GREEN BAY — Brian Gutekunst knew this was coming.
Rarely do NFL general managers acknowledge the obvious, and though the Green Bay Packers GM stopped short of flat-out saying center Corey Linsley had priced himself out of the team’s budget, there was no misinterpreting Gutekunst’s message earlier this month when he spoke of Linsley’s impending free agency.
“Corey’s a great player. He’s been a really good player for us. There’s nothing more we would like (than) to have Corey back,” Gutekunst said during a Zoom Q&A session with reporters on March 2. “Obviously, there’s a lot of pieces to this puzzle we’re trying to put together. Finding a way to bring him back would be ideal.
“But at the same time obviously, at the level of compensation that he’s at … he’s earned that.”
Gutekunst added a couple of perfunctory keep-hope-alive lines about how the Packers “would never close the door on someone like Corey Linsley” and how they’d see “what’s possible and what’s not” once free agency began, but the message was clear: Linsley had priced himself out of Green Bay with the best season of his seven-year NFL career.
On Monday, as the NFL’s free agent negotiating window opened, the first-team Associated Press All-Pro and Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated center got what was coming to him: a reported five-year, $62.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Chargers, which includes a $13 million signing bonus and $26 million in guaranteed money. The deal was first reported by the NFL Network.
The deal makes Linsley the NFL’s highest-paid center with a $12.5 million-per-year average salary. According to The MMQB, Linsley will make $17 million in the first year of the deal, $26 million over the first two years, and $36.5 million over the first three years.
“Deserved every penny,” Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari, Linsley’s ex-linemate and fellow first-team All-Pro, wrote on Twitter. “Congrats to the Chargers on getting a consummate pro.”
In Los Angeles, Linsley reunites with another ex-Packers offensive lineman, right tackle Bryan Bulaga. Bulaga left the Packers for the Chargers last offseason, signing a three-year, $30 million deal.
Linsley, who turns 30 in July, has been among the NFL’s best centers for several years after entering the league as a fifth-round pick from Ohio State in 2014. The three-year, $25.5 million extension he signed in December 2017 expired at the end of the 2020 season.
Although Linsley did miss three games in 2020 with a knee injury and battled some back issues in recent seasons, he has been durable throughout his career. He played every one of the offensive snaps in 2017 and 2018 before playing 88% of the 2019 snaps and 71% of the snaps this past season.
Linsley indicated earlier this month that he was bracing himself for signing elsewhere, telling SiriusXM NFL Radio, “It looks like all signs are pointing towards snapping the ball somewhere else next year.”
"We're not closing the door for anything...but yeah it definitley feels weird. Looks like all signs are pointing towards snapping the ball somewhere else next year."— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) February 25, 2021
Free Agent C @Linsley71 discusses free agency and the Packers
Linsley, his wife Anna and the couple’s 2-year-old son, Seamus, had prepared themselves for leaving Green Bay throughout the season, even as they continued to be heavily involved in the community and local charities. Linsley’s extensive work with CASA of Brown County led to him being the Packers’ Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee in 2020.
You can #ChangeAChildsStory like @Linsley71 and @aelinsley! We're actively recruiting CASA volunteers to advocate for children in Brown County and Marinette County. Learn more➡️https://t.co/4CFP4eWu5k. #ChampionsForChildren pic.twitter.com/wnkJWX7lxU— CASA of Brown County (@casabrowncounty) March 15, 2021
“I’ve had a wonderful experience, and if it continues, that’s awesome. If it doesn’t, that’s the nature of the game,” Linsley said in November of his uncertain future. “There’s 31 other teams out there, so hopefully it’ll happen here or happen somewhere else.”
Meanwhile, though he had yet to sign with another team, No. 2 running back Jamaal Williams acknowledged the obvious and bid farewell to Packers fans on Monday, one day after the team agreed to terms on a four-year, $48 million deal with starting halfback Aaron Jones before Jones could hit the open market.
“Thank you Green Bay for accepting me and letting me grow into the Man I am today and still thriving to be,” Williams wrote on his Instagram page. “Thank you Green Bay for accepting me and letting me grow into the Man I am today and still thriving to be. I have nothing but RESPECT and…”). “I have nothing but RESPECT and LOVE for everyone who works in the Packers facility from Players, Coaches, all the employees that work in Lambeau, and the fans!! I’m going to miss it all, cherish all my memories, and keep striving for Greatness. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead and excited to grind for what I want but nothing but love GB it’s been real.”
A league source confirmed the Packers had extended qualifying offers to two of their exclusive rights free agents, tackle Yosh Nijman and wide receiver Malik Taylor. … The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported outside linebacker Randy Ramsey also received a qualifying offer. The Packers’ fourth exclusive rights free agent is No. 2 wideout Allen Lazard, whom the Packers presumably would like to keep long-term. … ESPN.com reported the Packers had been active in the mid-level cornerback and defensive line markets on the opening day of the free agent negotiating window. The Packers could lose No. 2 cornerback Kevin King as an unrestricted free agent and don’t have much depth at that position or up front on the defensive line.
Photos: Packers’ 2020 season in pictures