Brian Gutekunst has had mixed results with off-season acquisitions during his tenure. For every all-pro (Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith, Elgton Jenkins) there is a clear miss who was off the team before his contract was up (Josh Jackson, Christian Kirksey, Jace Sternberger). The Packers in-season acquisitions are mostly lottery tickets – the players wouldn’t be available during the season if they had the . With this year’s acquisitions of Jaylon Smith and Rasul Douglas in the news, let’s go over the main ones.
Breeland was Gutekunst’s first big in-season free agent signing. He arrived after Davon House was put on IR in 2018. This signing showed that Gutekunst was willing to go where Ted Thompson wasn’t – the veteran free agent market during the season.
Breeland had an up and down career prior to joining the Packers and has had an up and down one since. During his one season in Green Bay, he had a PFF grade of 57.2, not great but in line with House’s performance. Breeland also grabbed a pair of memorable interceptions late in the year.
Vitale was also signed in 2018. He was a practice squad member at first and was supposed to be a great weapon in Matt Lafleur’s system, but his blocking was never good enough to get him on the field very often. He has since retired.
Campbell was signed off waivers from the Jets in November 2018. He had experience in Mike Pettine’s system and was pitched as a good box safety and potential sub linebacker.
He never quite reached that potential with Green Bay and was off the team after a season and a half.
Lazard was Gutekunst’s first highly successful in-season acquisition. Gutekunst signed him off of Jacksonville’s practice squad in December 2018. He has since matured into one of the league’s best blocking wide receivers and a surprisingly fast downfield target for Aaron Rodgers.
Tractorcito was touted as a first round pick early in his college career at Alabama. A bad combine pushed him down the draft board and then a few bad years in Baltimore put him on the waivers list where Gutekunst claimed him in 2019.
Williams had an uneventful season in Green Bay before being a surprising early cut prior to the 2020 season.
Veldheer is the next big hit. The Packers claimed him off waivers from the Patriots after he decided to unretire mid-season. Veldheer was able to man the right tackle spot well for several games in the regular season and playoffs after Bryan Bulaga got hurt.
Ervin is a lot like Danny Vitale. The idea of him was always better than the real thing. He was electric in college and on a few kick returns. But after signing with the Packers to be the jet sweep guy, he never really put it all together to take a run to the house or be a useable slot wide receiver.
If Ervin is a lot like Vitale, Dafney is a lot like Lazard. A mostly unheralded player who was added to the practice squad in a random news dump, worked his ass off, became a great blocker, and is now worthy of a starting spot. There’s a clear argument to be made that Dafney does the jobs that third round picks Jace Sternberger and Josiah Deguara were drafted to do better than them.
Tavon Austin and Damon Harrison
We’ll conclude with these two. Both were Twitter darlings, and both did next to nothing in Green Bay. It’s too bad they couldn’t have been signed earlier in their careers, or at least earlier in the season or off-season. Both had the talent to be a huge success in Green Bay but were just acquired too late to get anything going.
This is actually more of a mixed bag than I expected. I remembered Breeland’s picks more than his mistakes. Vitale and Ervin’s potential more than their results. Austin and Harrison’s highlights videos on twitter more than the 0 snaps on the box score.
That said, Lazard and Dafney are big hits. Jared Veldheer, Bashaud Breeland, and Ibraheim Campbell were at the very least replacement level contributors. We won’t know what this all means for Jaylon Smith and Rasul Douglas for a while, but if history is any guide, pay close attention to who Gutekunst signs to the practice squad in November and December. And remember, this list would look at a lot different if the team had been able to pull off a trade for Robbie Anderson, Will Fuller, or Dalvin Tomlinson.
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.
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