When the Green Bay Packers traded down twice in the second round, adding a late fifth- and an early sixth-round pick, it was logical to anticipate another move later on. General manager Brian Gutekunst could use the extra picks to move up at some point or even trade some picks to acquire 2024 capital. After all, it was strange to make so many selections — 13 in total! — in one draft class. But that’s exactly what the Packers did. Thirteen selections. That comes just one year after they made 11 selections. In the last two drafts combined, the Packers selected eight seventh-rounders.
But there’s a strategic reason why they did that. One example is what the Minnesota Vikings ended up doing hours later. The NFC North rival gave $340,000 guaranteed to undrafted rookie edge Andre Carter, from Navy, immediately after the draft. It was a record number, $300k in base salary and $40,000 in signing bonus. That number is also much higher than what the Packers will guarantee to their late-round rookies.
Cornerback Carrington Valentine, the highest of Green Bay’s seventh-round picks, got $100,000 in guaranteed money. The number decreases further down the draft. Running back Lew Nichols III got $98k, Safety Anthony Johnson Jr. got $84,000, and they gave $77,000 to wide receiver Grant DuBose. When it comes to undrafted players, wide receiver Malik Heath was the only one with any reported guarantee. The Packers gave him a $9,000 signing bonus, a small number even for undrafted rookies.
Why did the Packers make so many seventh-round picks? Because they are trying to avoid the priority free-agent market. With four seventh-round picks, Green Bay made sure they got all the players they wanted to get right after the draft. Even though they will use more resources than usual, they signed guys they otherwise probably wouldn’t, considering how competitive the UDFA market is right now, and without spending that much money.
Jourdan Rodrigue, who covers the Los Angeles Rams for The Athletic, wrote a very interesting article talking about the process of signing undrafted free agents. It’s a bizarre, obscure market that theoretically couldn’t begin before the end of the draft. However, it practically starts simultaneously with Day 3 and develops throughout Saturday.
“Just because you can carry 90 doesn’t mean that you have to carry 90,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said. “You want to make sure that you’re adding players that you feel like have a legitimate chance to make your football team.”
There is real competition to sign the best UDFAs. Sometimes it boils down to what the depth chart looks like. Sometimes, though, it’s all about the money. That means big guaranteed numbers. The Packers ended up with more draft picks (13) than priority free agents added (12). At the end of the draft weekend, Green Bay had 88 players. Later, after rookie minicamp, they added cornerback William Hooper from Northwestern State. However, that’s a different type of move. There isn’t nearly as much competition for the second wave of rookie free agents.
That’s why Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio suggested the NFL should try and expand the draft to nine or 10 rounds. However, that would probably have no real impact. It doesn’t matter how many rounds the draft has, teams would still look for the best remaining players.
For Green Bay in particular, that doesn’t mean that they might keep everyone on the 53-man roster. It would be almost absurd to retain eight seventh-rounders in the span of two years, even though they kept all of their draft picks last season. With this strategy to get extra late picks to circumvent the UDFA market, the approach for them must be the same as it is for undrafted players. If the team has to waive them and potentially try to keep them on the practice squad later, so be it. But it’s a fine investment to avoid guaranteeing more money to players with potentially even less chance of making the team.
The NFL is incredibly competitive, and with standardized rules, it’s difficult for general managers to build any kind of advantage. That’s why they are always looking for market deficiencies and possible avenues to explore. For many years, paying more to undrafted players was a smart way to get extra young, talented pieces with a real shot to make rosters. Now the Packers and other teams are creating a counter to that. Sixth- and seventh-round picks are not as valuable in terms of draft trade charts, and it’s almost impossible to find real contributors so late in the process. However, those picks might be a valuable tool to avoid the undrafted free-agent market, which allows them to spend less while trying to find these diamonds in the rough.