Packers didn’t skimp on landing free agents

Packers.com Photo BILLY TURNER

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — From 2010 through 2016, former Packers general manager Ted Thompson signed two unrestricted free agents.

On Thursday, the Packers announced the signing of four such players.

Second-year GM Brian Gutekunst wasn’t shopping from the bargain bin, either, in trying to improve a team coming off its first back-to-back losing seasons in a quarter-century. Rather, Gutekunst dived headfirst into the initial wave of free agency by signing outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, safety Adrian Amos, and offensive lineman Billy Turner. They each signed four-year contracts worth a combined $182 million, $57 million of which is guaranteed.

Gutekunst, however, disagreed with the notion his aggressive foray into free agency was aimed at putting the Packers back among the NFL’s elite teams while quarterback Aaron Rodgers remains in his prime.

“I don’t think so,” Gutekunst said. “I think, obviously, this is Green Bay, Wisconsin. We’re in a win-now mode all the time. I thought we needed to add to our defense significantly and I think these guys will.”

Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith replace the longtime starting tandem of Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, who are free agents. Matthews had 3 1-2 sacks last season while Perry had 1 1-2 sacks and was released earlier this week before being paid a $4.8 million roster bonus.

Za’Darius Smith had a career-high 8 1-2 sacks last season for the Baltimore Ravens while Preston Smith had four sacks last season for the Washington Redskins. The new teammates met when Za’Darius Smith, a junior college player at the time, was on a recruiting trip to Mississippi State, where Preston Smith was an established star.

“We really got cool when we actually went to the combine,” said Za’Darius Smith, who wound up playing at Kentucky. “He’s a Smith and I’m a Smith, so we were right behind each other (during drills). Got a chance to communicate, but one thing he did tell me, he was like, ‘Z, we’re going to do great things in this league.’ I kid you not. Now, we’re playing together.”

Za’Darius Smith, who tied for 10th in the league with 25 quarterback hits, frequently moved from the edge to the inside on passing downs for the Ravens.

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