The Five Worst Free Agent Signings in Packers History

NFL free agency will begin this week and the Packers will likely be active even if they don’t have a large amount of money to spend this year.

While players like Reggie White, Charles Woodson and Za’Darius Smith have been outstanding free agent signings by the Packers, they have also had their share of disappointments.

Here is a look back at five free agent signing busts by the Packers over the course of the team’s history. Only players signed in the modern version of free agency, which started in 1993, are included on this list. Players are listed based on the money paid, expectations and the impact they had once on the field.

Feel free to comment and discuss other players you feel deserved consideration for this list.

5. C Jeff Saturday, 2012

The Packers signed Saturday to a two-year deal worth $7.75 million. The former Colts Pro Bowler was 37 when they signed him and unfortunately for the Packers, he was just a shell of his former self.

Saturday started 14 games in 2012 but was benched late in the season for Evan Dietrich-Smith.

After the 2012 season, Saturday retired and headed to the broadcast booth. He was a good teammate but was no longer able to play at a high level by the time he got to Green Bay.

4. G Adrian Klemm, 2005

The Packers signed Klemm in 2005 to replace Mike Wahle who had just departed in free agency. The deal was a relatively modest two-year, $2.6 million contract that included an $800,000 signing bonus.

Klemm had spent the last five seasons with the Patriots but only played in 26 games over that time due to an assortment of injuries and started just 10 games.

In 2005, Klemm started eight games for the Packers and played in all 16, but he was unable to establish himself as a consistent starter and was released before the start of the 2006 campaign.

3. TE Jimmy Graham, 2018

The Packers made Jimmy Graham the highest-paid tight end in the NFL when the inked him to a three-year, $30 million deal in 2018. Graham was supposed to give the Packers a real weapon at tight end. The former Pro Bowler was expected to be an outstanding red zone target and to give the Packers a tight end who defenses would have to respect.

Unfortunately, Graham never lived up to his advanced billing and never produced at a level close to his salary. In 2018, he caught 55 passes for 636 yards and two touchdowns. In 2019, Graham fell off even further, catching 38 passes for 447 yards and three scores.

Throughout his tenure in Green Bay, Graham struggled to gain separation from defenders. He had clearly lost a step or two and could no longer get open consistently. He dropped more passes than the Packers had anticipated as well.

At the end of the day, the Packers paid Graham like the top tight end in football but they got only an average starter in best in return. GM Brian Gutekunst released Graham a year ago and he spent the 2020 season with the Bears.

2. DE Joe Johnson 2002

The Packers had high hopes when they signed former Saints defensive end Joe Johnson to a six-year contract worth $36 million prior to the 2002 season. Unfortunately, injuries derailed Johnson’s career and he never produced for the Packers.

In 2002, Johnson played in five games and recorded two sacks. The following year, injuries limited Johnson to six games and he didn’t record any sacks at all.

The Packers released Johnson after just two seasons and two total sacks. The two-time Pro Bowler’s NFL career was over and the Packers ended up shelling out a lot of money for previous little production.

1. TE Martellus Bennett 2017

Bennett was supposed to bring the Packers a winning attitude and the ability to stretch the field from the tight end position, something they didn’t have since Jermichael Finley’s career ended prematurely due to injury in 2013.

The Packers inked Bennett to a three-year deal worth $21 million after failing to re-sign Jared Cook who was a hero in the Pack’s playoff win over Dallas the previous season.

Unfortunately, Bennett was a disaster in Green Bay. He played in only seven games and caught 24 passes for 233 yards and no touchdowns.

When Aaron Rodgers was injured during the 2017 season, many players felt that Bennett quit on the Packers and that he didn’t want to play if he couldn’t catch passes from the Packers franchise quarterback.

Bennett claimed he had a shoulder injury and the Packers accused him of not disclosing the injury when they signed him. He was released and re-signed with the Patriots, the team he had won the Super Bowl with previous season.

The Packers had high expectations when they signed Bennett, but he ended up being a cancer in the locker room and never put forth enough effort in Green Bay according to many. He played only two more games with the Patriots in 2017 who then placed him on the injured reserve with the shoulder injury.  He retired at the conclusion of the 2017 season.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (67)

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Since'61's picture

March 13, 2021 at 12:16 pm

I would have ranked Bennett #1 and Graham as #2. Johnson was a bad signing due to his injuries and the length of his contract.
But to me Bennett and Graham were much bigger disappointments since we had high hopes for both of them playing with Aaron Rodgers.

I supported the Bennett signing but I did not support the Graham signing due to his age and the amount they signed him for.

Thanks, Since '61

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PhantomII's picture

March 13, 2021 at 12:42 pm

Those 2 are definitely the most recent top 2 that come to mind. Who brings a 37 year old (C) into the mix? Immediate GM firing there just for thinking it's a good idea. Bennett definitely lost his will when Rodgers went down. I have to put Graham at the top because of the money and Gutes stubbornness of not dumping him after the first poor year. I'm not crazy about a bunch of TE's in ML offense anyway, I'd rather have more WR's on the field. It's a passing league. Rodgers is a MVP QB. More WR, more speed.

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Since'61's picture

March 13, 2021 at 03:02 pm

Agree that Bennett quit on the team which is why I put him first, otherwise I would put Graham first. At least Graham showed up and played, albeit poorly, especially for the $$$ received. Thanks, Since '61

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:13 pm

My feelings exactly, Since'61.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:12 pm

Thanks for the comment, PhantomII. Bennett's attitude was awful especially after Rodgers went down. That was a cancer in the locker room. Graham was way overpaid and never lived up to expectations.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

March 13, 2021 at 02:00 pm

Joe Johnson by a mile.

Sherman signed Johnson for 6 yrs and the equivalent in 2020 cap dollars of $92M with an $18M signing bonus (the cap in 2002 was $71M). Worse, the Johnson fiasco meant GB couldn't pay Wahle in 2005.

IIRC, Bennett cost $7.25M or so when all was said and done. Graham was overpaid as he earned $22M for the two years he was in GB, but he was probably worth ~ $4M to $5M each year.

Klemm translates to 2 years, $6M with a $1.85M signing bonus. A bummer but not that big of a deal. The $800K guaranteed (in 2005 cap dollars which = almost 1% of the cap) was signficant for the time.

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jannes bjornson's picture

March 14, 2021 at 11:45 am

Toss in a Nick Perry deal for the bonus round.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:15 pm

Thanks for the comment, Thegreartreynoldo. I put Bennett at the top because of his horrible attitude and lack of production. Johnson was injured and that wasn't his fault even if his production was nowhere near where it needed to be for the money he was signed for. Obviously, neither was a particularly good signing.

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KenEllis's picture

March 14, 2021 at 01:26 pm

Just before he kicked Jared Cook to the curb so he could pay Martellus Bennett even more $ to come play in Green Bay, Ted Thompson gave his former 1st round pick Nick Perry a five-year, $59 million contract, including a $18 million signing bonus. (He followed that up by passing over TJ Watt for Kevin King the following month to complete a truly gruesome run of GM'ing but I digress).

Ted signed Perry after he finally had his first good season in 2016 -- in his 5th year in Green Bay.

Perry promptly repaid Ted's faith in drafting him in round 1, sticking by him for all those years of injury and unproductive play, and re-signing him to a huge new deal by ... generating 8.5 sacks over the following two seasons (in which he played just 21 of a possible 32 games).

Gutey for some reason did not have as much patience with ol' Nick and sent him packing after his pitiful 2018 season and the Packers absorbed the remaining $11.1M of Perry's contract as dead cap in 2019.

It is true that Ted swooped in and signed Perry before he officially hit free agency, so he technically was not a bad FREE AGENT signing.

However, if Perry had come in from another team this would be among the worst free agent signings in team history.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:18 pm

Thanks for the comment, KenEllis. Perry was not a free agent as you said, but he certainly didn't pan out after signing that big contract. I know the Packers have had their share of bad moves, but obviously, so has every team.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:10 pm

Thanks for the comment, Since '61. Bennett was number one to me because of his horrible attitude. Graham was a huge disappointment and a mistake to sign. Thanks for the comment, always good to hear from you.

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4thand1's picture

March 13, 2021 at 12:21 pm

I guess John Hadl doesn't count, worst deal in NFL history. This list is pretty much spot on.

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89Chewy's picture

March 13, 2021 at 01:12 pm

That Hadl trade was the ultimate worst in GB history. We gave up our 1970's drafts for an old, over-the-hill quarterback. What was the deal like three first rounds and a couple second rounders? Just AWFUL!

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Denver's picture

March 13, 2021 at 01:46 pm

Since I'm old enough to remember the Hadl fiasco, I had to look it up-
Hadl threw as many pics in 22 games with the Pack as Rodgers has in his last...78
Ah, the good ol' days of the '70's Packers......

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Stroh's picture

March 13, 2021 at 06:11 pm

The reason Hadl doesn't count is the article is about FA signings. Hadl was acquired via trade, not FA. Common sense is a wonderful thing if you use it!

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4thand1's picture

March 14, 2021 at 10:11 am

I know it doesn't count Stroh, but it just brought back bad memories when they talk about bad deals. It cost us old Packer fans years of bad football and made Green Bay the last place players wanted to go to.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

March 14, 2021 at 02:48 pm

Common Courtesy is a wonderful thing to use as well.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:19 pm

Hadl was a trade, so no, it isn't eligible for this list, but what a terrible deal for the Packers. Dan Devine mortgaged the future for an over the hill quarterback who wasn't surrounded with enough talent to be helpful. Thanks for commenting, 4thand1.

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Leatherhead's picture

March 13, 2021 at 12:55 pm

I think it’s an unfair/inaccurate list. Klemm was a modest expenditure that was made necessary by cap mismanagement prior to Thompson

Bennett was bad from the beginning. Don’t sign self-centered dicks.

Graham had one of the best seasons of any Packer TE in our history, but people expected THE BEST , and when it didn’t happen, they turned on him like a bunch of rabid wombats.

Joe Johnson was a bad deal.

Saturday was signed because we didn’t think Hyphen was ready, but eventually he pushed his way past Saturday.

One of our worst moves was extending/signing Cletidus Hunt. Just a waste.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

March 13, 2021 at 02:14 pm

6 yrs, $25.32M with $6M big ones as a signing bonus. That's about 6yrs/$66M in 2020 cap dollars and the $6M SB is almost $16M.

Probably goes Johnson, Hunt, Bennett, Graham and Klemm. Marquand Manuel was pretty bad as well. He played one year in GB of his two year deal. He hung around for 3 seasons with other teams but he played a lot less even when he appeared in all 16 games. Clearly he was done.

It is always tempting to put Bennett first just on general principles. Bad guy who tried to hurt the franchise's reputation.

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Oppy's picture

March 13, 2021 at 02:24 pm

Oh, Cletidus Hunt.

My group of Packers fans used to refer to him as
...

Hideous .... __unt

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Demon's picture

March 13, 2021 at 03:35 pm

Thats the same name my brother used. Ha ha ha

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NickPerry's picture

March 13, 2021 at 03:44 pm

No offense LH but at least come up with more than Cletidus Hunt before calling Gil's list "unfair/inaccurate".

"Bennett was bad from the beginning. Don't sign selfcentered dicks"... Well no shit, I would imagine that's why he made the list in the first place.

"Joe Johnson was a bad deal". See above for the No shit comment. Hence making the list.

Saturday was signed and it was BAD..End of story.

Graham sucked...Common man. That just shows how pathetic the position has been since Finley.

You seem to agree one way or another with each of Gil's examples yet call it unfair/inaccurate. What am I missing here?

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Leatherhead's picture

March 13, 2021 at 04:18 pm

Graham’s first season in GB found him finishing in the top ten among league TEs in catches and yards. It was one of the most productive seasons by a TE in Packer history. In fact, that season compares to some of Finley’s better seasons. Look it up.

That’s what you’re missing. Also, it’s unfair to put Klemm on that list. We had to have somebody we could line up after we had to release Wahle and Rivera. He didn’t cost a fortune.

At the beginning of the season, Saturday was a better center than Hyphen, but Hyphen kept improving, like young guys do sometimes. Eventually, the coaches thought he was better than Saturday.

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Swisch's picture

March 13, 2021 at 04:35 pm

Interesting stats about Graham, but in my memory he wasn't all that good either year with the Packers, and not nearly as good as Tonyan was this past season.
Maybe it was because Graham seemed so stiff and slow that he seemed so disappointing to me.
For whatever reason, he seemed a lot more active and agile with the Bears last year. Maybe he has been overcoming an injury for the past three seasons or so.
Anyway, to end on a positive note, that clutch catch Graham had late in the playoff game against the Seahawks to clinch the victory was a great moment for him and the Packers.
It's a good memory to have of Graham.

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PeteK's picture

March 13, 2021 at 06:11 pm

I'll be forever grateful as it was my first and only Lambeau game, but was not sad when we let him go. Good move by Gute.

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Swisch's picture

March 13, 2021 at 09:06 pm

It was time for Graham to go, but I'm glad he went out on a high note.

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egbertsouse's picture

March 14, 2021 at 09:43 am

Yeah, the Packers only made Graham the highest paid tight end in the league. Why would those crazy, damn fans think he should be the best? What effin’ idiots!

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:21 pm

Hunt wasn't a free agent, he was a re-signing of a player we already had. It wasn't a great contract, no doubt. Graham was paid as the top TE in football and played very average football. That made him a bad deal and a disappointment. Thanks for commenting, Leatherhead.

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89Chewy's picture

March 13, 2021 at 01:15 pm

I would put Joe Johnson #1 on this list with the Hardy Nickerson signing not too far behind. I'm also cautious about signing Will Fuller, because i still have PTSD from the Terry Glenn signing.

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Swisch's picture

March 13, 2021 at 04:08 pm

So is it true that Will Fuller is coming off of both a PED suspension and serious knee surgery?
If even one of those is true, the risk seems really high.
I'd especially avoid guys caught using PEDs.
***
Also, is it true that Fuller would want to be paid similarly to Aaron Jones?
Then I'd much rather have Jones.
However, I think we need to put that money into either an interior defensive lineman or a cornerback -- or perhaps an offensive lineman.

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Leatherhead's picture

March 13, 2021 at 04:20 pm

I’d forgotten about Hardly Worthanickel, son. Thankfully.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:22 pm

Terry Glenn, there's a name I haven't heard in a while. Nickerson wasn't a great signing either. I wonder what would have happened if Johnson would have stayed healthy, but obviously we'll never know. Thanks for commenting, 89Chewy.

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Demon's picture

March 13, 2021 at 02:30 pm

Id put the Seth Joyner signing on the list too. Just for the fact that the Packers immediately traded the only LB they had at the time or since, that played with a bad attitude in Wayne Simmons.

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LeotisHarris's picture

March 13, 2021 at 07:46 pm

That is so true about Simmons. I've read he was Fritz Shurmur's favorite, but unfortunately Wayne was headed for trouble off the field, and that just don't fly in the land of bowling shirts and brewskis.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:29 pm

Simmons was a good football player who died tragically young and had off the field issues. Joyner wasn't here long and wasn't the best signing, no doubt. Thanks for the comment, Demon.

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Swisch's picture

March 13, 2021 at 04:21 pm

It's really hard to make decisions regarding aging offensive linemen like Linsley, Bakh, and Bulaga who are about 30 years old.
I realize that Saturday was much older at 37, but even at age 30 it seems it's hard to evaluate how long an offensive lineman will continue to perform at a high level.
It's even trickier if Linsley wants more than a year or two for his contract.
It seems all three of them are breaking down more or less. Maybe our signing of Bakh to big money was the only one out of those three we could afford to take a risk on, especially with him as a left tackle being the best choice -- and now it would be best to focus our next big-money contract on Jenkins.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:31 pm

Jenkins is still under contract for 2021 and 2022. I hope he stays in Green Bay for a long time. Any lineman over 30 is a risk, that's just the nature of the game. The Packers have traditionally let people go a year too soon rather than a year too late. Thanks for commenting.

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Stroh's picture

March 13, 2021 at 06:22 pm

I don't consider Saturday a bust in any way. He was signed to play decently, but more than anything to mentor EDS and get him ready to start. I expected it to take a year to happen and that Saturday wouldn't see yr 2. It worked out that it only took part of that season and EDS was ready sooner, thanks in large part to Saturday. Looking at the signing thru that lense actually makes signing Saturday a success

No doubt Graham and Bennett were mistakes, but they pale in comparison to Joe Johnson! Johnson was signed by Sherman over the objection of the personnel dept. He did the same by drafting Ahmad Carroll instead of OSU CB Gamble. Sherman had no business being GM. That was probably Ron Wolf's biggest mistake, but he already had one foot out the door.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:32 pm

Johnson was not a good signing although I wonder if he would have done OK if he stayed healthy. Sherman had issues as a GM, no question. Thanks for the comment, Stroh, always good to hear from you.

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PeteK's picture

March 13, 2021 at 06:33 pm

I'm sure most teams have much worse nightmare signings. Good job by Packer brass and helped by the fact that most FAs didn't want to go to the Pack in the 70s -80s, capped by the Bruce Clark nightmare.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:33 pm

Bruce Clark was a draft pick and it was a horrible time as he headed to Canada rather than sign in Green Bay. I remember it well and it really hurt the Packers wasting such a high pick on a guy that refused to play for the team. Thanks for the comment, PeteK.

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LeotisHarris's picture

March 13, 2021 at 08:03 pm

Solid top five list, but I'd put Joe Johnson at number one. He was literally a massive disappointment.

Sherman brought in S Mark Roman in 2004 and that move pretty much fell flat.

In 2005, trying to replace Wahle and Rivera with Klemm and Matt O'Dwyer didn't work out very well, but we had the ol' gunslinger filling the air with INTs so it was exciting! ::cough::

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:34 pm

Hadn't thought about Mark Roman in a long time. Yeah, I remember all those picks Brett threw as you described. Not a great memory. Johnson was a massive disappointment but if he would have stayed healthy, I wonder what might have been. Thanks for the comment, LeotisHarris.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

March 13, 2021 at 08:43 pm

I saw Joe Johnson play in Sun Devil Stadium in Arizona on a real scorcher of a day. A good friend and I drove over from California and it was so hot, my friend left our seats and went up inside and out of the sun. I would have done the same except a cute gal sitting next to me gave me her extra electric fan device that had ice in it.
Joe Johnson looked like he was 80 years old when he went out on that field that day and while the entire team was suffering from the heat, Joe looked completely out of place.
He battled "father time" and some injuries and he lost the battle badly. It was a shame to see him attempt to play.

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davekenya's picture

March 14, 2021 at 05:45 pm

So...you leaving us hanging? The cute gal with the electric fan...did you 'blow' her off...was she 'too cool' to pursue...or are you two now sharing fans, sharing pans & sharing vans?

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:36 pm

LOL

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

March 18, 2021 at 02:03 pm

Okay, she was a cutie all right, but I was hot, sweaty, and likely her dad's age. Nevertheless, If I were to have made a move and been successful, Mrs. Ferrari Driver would likely have removed my "privates"...through my mouth.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:36 pm

Thanks for sharing your memory from that game in Arizona. Johnson lost the battle to age and injury and it was a very disappointing signing. If he would have stayed healthy, maybe things wouldn't have been as bad. Thanks for the comment, Ferrari-Driver.

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marpag1's picture

March 14, 2021 at 05:00 am

Joe Johnson is hands-down #1, followed by Bennett, Cletidus Hunt, Graham and Saturday.

Dishonorable mentions to Klemm, Manuel and Mark Roman.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

March 14, 2021 at 02:52 pm

They drafted Cletidus Hunt though.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:37 pm

Hunt wasn't a free agent he was a re-signing so he isn't eligible for this list. Johnson was a huge disappointment. Thanks for the comment, marpag1.

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theButlerdidit's picture

March 14, 2021 at 07:57 am

The minute I read the headline I thought of Joe Johnson. After reading the article I'd still put him at number one.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:38 pm

Fair enough, theButlerdidit. He was a huge disappointment. I put Bennett ahead of him because Johnson was injured while Bennett just had the worst attitude and quit on the team. Thank for commenting.

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Irish_Cheesehead's picture

March 14, 2021 at 08:35 am

Thanks for the (bad) memories! Maybe follow this up with the worst first round draft picks (Tony Mandarich anyone?).

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PatrickGB's picture

March 14, 2021 at 09:26 am

Some have already put Love in that category.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:40 pm

Way too soon to do that, but some are eager to do that. Thanks for the comment, PatrickGB.

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barutanseijin's picture

March 14, 2021 at 02:04 pm

Rich Campbell was a far worse player & Bruce Clark was a dumber pick.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:42 pm

Both bad picks back in the day but neither was a free agent so not part of this list. Thanks for the comment, barutanseijin.

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Stroh's picture

March 14, 2021 at 03:24 pm

At least Mandarich ultimately returned and had a successful career in Indy. The same can't be said of Jon Michels who was drafted by Ron Wolf.

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davekenya's picture

March 14, 2021 at 05:48 pm

Before my time, but Randy Duncan was clearly the worst #1 Packer draft pick. Randy who? Exactly

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LeotisHarris's picture

March 14, 2021 at 09:16 pm

I'll see your Randy Duncan, and raise you Rich Moore!

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davekenya's picture

March 14, 2021 at 05:57 pm

TM ended up being an extremely costly and bad pick...but NOT A SINGLE PERSON can fault GB for choosing him at the time. He was viewed as Munoz 2.0 for the next decade. Nobody saw him as a risk or reach pick. It just turned out to be crap. As such, I certainly don't fault GB for drafting him at the time. I hate the outcome, but that's revisionist history.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:43 pm

He was considered the top rated prospect in the 1989 draft. The only area I may fault the Packers on is finding out about his steroid use which made him so successful in college. Otherwise, you're right, it would be revisionist history. Thanks for the comment, davekenya.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:39 pm

Ah, Mandarich. Yeah, I can do that article later this offseason. Thanks for the comment, Irish_Cheesehead.

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msnpackfan's picture

March 15, 2021 at 01:02 pm

Hadl was not a free agent, he was a trade acquisition by Dandy Dan Devine. Worst trade in NFL history possibly but not worst free agent signing. Ron Wolf did not make Sherman the GM, Bob Harland did and he already said it was a huge mistake. One he corrected fairly quickly.

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GilMartin's picture

March 15, 2021 at 02:40 pm

Thanks, msnpackfan. Hadl isn't eligible for this list because it was a trade and pre-1993 when modern NFL free agency was created. I appreciate the comment.

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