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Here’s Why Packers Didn’t Make Big Strike at Inside Linebacker

The top inside linebackers signed huge free-agent contracts, but the reasoning goes beyond dollars and cents.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – More than ever, inside linebacker appears to be a major need that the Green Bay Packers must address in next month’s draft.

The Packers entered the offseason with a gaping hole at inside linebacker. About a week into free agency, nothing has really changed. Yes, they signed Christian Kirksey but they lost Blake Martinez to the Giants and B.J. Goodson to the Browns. With the list of credible free agents wiped clean, there’s really nowhere else to turn.

One factor, a source said, was general manager Brian Gutekunst didn’t want to add another huge contract on the defensive side of the ball. Last offseason, the team signed three defenders to big free-agent contracts – outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith and safety Adrian Amos – and a monster extension with defensive tackle Kenny Clark is looming. Thus, they pre-emptively pounced on Kirksey, a street free agent who the Browns had released after two injury-plagued seasons, rather than wait for free agency.

With their salary-cap limitations, the Packers wound up being priced out of the market – making the two-year, $13 million roll of the dice on Kirksey a prescient move considering:

Miami lured Kyle Van Noy from New England with a four-year deal worth $51 million. That’s $12.75 million per season with $30 million guaranteed.

Las Vegas signed Cory Littleton – Green Bay’s top target – away from the Rams with a three-year deal worth $35.2 million. That’s $11.75 million per season with $22 million guaranteed.

Jacksonville added Joe Schobert, taking him from Cleveland with a five-year deal worth $53.75 million. That’s $10.75 million per season with $21.5 million guaranteed.

Martinez joined the Giants with a three-year, $30.75 million deal. That’s $10.25 million per season with $19 million guaranteed.

Detroit signed Jamie Collins away from New England with a three-year, $30 million deal. That’s $10 million per season with $18 million guaranteed.

Nick Kwiatkoski joined Las Vegas from Chicago with a three-year, $21 million contract. That’s $7 million per season with $13.5 million guaranteed.

Kimberly, Wis., native A.J. Klein signed with Buffalo, leaving New Orleans with a three-year deal worth $18 million. While the $6 million average is less than what Green Bay gave Kirksey (two years, $13 million for a $6.5 million average), Klein’s $11.3 million guarantee dwarfs Kirksey’s $4 million.

“They couldn’t afford him,” the agent for one of those linebackers said. 

Another agent ended a conversation with Gutekunst believing the GM would either try to make one splash move on offense or make a couple of midpriced signings. Ultimately, with the early signing of Kirksey and addition of right tackle Rick Wagner, the latter wound up being Gutekunst's direction.

As it stands, Kirksey, Oren Burks, Ty Summers and Curtis Bolton are the only inside linebackers on the roster. Kirksey missed 23 of 32 games the past two seasons due to injuries. Burks’ career has suffered significant setbacks with injuries in both of his training camps. Summers, a seventh-round pick last year, had a strong rookie year on special teams but didn’t play on defense. Bolton, an undrafted rookie who had shown some promise during training camp, missed the season with a torn ACL. 

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