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Inbox: The goal is always to improve this football team

Competition is the water feeding those roots

Packers huddle
Packers huddle

Agnes from Pixomatis, ND

Wes, did you hear anything from Brian Gutekunst that you would consider noteworthy? For my unpracticed ear, there was nothing even mildly surprising. His comments did reinforce for me the very strong alignment across the Packers' leadership.

I thought Spoff outlined everything quite well in his “10 Things” piece. Gutekunst made a salient point about the value of competition and how the team's success in 2023 was a byproduct of how players pushed each other throughout the season. The GM's job is to put the best possible team on the field and competition is the water feeding those roots. Whether it's receiver, backup quarterback or even kicker, I expect Green Bay to leave no stone unturned this offseason in its pursuit of improvement.

Eric from Springfield, VA

Morning, hope you're well. The practice-squad changes were an aftereffect of COVID, and it seems those changes are both positive and here to stay, correct? With the rise in the salary cap "post-COVID," do you see teams changing any cap management strategies long term? However, I also realize those years of decreased salary cap are an anomaly from a major world event. The league is signing new deals of growth left and right and you must look forward and deal the cards you're dealt.

This year's spike probably puts things back where they would've been if not for the cap shrinking in 2021. Despite the increase, I don't see a whole lot changing with how teams manage the cap. I suppose the extra space gives teams without a cornerstone quarterback – or one on a rookie deal – a chance to build out their roster, but even the price of mid-tier guys will rise in the wake of franchise QBs. In this sport, you either have "the man" or you're paying to find him.

Al from Green Bay, WI

I'm reading too many offseason prognosticators writing that this free agent or that one would be a perfect fit for the Packers. While Gutey may well bring in a free agent or two, given the youth of this team and the 11 probable draft choices, might this be a good year to largely "resist the urge" to make a splash with free agents?

Eliot Wolf had a great line over at the Patriots' podium on Tuesday: "We will try to do what's right. Whether that means spending or saving, that's TBD." It lines up with what I said earlier in Inbox – just because you have cap space doesn't mean you have to spend it all. We'll see what Gutekunst does in Green Bay, but I think it's more likely we see some "mid-level" signings than anything resembling 2019. That offseason, Green Bay needed to renovate the roster. I would expect this offseason to be centered on a Jordan Love extension and sorting through the players currently under contract.

David from North Potomac, MD

I think some fans are concerned over Love getting a big new deal, which then consumes so much cap space we don't get to build around him as well as we could. Can you illustrate some examples of how his contract can be structured to keep him happy and still build what we hope will be a Super Bowl-winning squad?

That price is only going to keep rising, folks. Just look at Patrick Mahomes' 10-year, $450 million contract. In three years, that thing went from astonishingly high to a relative bargain. The Packers set a similar standard with Aaron Rodgers' first two extensions. The benefit of getting a deal done with Love now is it allows Green Bay to leverage the final year of his current deal to spread the cap hit associated with any contract he signs.

Matt from Fitchburg, WI

Is the fact the Packers can't extend Love until May a downside to the two-year extension they did last year?

No. As Gutekunst said in Indy, the Packers and Love's representatives can still talk. They just can't execute an extension until after May 23.

Jim from Youngstown, OH

Re: Ray from Phoenix's question regarding our current tight ends filling the roll of fullback if Josiah Deguara does not re-sign. I haven't heard mention of Henry Pearson filling that role. From his college career, Pearson seems like a capable receiver and certainly has the body type. Any thoughts of him being a candidate? Keep up the good work. I need this column daily, especially during the offseason!

Pearson did some good things last year when Deguara was out with the hip injury and is very much in the hunt for a roster spot this summer. At 6-foot-2, 249 pounds, Pearson is more of your prototypical fullback. Gutekunst has said he wants competition in every room. Whether Deguara returns or not, I'd be surprised if it's just one guy competing for that H-back role.

Craig from Appleton, WI

Having been a head coach in the ACC, how much extra information do you think Jeff Hafley can provide to the scouting department about players coming from the conference? He obviously knows about his own players but was wondering how much of his studying his opponents will translate to evaluations on players we might draft.

When it comes to the NFL, any intel is good intel. It doesn't necessarily mean Hafley's experience at Boston College will impact the way Green Bay scouts and/or drafts, but he brings a unique perspective of the ACC and its players. Hafley didn't just scout the conference. He lived in it for four years.

Rick from Trempealeau, WI

If memory serves, the Packers switched to a 3-4 defensive front in 2009. Obviously, a huge adjustment and it appeared that Aaron Kampman's game took a hit because of it, although of course a serious injury came into play late in the season. Do you foresee any of the current Packer lineman/linebackers that will need huge adjustments due to switching back to a 4-3?

No. The Packers will need to figure out where a couple defensive linemen will play in base, but I don't foresee anyone without a position in Hafley's defense.

Randy from Billings, MT

The Packers have a number of free agents that may provide compensatory draft picks in 2025 if they are let go. As fans start to push for free agent signings, don't let them forget that there is a balance scale weighing the "net" loss/gain due to signing new free agents versus letting Packer free agents go. As much as Gutekunst values draft picks, does this weigh heavily in his considerations if a free-agent signing can help the team long/short term versus a late pick in 2025?

Compensatory picks are a derivative of Gutekunst's actions in free agency, not the driving force behind them. He won't let a coveted player walk just to get a Day 3 pick or shy away from signing an unrestricted free agent out of fear of how it tips the scales. First and foremost, the goal is always to improve this football team. Only after the dust settles do you start to take compensatory gains into consideration.

Jim from De Pere, WI

Greetings Insider Inbox. Do you know how much weight the Packers place on cognitive testing at the combine? I was curious with more players skipping the live drills and now players are starting to pass on the cognitive testing. Thank you for everything you do!

Rather than paraphrasing Gutekunst, I'm just going to give you his full answer when he was asked about cognitive testing on Tuesday morning: "It's a very important part of our process, but it's just a part of our process. The way our cognitive testing works, it's not really used as much as an evaluation tool whether we're going to choose a player or not. It's more about if we do choose a player, what are the best ways we're going to support that player once we get him in the building. So, if we do happen to have guys that don't take our cognitive test or the league's cognitive test, which, because there's multiple, we'll probably test them when they get in once we bring 'em into Green Bay because it's really more about how do we support that player? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do they learn best? It's more about that than really a tool to decide whether or not you're going to choose a player."

Joseph from Berlin, Germany

Regarding the question asked by David from Crivitz, I thought your reasoning for why a team wouldn't do a RB committee approach, with one back having off weeks, was exactly why that might make sense. If I understood the question correctly, say Jones plays two weeks and then another high-caliber RB, like Dalvin Cook or Derrick Henry, plays two weeks so that Aaron Jones' body can fully recover, you would enter playoffs with potentially two very healthy elite backs. I'm trying to see the downside.

So, what do you do if Jones pulls his hamstring right off the bat like he did in Chicago?

Bob from Harrisburg, PA

Hi II, the Rams just hired a game-management coordinator, in part to help judge when timeouts are called. Does Matt LaFleur have someone performing similar duties for the Packers?

That would be the venerable Connor Lewis, who also assists the quarterbacks.

Curt from Locust Grove, GA

When a player is going through medical checks, is each team allowed to do its independent evaluation or just a few and the results are published to each team? I can understand a team wanting to know a torn ACL per se is healed but also the player might not want that knee pulled and tweaked 32 times.

Right. A player obviously won't undergo 32 different MRIs, but the combine still provides team doctors with an opportunity to confer with prospects. It doesn't have to be a full-on physical to gain necessary information.

Bob from Emmaus, PA

What is more important for reducing injuries: offseason rest and preparation or the work starting with training camp?

I favor the former over the latter. There's a lot to be said for conditioning your body for an NFL season, but it's difficult to stay healthy if you don't start healthy. Those two or three months between the end of the season and the beginning of the offseason program are critical for players to get their bodies back.

Craig from Niagara, WI

There was a question about why there should be a combine if the top prospects are not participating. I think people make too big of a deal over top prospects. I think having them participate would be good, but I would be just as interested in the fringe players. Wouldn't this be a big advantage to mid-round prospects? How many players picked out of the fourth through seventh rounds that maybe jumped onto their radar during the combine?

For prospects with everything to gain, the combine is huge for improving draft stock. For example, Byron Jones probably doesn't get drafted in the first round, if not for his world-record broad jump and 44½-inch vertical in 2015. Locally, former Ashwaubenon quarterback James Morgan catapulted himself into the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft after an impressive showing in front of scouts. There's a lot of money on the line this week in Indy, especially for mid-to-late-round prospects.

Richard from Racine, WI

Who have the Packers previously picked at No. 25 that became a big contributor to the team's success?

The Packers' best 25th-overall selection was Boyd Dowler, though his selection came in the third round in 1959. Green Bay's other five No. 25 picks are Ahmad Carroll (2004), Antwan Edwards (1999), Don Horn (1967), Lou Ferry (1949) and Bernie Scherer (1936).

Jeff from Indian Lake, NY

I see the Packers restructured Rashan Gary's contract, converting a roster bonus to a signing bonus, and freeing up a little more than $4 million in cap space. That should be enough to plant a safety tree out back and shake that thing until Antoine Winfield Jr. falls from the top branches, right?

The Packers have room to make a move, but Tampa would be foolish to let Winfield out of its bay.

Randal from Sebring, FL

What are we looking for in the FA opportunities? Gabe Davis will be available for a WR addition. Although he's had a slump, when he's good, he's great. He would bring some experience to us. He's due for another good year and we could get him for a decent price. What determines if a player is worth taking the chance?

I appreciate the enthusiasm, but it's always better to approach free agency through the rearview. Trying to predict whom the Packers will sign is a fruitless endeavor. None of us know. I know it's not as fun, but it's far more productive to see what moves they make and begin drawing conclusions from there.

Rudy from Rhinelander, WI

Mike, being at the combine without Wes, do you dare steal Larry's lunch? Might be a "Gutsy" move?

Larry isn't a big lunch guy, but it would be a fool's errand to steal a crumb off his counter. Have a good Wednesday.

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