchdowns. Verdict: Bad deal

  • Bryan Bulaga: The former first-round pick bounced back from a torn ACL in 2013 to play all but one game the following season, after which he was rewarded with a five-year, $33.75 million deal. He has played all 16 games just one time since then. He blew out a knee again in 2017 after just five games. Although he came back to play in 14 games last season, he failed to finish four of them. He has one year left at $6.75 million and the Packers will probably keep him around because they have so many other needs. If he had been healthy the entire time, it would’ve been a solid signing. Verdict: Bad deal

  • B.J Raji: After missing the entire 2014 season with a torn biceps, he signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract. He missed only one game and finished second among Packers’ defensive linemen in snaps. Raji surprisingly walked away from football following the 2015 season. Verdict: Good deal.

  • Letroy Guion: Was suspended for three games after he signed a one-year, $2.75 million deal and although he returned for one more season, he proved to be more of a headache for his off-the-field issues than he was worth. Verdict: Bad deal.