Packers say goodbye to six in free agency

Green Bay will look to supplement players before new season starts
Luke Reimer
Green & Gold Express

With the induction of the new NFL season, the Green Bay Packers front office was fairly busy when it came to organizing who will be on the field next year.

Out of the players who said farewell to the green and gold, there are six notable names who will see themselves on new teams in the coming season: Aaron Jones, David Bakhtiari, De’Vondre Campbell, Jon Runyan Jr., Darnell Savage and Jonathan Owens.

The first move of Green Bay’s free agency when the new season started was the release of longtime tackle Bakhtiari.

Bakhtiari spent the first 11 seasons of his career in Green Bay, where he put together one of the best Packer careers of all time. Forming a strong relationship with Aaron Rodgers, Bakhtiari started 131 games at the left tackle position, where he collected two First-Team All-Pro awards, three Second-Team All-Pro awards and three Pro-Bowl selections.

In Green Bay, Bakhtiari quickly became known as not only one of the best offensive lineman in the NFL but one of the best players in the NFL. The Colorado alum was a major reason why Rodgers was able to succeed and why Green Bay had a potent offense for the better part of a decade. Things changed though when he went down with a knee injury in 2020.

As Green Bay was preparing for a playoff push in the 2020-21 season, Bakhtiari went down with a torn ACL in practice Dec. 31. While he was forced to miss the subsequent postseason, there was optimism that he would be back for the 2021 season. After the injury was set back, he was put on the physically unable to perform list, which meant he was to miss the first six games of the season. That quickly turned into a season-long injury, as Bakhtiari started just one game, the season finale. He was able to return for the 2022 season, but his knee once again acted up, and after 11 games, he was ruled inactive. Finally in 2023, he was limited to just one game.

Throughout Bakhtiari’s injury troubles, many Packer fans became increasingly frustrated with him and his opinions regarding artificial turf. Finally, general manager Brian Gutekunst and the front office opted to part ways with the veteran due in part to the $40 million cap hit this season.

On the same day as Bakhtiari’s release was the release of running back Jones.

Similar to Bakhtiari, Jones spent his entire career in Green Bay, where he became the team’s number three all-time leading rusher with 5,940 career rushing yards. On top of the rushing yards, Jones garnered 45 rushing touchdowns. The move to release Jones came quickly as just minutes before he was released Green Bay had signed former Raiders running back Josh Jacobs.

After Gutekunst had hinted at keeping Jones in Green Bay during his end-of-season press conference, many quickly latched onto the idea of employing a one-two punch of Jacobs and Jones for the upcoming season.

“Yeah, really tough, obviously the business of football never really stops and any player that really commits what he has to our football team, the way he was in our locker room and a very productive football player, that was really tough,” said Gutekunst, about releasing Jones. “I think over time you get used to it, but that is just the business of football.”

While Gutekunst was seemingly determined to keep Jones at all costs, things changed as free agency opened and the new season started. Gutekunst explained that the Green Bay front office asked Jones to take a pay cut, but as negotiations moved along, it became less likely that the two sides could agree.

“Obviously we had to do what was in the best interest of the football team, and that is what we did,” said Gutekunst.

The theme surrounding aging veterans in Green Bay as of recent has been the front office asking them to take a pay cut. While some have obliged, Jones is added to the list of players, including Davante Adams and Aaron Rodgers, who have moved on from the Packers.

While Jacobs is more than capable of being the workhorse running back, his 4.2 yards per carry average is almost one yard less than Jones’ 5.0 yards per carry average. When the offense seemed to stall the last few seasons, giving the ball to Jones has more than often provided the spark plug. With Jones now in Minnesota, it will yet to be seen who is that player to step up when things go sideways for the offense.

Following Jones’ release, Green Bay elected to move on from another veteran, linebacker Campbell.

Campbell started his tenure in Green Bay on a great note, making First-Team All-Pro, the first Packers inside linebacker to be awarded a First-Team All-Pro since Ray Nitschke.

The grace quickly wore off though as in his second season in the green and gold, Campbell became increasingly frustrated with how the Packers were managing his injuries, as well as how he was being received by fans. At the beginning of the 2023 season, Green Bay had inked Campbell to a five-year, $50 million deal.

That contract ended up being moved, after Green Bay released Campbell and he signed with the 49ers. Campbell’s frustration continued with Green Bay after he claimed that he was not being used in the right system. Moving on from Campbell seemed like a good decision for both sides as both can now start over.

With the signing of Jacobs, the Packers will need to continue to look for help in the run game, as starting guard Runyan signed with the New York Giants in the offseason.

While he was somewhat part of a rotation on the offensive line, Runyan started 50 games in his four-year career in Green Bay. Runyan was a sixth round pick in 2020, before becoming the everyday starter after his first season. The release of Runyan came on the back of his expiring rookie contract. With the release of Runyan, Green Bay was not only able to save money but it gives the team a little flexibility on the offensive line with Zach Tom, who can play anywhere on the offensive line.

In 2022, the Packers drafted Sean Rhyan in the third round of the NFL draft. With the limited play that Rhyan has had on the offensive line, he has shown that he is more than capable to play in the NFL. Releasing Runyan also gives Green Bay the option to finally see what Rhyan can do as the everyday starter.

Savage was the fifth veteran who was released in this season’s free agency period. Savage was a first round pick for the Packers in 2019. Savage, much like other Packers defensive backs, have performed well when they have been on the field, but injuries have severely hampered his production. On the field, Savage is a prototypical free safety, who totaled 302 combined tackles, 32 pass deflections and nine interceptions.

Along with Savage being released was fellow safety Owens. In the previous offseason, Owens signed a one-year deal with Green Bay. From that point, the Missouri Western alum totaled 84 combined tackles and one fumble recovery.

Both players’ release came as a result of opening up cap space for Green Bay to make moves in free agency, as well as making moves in the coming NFL draft. The release of the two players though comes at a price, as Green Bay now lacks depth at the safety position. The signing of Xavier McKinney helps to eliminate some of those deficiencies, but there is no question that the Packers will look to draft a safety.

“Certainly we would always like to have a younger guy who is going to have his best football ahead of him, but I think we will look at all options as we go forward,” said Gutekunst, on the possibility of drafting a safety. “We have the draft coming up, which will be important and we have had some success finding some guys after the draft in the free agent market that have fit us very well.”