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Free-agent pickups ease pressure on Packers at draft

April 22, 2019
FILE - In this Dec. 30, 2018, file photo, Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers warms up before an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers have needed the draft for fixes on defense the last few years, but this might be the time for them to swing back to the other side of the ball after a lackluster performance in 2018 by the offense and to give quarterback Aaron Rodgers more help. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer, File)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Having signed four potential starters in free agency, the Green Bay Packers enter this week’s draft looking to add the missing ingredients to a team that has missed the playoffs the last two seasons.

“With some of the things that we’ve done, I think where our team sits today, I’m not super concerned about, ‘Hey, we absolutely have to do this or absolutely have to do that,’” general manager Brian Gutekunst said at a news conference Monday.

“We can sit back, see where the draft board is strong, try to get there and then take the best players available. ... I think it’s a really good draft overall and I think we have a chance to help our team.”

The Packers hold the 12th selection in Thursday’s first round. They haven’t had such an early pick since drafting defensive tackle B.J. Raji at No. 9 in 2009. Gutekunst’s maneuvering in the first round of last year’s draft bagged the 30th selection of the first round for this year. Including those picks, Green Bay has six selections in the first four rounds.

Leading to the draft, Gutekunst added outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, safety Adrian Amos and offensive lineman Billy Turner. Those signings bolstered three of the Packers’ biggest areas of need. In turn, that eases the pressure on Gutekunst.

“I do like our flexibility to be able to move around and not feel like we’re pigeon-holed to have to take a certain position or a certain player,” he said.

One position where there is not an immediate need is quarterback, with 35-year-old Aaron Rodgers returning for his 15th season. Still, Gutekunst used one of his predraft visits on Missouri quarterback Drew Lock, who is considered a likely first-round pick. Gutekunst said there’s a measure of “subterfuge” in his use of the 30 predraft invitations. Then again, Brett Favre was 35 when then-general manager Ted Thompson drafted Rodgers in the first round in 2005.

“Every year, we spend a lot of time on the quarterbacks and trying to figure out what kinds of players those guys are going to be in the NFL,” Gutekunst said. “And it’s really, really important to us because, if you don’t have one, it’s really tough to win in this league. For us, it’s about trying to decide which are the guys that could potentially be starters in this league.”

This will be Gutekunst’s second year running the draft but his first with new coach Matt LaFleur. While LaFleur is installing a new offense — that process will continue at the three-day minicamp that starts Tuesday — Gutekunst said has had “minimal” impact on the kind of players he’s been scouting.

“You do this for as long as a lot of us have in that room, this is what you work all year for. It’s really exciting to have the ability to try to help your football team and add to that mix”

In addition to the first round, the Packers have the 12th selection in each round. Plus, they have an additional picks in the fourth round (last year’s trade of safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to Washington) and the sixth round (last year’s trade of quarterback Brett Hundley to Seattle).

For Gutekunst and his staff, it’s almost show time. In the draft room, the board is locked behind curtains to prevent overanalysis. He allowed his scouts to spend Easter weekend with family.

“You do get to this point where it’s a little dangerous to react too much,” he said. “And I wouldn’t imagine there would be a whole lot of tweaks between now and Thursday.”

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