Last offseason, the Green Bay Packers spent $182 million on their top four free-agent signings, Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos and Billy Turner. General manager Brian Gutekunst's aggressive open-market strategy worked out in the team's favor, but the club will have to stretch approximately $22.7 million this time around.
In other words, the Packers won't "win free agency" when it comes to splashy acquisitions. Gutekunst has tempered expectations, per ESPN's Rob Demovsky.
"We're not going to be able to do what we did in unrestricted free agency like we did last year," Gutenkunst said.
Still, the Packers will attempt to fill roster voids. The team released tight end Jimmy Graham. Although Jace Sternberger, a 2019 third-rounder, could step into a larger role, the front office has a veteran on its radar.
If Green Bay allows a pair of notable impending free agents to walk, two starting spots would open for the 2020 season.
What's the latest on the Packers' big-name in-house free agents? Who could possibly elevate the tight end position as a solid pass-catching target for quarterback Aaron Rodgers?
Packers Willing to Let LB Blake Martinez Walk?
One could argue the Packers found a Day 3 gem in Blake Martinez four years ago. He immediately worked his way into a starting role and became a tackle machine, leading the league in takedowns (144) during the 2017 campaign, duplicating that number for the following term and then topping it with 155 this past season.
Over the last two campaigns, Martinez flashed his ability to pressure the pocket from the second level of the defense, logging eight sacks.
Despite Martinez's production, the Packers have a set salary threshold for the starting inside linebacker who's prepared to test the market, per Ben Standig of The Athletic.
"As for Martinez specifically, multiple sources mentioned in recent days that the 2016 fourth-round pick is looking for a contract around $10 million annually," Standig wrote. "One source added there’s an NFC East team making eyes at the former Stanford standout. Green Bay isn’t expected to keep Martinez if the price escalates."
At $10 million per year, Martinez would rank in the top eight in earnings at his position, per Spotrac, which is a steep price for the Packers after their spending spree last year.
If Green Bay doesn't land a coverage linebacker like Cory Littleton or Joe Schobert, Gutekunst can look toward the draft to fill the need in a more cost-effective approach. Oregon's Troy Dye, who logged five interceptions and 14 pass breakups, could be a strong Day 2 target.
OT Bryan Bulaga to Command $12 Million Annually?
Green Bay may feel more comfortable allowing another in-house free agent to test the market as opposed to paying him a top-dollar salary on an extension.
According to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports, Bryan Bulaga could command $12 million annually on the open market. He suited up for and started all 16 games at right tackle and allowed 3.5 sacks, per STATs (via the Washington Post).
Bulaga's performances haven't fallen off a cliff. He's good enough to price himself out of Green Bay. Secondly, the Packers may have an in-house replacement, per Demovsky.
"Turner started every game at right guard and played more snaps than anyone else on the Packers' offense and could be a candidate to move to right tackle this season if free-agent Bryan Bulaga goes elsewhere," Demovksy wrote.
In 2019, Turner started every game at right guard, but he's a versatile offensive lineman with experience at right tackle. The Packers may have to exercise some creativity on the front line if they plan to keep Lane Taylor, coming off a season-ending biceps injury, and continue to start Elgton Jenkins who took over the former's spot at left guard this past season.
If Turner moves to right tackle and the Packers feel comfortable with Taylor or a new face at right guard, Green Bay could save money and avoid a massive payout for Bulaga.
Three Teams Set to Compete for TE Austin Hooper?
Austin Hooper will hit the open market as the top tight end available. The Los Angeles Chargers placed the franchise tag on Hunter Henry. Eric Ebron is coming off a disappointing year, logging 31 catches for 375 yards and three touchdowns. He also underwent surgery on both ankles in the offseason.
Hooper, a two-time Pro Bowler, should have plenty of suitors—count the Packers as one of them, per ESPN's Vaughn McClure.
"A source said the Washington Redskins are very interested in Hooper, while ESPN's Rob Demovsky reported the Green Bay Packers, who recently released veteran Jimmy Graham, are set to make a run at Hooper," McClure wrote.
In two years with the Packers, Graham didn't have much impact in the red zone, hauling in just five touchdown receptions, which was a staple in his game during stints with the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks.
The Packers don't have a ton of money to spend during free agency, but Hooper could become their prized pickup. The 25-year-old would likely slot into the No. 2 spot in the pass-catching pecking order behind wideout Davante Adams.