GREEN BAY — Brian Gutekunst made it clear during last week’s NFL scouting combine that being “aggressive” in free agency doesn’t necessarily mean his Green Bay Packers will sign a plethora of players.
Rather, the first-year general manager simply wants to be in more conversations than the team was under his predecessor and mentor, Ted Thompson.
It appears Gutekunst is ready to have his first conversation — with ex-New York Jets defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson, who was informed last week by the Jets he was being released. Wilkerson, who was let go after just two years into a five-year, $86 million deal, is expected to take his first free agent visit to the Packers, according to a report Monday by the NFL Network.
“I’m disappointed for him. Obviously, it didn’t work out,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said last week, when the Jets announced they’d be releasing Wilkerson. “But I have a lot of love for Mo. I think he’s still got a lot of football ahead of him. I think he’s got some good football ahead of him. I just wish him the best. I feel no different about him than I do the rest of my guys.”
The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Wilkerson, 28, was slated to earn $16.75 million in 2018, leading to his release. It’s unclear just how much he’ll be seeking, but the fact that the Packers hired Mike Pettine as their new defensive coordinator could make for the perfect change of scenery for Wilkerson. Pettine was his first defensive coordinator with the Jets in 2011 and 2012 and helped develop him into the 2015 Pro Bowl selection he became.
Things went south for Wilkerson after getting his new contract, however. He recorded only eight sacks in 28 games over the past two seasons, was benched during a game in December against Kansas City and was disciplined multiple times for being late to meetings and missing a practice.
Wilkerson had 10.5 sacks in 2013 and 12 sacks in 2015 in his two most productive seasons.
“He’s an intelligent kid,” Pettine said of Wilkerson in 2011, after the Jets took him in the first round of the NFL draft out of Temple. “He has good football aptitude. He understands it. He’s a kid that can think on his feet. I just think the sky’s the limit with Mo.”
Shields comeback continues
Ex-Packers cornerback Sam Shields, who suffered a concussion in the 2016 regular-season opener at Jacksonville and never played another down for the team, is set to visit the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams this week after spending 2017 out of football, a league source confirmed.
Shields, 30, was cut by the Packers last offseason with one year remaining on the four-year, $39 million deal he signed in March 2014, just before hitting free agency.
In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month, Shields said that he would be forced to retire if he suffered one more concussion. He has had five documented concussions during his college years and pro career.
The Browns would be a logical team to give Shields a chance at a comeback given that their top three personnel people — general manager John Dorsey and lieutenants Eliot Wolf and Alonzo Highsmith — were each in Green Bay when the Packers signed Shields as an undrafted free agent out of Miami (Fla.) in 2010. Highsmith, an ex-Hurricanes player, scouted Shields and pushed for the Packers to sign him after the 2010 draft, even though Shields had spent his first three years at Miami playing wide receiver.
Shields went on to play extensively as a rookie on the Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl XLV championship team and earned his only Pro Bowl selection in 2014.