The Green Bay Packers took their financial lumps in 2023, opting to have the entirety of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' $40 million dead cap hit impact their 2023 cap room last year after trading him to the New York Jets.

That move forced the team to get young in a hurry, but that development yielded strong results in 2020 first-round pick quarterback Jordan Love's first season as Rodgers' successor. The Packers offense put up the most catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns on a single team from first and second-year players in a season in NFL history, Love's 32 touchdown passes were the second-most in the entire NFL, while Green Bay became the youngest team to win a playoff game since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger (average age of 25 years and 214 days). 

This offseason, the Packers had money to spend with Rodgers' burden off of their books combined with the releases of a couple of players who dealt with injury issues (left tackle David Bakhtiari' and Aaron Jones' cuts freed up an additional $32 million or so in room) left Green Bay with legitimate financial flexibility for the first time since the 2019 offseason. Just like back then, when general manager Brian Gutekunst spent big money on edge rushers Za'Darius and Preston Smith, safety Adrian Amos and offensive tackle Billy Turner, Gutekunst utilized that cap room to be an immediate player at the start of free agency this offseason.

His two high-dollar deals this time were for 24-year-old safety Xavier McKinney, formerly of the New York Giants, (four years, $67 million) and 26-year-old running back Josh Jacobs (four years, $48 million), who previously played for the Las Vegas Raiders. Gutekunst also retained two-time first-team All-Pro returner and cornerback Keisean Nixon on a three-year, $18 million contract. 

Here is how each of those and all of their moves graded out as they had one of the better offseasons in the entire NFL through free agency. 

New acquisitions

Grade: A

Contract: Four years, $67 million ($23 million guaranteed, all paid out as a signing bonus)

One of the biggest issues with the Packers defense under former defensive coordinator Joe Berry were missed assignments in coverage on the back end of their defense. Green Bay ranked 22nd in points per drive (2.0), 25th in scoring percentage (39%), 20th in yards per play (5.4) and 25th in third-down percentage in 2023 (41%).  

So, Gutekust signed the market's best safety in McKinney. Pro Football Focus graded him as the NFL's best safety in coverage (91.2 coverage grade) since he totaled three interceptions while not allowing any passing touchdowns in 2023. McKinney's 41.4 passer rating as the primary defender in coverage ranked as the seventh best in the entire league, regardless of position, among the 146 players with at least 50 passes thrown their way last season. 

The Packers forced a tight window throw on only 12.4% of their opponents pass attempts in 2023, the third-lowest rate in the NFL, according to the league's Next Gen Stats. Among players who lined up at safety and had at least 20 passes thrown their way, McKinney had an NFL-best 30.8% tight window throw percentage against.

He is also a reliable tackler with a 5.7% missed tackle rate, the fourth-best among 74 safeties to paly at least 500 snaps in 2023. McKinney was also one of only two players in the NFL to play every defensive snap this past season along with former Giants teammate Bobby Okereke. Durability and high-level play make him deserving of this deal. 

The great thing about the deal structure for the Packers is that by having all of McKinney's guaranteed money paid out right away in the form of a $23 million signing bonus, it allows them to minimize the salary cap impact of potentially having to move off of him earlier than the conclusion of the 2027 season. 

Grade: B+

Contract: Four years, $48 million ($12.5 million guaranteed, all paid out as a signing bonus)

The Packers swapped out Aaron Jones for Josh Jacobs, betting on a 26-year-old back to be healthier than the one who turns 30 in December. Jacobs totaled at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage in each of his first five seasons as well as rushing for more than 1,000 in three of the five. Just two years ago, Jacobs led the league in yards rushing (1,653) and from scrimmage (2,053). 

Like McKinney's deal, Green Bay doled out all of Jacobs' guaranteed money over the life of the contract as a signing bonus (12.5 million), which means it also can get out of his deal if he starts aging rapidly out of nowhere like some running backs can do. 


Grade: B-

Contract: Three years, $18 million ($6.5 million guaranteed)

Keisean Nixon has been the NFL's leader in kickoff return yards in each of the last two seasons, which is why he is the back-to-back first-team All-Pro kickoff returner. In coverage last year, he wasn't great. Nixon's 81.7 passer rating as the primary defender in coverage ranked 82nd out of 109 defensive backs with at least 50 passes thrown their way. 

The last two seasons, the Packers had him on one-year deals, none higher than the $4 million he received last season. A three-year deal for someone who isn't even a net neutral on offense or defense is a little much, but the return value is clearly there. 

Grade: B+

Contract: One year, $2.742 million

For a moment in time, it appeared Dillion's tenure with the Packers was over after the team signed Josh Jacobs. There wasn't going to be room for Jacobs, Aaron Jones and Dillon. After Jones and the team couldn't agree on a restructured deal, he became back in play for the franchise that selected him in the second round of the 2020 draft. 

Nicknamed "Quadzilla" because of his 6-foot, 247-pound frame, he has produced 2,428 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns on 597 career carries in four seasons. He registered a career-low 3.4 yards per carry in 2023, the first time he averaged less than four yards a run, while also tying a career-low in rushing touchdowns (two, also done his rookie year in 2020). Dillon isn't the most efficient back, but at his price point, the deal works. 

Grade: B+

Contract: One year, $2.1 million 

Ballentine, who has been on four teams in five seasons, received his first shot at real playtime in 2023 after Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes suffered injuries, and he made the most of his opportunity. His 57.0 passer rating as the primary defender in coverage ranked 19th out of 109 defensive backs with at least 50 passes thrown their way.

He'll likely return to the bench as a depth piece in 2024, but he showed he can trusted upon in a pinch. The contract is solid for someone who performed the way Ballentine did last season. 

Grade: B

Contract: One year, $1.075 million 

Davis suffered a torn ACL last preseason, but he has been a key special teamer in Green Bay. He led the team in special teams snaps on the kickoff units in 2022, and he is relied upon to make critical tackles in open space in that phase of the game. Davis could get some snaps in the fullback/H-back role in head coach Matt LaFleur's offense, but the top two tight end spots are locked down by 2023 second-round pick Luke Musgrave and third-round pick Tucker Kraft

Overall offseason grade: A-

The Packers addressed their biggest weakness in the secondary with McKinney, and they fired Joe Berry and replaced him with Jeff Hafley, who plans to use much more man coverage, specifically press man coverage, and be a more aggressive defense than his predecessor's zone-heavy, drop back defense.

Offensively, they got younger at running back by bringing in a former rushing champion who is still just 26, and they retained the league's All-Pro kick returner. The only negative was losing Jones, who has been not only an on-field leader, but an off-field catalyst for the locker room as well. All of this was also accomplished while also maintaining $16.6 million in effective cap space for 2024 and just under $54 million in cap space for 2025. Plenty of room for Love's eventual high-dollar extension and more roster additions in the future.