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Five things learned from Brian Gutekunst's pre-draft news conference

Free-agent signings give Packers options this weekend

WR Devin Funchess
WR Devin Funchess

GREEN BAY – Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst conducted his annual pre-draft news conference with reporters via telephone on Monday afternoon. Here are five things we learned:

1. Experience sold Gutekunst on the Packers' incoming free agents.

Gutekunst looked to bring in tried-and-true veterans with ample NFL experience to replenish the Packers' roster following the departure of seven unrestricted free agents this offseason.

The Packers checked three significant boxes in signing linebacker Christian Kirksey, tackle Rick Wagner and receiver Devin Funchess, moves that helped offset the loss of veterans Blake Martinez, Bryan Bulaga and Geronimo Allison.

Kirksey, Wagner and Funchess have started 182 of the 237 career regular-season games they've played, which could be valuable with uncertainty surrounding NFL offseason programs due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

It's entirely possible the Packers still could use any of their 10 selections in this weekend's NFL Draft to further address those three positions, but the acquisitions give Gutekunst and his front office flexibility depending on how their board falls.

"I really like the experience factor with all those guys," Gutekunst said. "They've played a lot of football, they've started a lot of games. They've been in the fire and that makes you feel pretty good. At the same time…we'll be pretty aggressive in trying to improve our football team throughout."

Since Wagner and Kirksey were released by their previous teams before the start of the league year, both were allowed to visit Green Bay and take physicals before nationwide stay-at-home orders took effect last month.

For that same reason, neither veteran counts towards next year's net-loss compensatory formula. currently projects Green Bay will receive a fourth-, fifth- and sixth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft for losing Martinez, Bulaga and linebacker Kyler Fackrell, respectively.

At the same time, Gutekunst said the Packers are still arranging the rest of Funchess' physical. The 25-year-old receiver missed only three games during his first four NFL seasons before a broken collarbone suffered in Indianapolis' opener last season landed him on injured reserve.

Per league rules, NFL clubs must either wait until stay-at-home orders have been lifted to conduct on-site physicals or find a mutually agreed upon physician in a player's home city or a nearby location to handle it.

"There's still a portion of it that he'll have to kind of get through, once hopefully this clears up or we're able find another way to do it," Gutekunst said.

2. Packers scouts will have a say in undrafted free agency.

With NFL personnel departments unable to congregate in centralized locations, Gutekunst will lean heavily on his scouts to build the Packers' undrafted rookie class once the draft is over on Saturday night.

"I'm going to put a lot more in their hands and let them go," Gutekunst said. "We're not going to be able to get together, so I'm just really fortunate that I have a bunch of experienced guys that I can turn it over to. I'll still be heavily involved but not like usual. They're excited."

It isn't too out of the ordinary for GMs to deputize scouts to act on their behalf during what can often be a chaotic process in the immediate aftermath of the draft. Assuming the Packers stay put and make 10 selections this weekend, they would have another 16 spots available on their 90-man offseason roster.

Green Bay has had at least one college free agent make its initial 53-man roster for the last 15 years and had 30 undrafted free agents make the team in the past decade.

The Packers finished the 2019 season with 12 former undrafted free agents on the active roster, including cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Chandon Sullivan, and receiver Allen Lazard.

"I've always said as a scout, that's a part of the draft that's really important for our craft, and we've always taken a lot of pride in it," Gutekunst said. "We've had really good players come out of the crop so I expect our guys to do a really good job finding some players."

3. Packers made the best out of video conferences with prospects.

Another unfortunate reality of the current pandemic was many colleges had to cancel their pro days, while NFL teams also were not permitted to conduct their typical 30 pre-draft visits.

Instead, GMs and scouts have been forced to use FaceTime to get to know prospects. It's a route Gutekunst has occasionally ventured down in the past to interview prospects the Packers were unable to meet with in-person, but this was his first time conducting video interviews on a large scale.

While the interviews were limited in their scope, Gutekunst felt the format provided some insight into a player's professionalism based on his preparation and punctuality.

"It's certainly not as ideal as sitting down with a guy face-to-face, whether it be in Green Bay or on a college campus, but you make the best of the situation," Gutekunst said. "Because of the nature of it, you have multiple people who kind of handle these FaceTime talks and so each person may have a different perspective of how it went."

4. Gutekunst believes Head Coach Matt LaFleur's creativity will translate well to a virtual offseason format.

Gutekunst didn't shed too much light on the Packers' plans for a virtual offseason program but is encouraged by what he's heard so far from LaFleur.

Last week, the NFL and the NFLPA approved a measure to allow teams with returning head coaches to begin a voluntary virtual offseason program next Monday. Teams can use online platforms for classroom instruction, workouts and non-football educational programs.

"I think the creativity of Matt's staff is unique," Gutekunst said. "I think they're kind of (champing) at the bit to get with their guys. … Some of the ideas that he's been bouncing off me are really interesting and I think that our guys will soak it up."

5. The Packers are waiting until after the draft to make a decision on Tramon Williams and other pending free agents.

The Packers haven't ruled out re-signing longtime cornerback Williams but plan to wait until after the draft to make any further free-agent moves.

Williams, 37, played in all 34 games (including playoffs) since returning to Green Bay in March 2018. He was the Packers' nickel cornerback this past season, recording 39 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble.

"We're going to wait until after the draft to see where we're at," Gutekunst said. "Obviously, what Tramon's meant not only to our current team but what he did in the past, he's an all-time Packer. If that fits once we get out of the draft, then we'll certainly make it happen if we can."

Green Bay has four unrestricted free agents still on the market: Williams, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, receiver Ryan Grant and safety Ibraheim Campbell.