NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2021 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began March 17, meaning free-agent signings could be made official after that. The first round of the 2021 NFL draft begins April 29 on ESPN.
For the second straight year, the Green Bay Packers are coming off a 13-3 season that ended in the NFC Championship Game. Last offseason, they added a couple of value signings in free agency and then used their top-two draft picks on players they pegged for future contributions (Jordan Love and AJ Dillon). Will they take an all-in approach this year? Their salary-cap situation likely would prevent it, but general manager Brian Gutekunst said before free agency that he believes he’ll be able to make a significant addition if the right opportunity presents itself while also trying to re-sign some of his own free agents.
Aaron Jones, RB
Jones reached agreement with the Packers on a four-year deal worth $48 million, including a $13 million signing bonus, agent Drew Rosenhaus told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
What it means: The Packers value running backs. Or at least a dynamic running back. After they opted not to franchise tag Jones, some thought that mean he was as good as gone. Instead, they worked out a more cap-friendly contract that won't eat up so much space in Year 1. Other than quarterback Aaron Rodgers, there might not be a more difficult to replace player on the Packers' offense than Jones. Sure, Davante Adams is at the top of the receiver list in the NFL, but the Packers have managed in games he's missed. When Jones has missed time, it's been tougher on the offense. So the task of hoping they can find another Jones in the fifth round, where he was picked in 2017, must have seemed too daunting for the Packers. AJ Dillon would have been a viable option but with Jamaal Williams also set for free agency, the Packers decided they couldn't maintain their production with only Dillon returning to their backfield.
What's the risk: After trading up to draft quarterback Jordan Love in the first round last year, this might be the greatest risk general manager Brian Gutekunst has taken during his tenure. If Jones gets banged up -- as running backs are wont to do -- then this deal will get lumped in with the other bad running back contracts of recent years (Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, etc). The shelf life of an NFL back is short. The gamble here is that Jones still has plenty of tread left on the tires considering the Packers haven't worn him out in his first four seasons.
Kevin King, CB
The Packers brought back King, 25, on a one-year, $6 million deal.
What it means: The Packers don't have to draft a cornerback high this year. They probably still should, but it's not an absolute must anymore. Still, the move came as a bit of a surprise given King's inconsistent play and injury history. But 6-foot-3 cornerbacks who can run a 4.43 40 -- if King still can -- don't come around every day. Even though he has yet to live up to his potential, the Packers are clearly willing to give him one more chance to show he can be what they thought he'd be when they picked him 33rd overall four years ago.
What's the risk: Two things: That he will get injured again (remember he missed five games last year and 23 regular-season games over four seasons) or that he will struggle and they will waste snaps on him, preventing them from developing a younger cornerback to pair with Jaire Alexander. If King manages to stay healthy and doesn't have the kind of coverage lapses he showed on the last-second touchdown pass in the first half of the NFC title game or the last-minute pass interference call in the same game, then it's worth it. But that's a big if at this point.
Marcedes Lewis, TE
Lewis returns to the Packers on a two-year, $8 million deal.
What it means: Aaron Rodgers has one of his favorite teammates back. No, he's not one of Rodgers' favorite targets -- Lewis has caught only 28 passes during his three seasons in Green Bay -- but Rodgers has raved about Lewis' leadership. Nicknamed "Big Dog," Lewis has been an important confidant for Rodgers. Consider this anecdote from Rodgers during the week of the NFC title game this past season: "Big Dog, he’s one of those guys like yesterday we were at practice, and I was frustrated about something and he could tell, and he just came over and gave me a big hug, and kind of everything just washed away, and nothing really mattered after that. That’s the effect that he has. He’s got such an incredible charisma about him, and just a great energy. Just one of those guys you love playing with, and so much love, respect and gratitude for him."
What's the risk: That eventually age will catch up with Lewis. He will turn 37 on May 19. However, he has missed only one game during his three years with the Packers (it came last season when he was sidelined because of a knee injury that snapped a streak of 51 consecutive games played. He's played more than 400 snaps in each of the last two seasons and a similar role seems realistic.