Packers get mixed reviews for top free agent signings

The Green Bay Packers received mixed reviews in ESPN’s free agency breakdown from the site’s NFL experts.

General manager Brian Gutekunst made two of the biggest splashes, signing safety Xavier McKinney on a four-year, $68 million deal and running back Josh Jacobs on a four-year, $48 million deal.

One ESPN expert loved the Packers’ signing of McKinney. Another didn’t understand why the Packers swapped out Aaron Jones in favor of Jacobs.

From former NFL safety Matt Bowen picked McKinney as the best overall signing of the free agency period.

From Bowen: “As a safety with multidimensional traits, McKinney tracks the ball well and has the coverage skills to match in the slot. That’s a fit for a Green Bay defense that will be much more aggressive with its coverage and pressure tendencies under new coordinator Jeff Hafley. McKinney, 25, has nine interceptions and 14 pass breakups in his four pro seasons.”

No disagreements here. We think McKinney is a perfect fit as Jeff Hafley’s “post” safety. A detailed film breakdown of McKinney’s game can be found here.

While the Packers might have signed one of the top defensive players available at a major position of need, a decision on offense didn’t get the same glowing reviews.

Stephania Bell, ESPN’s fantasy football analyst, was critical of the Packers making a big change at running back, picking Jacobs to the Packers as her biggest head-scratching move.

From Bell: “It’s true, last season was an off year for Aaron Jones. He suffered a hamstring injury in Week 1, and it limited his availability throughout the season. But the oft-repeated mantra was that Jones was the heart of the team, a critical presence in the locker room and the key to its run game. The argument against Jones is he’s an aging running back who was going to cost too much to re-sign. Yet the Packers brought in a back on a more expensive multiyear deal (four years, $48 million) who has fewer years of play in the league but has accrued mileage at a faster rate. This is not about Jacobs’ undeniable talent, it’s about the rationale.”

Jacobs is three years younger and just one year removed from an NFL rushing title, but he actually has more career regular season touches than Jones and is also coming off a season ended by injury. The Packers, who asked Jones to take a big pay cut before releasing him, are banking on Jacobs bouncing back in a better environment in Green Bay in 2024. It’s a risk, given how important Jones was on the field and in the locker room for the Packers. But Jacobs is also a difference maker at running back when healthy, and he was a captain for the Raiders.

There are good reasons to be extremely excited about McKinney in Hafley’s defense and good reasons to be worried about losing Jones from Matt LaFleur’s offense, but no one ever truly knows how free agent decisions will play out. McKinney could get hurt or not make enough impact plays as a $17 million per year player. Jacobs could return to his 2022 form and dominate while Jones flounders in a different situation in Minnesota. A trendy Super Bowl contender entering 2024, the Packers are hoping their big free agent splashes pay off right away.

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