Green Bay Packers' 2020 NFL free-agent signings: New look in middle of defense

NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2020 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from Bill Barnwell. The new league year began March 18, which meant free-agent signings can be made official after that. The first round of the 2020 NFL draft begins April 23.

Here's a breakdown of every 2020 NFL free-agent signing by the Green Bay Packers and how each will impact the upcoming season:

Marcedes Lewis, tight end

What it means: Veteran leadership and the return of someone Aaron Rodgers trusts. Lewis, who spent the first 12 years of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, quickly bonded with Rodgers, who dubbed Lewis “Big Dog.” Lewis' first year with the Packers in 2018 saw him mostly used as a blocker, but last year coach Matt LaFleur actually got him involved in the offense a little more (15 catches for 156 yards and a touchdown). "Having this offense and knowing conceptually what they wanted, and LaFleur and having Justin Outten as my tight ends coach, I got better every day," Lewis said after the season. "At 35 years old, I felt like I was getting better every day. My rep count went up to the mid-30s towards half the season." The Packers might address tight end in the draft after they were unwilling to pay what Austin Hooper got from the Cleveland Browns, but Lewis will continue to help mentor last year's third-round pick Jace Sternberger, who is expected to take on a much larger role.

What's the risk: Little financially: Lewis' one-year, $2.25 million deal was only a slight bump in pay from the $2.1 million he made in each of the previous two seasons on one year deals. The Packers arguably have gotten for their money from Lewis than they did from Jimmy Graham the last two seasons before they cut Graham earlier this month. Age has to become an issue at some point (he turns 36 in May) although Lewis keeps himself in tip-shop shape and he said after the season: "Physically, I was in the best shape I've ever been in my life. Knowing that I'm older in the tooth, it has to be that way. There was not one game where I went into it feeling like I was at a disadvantage."

Christian Kirksey, Linebacker

The Packers have agreed to a two-year contract with former Browns linebacker Kirksey.

What it means: The likely end for Blake Martinez and a new face in the middle of their defense. While Martinez, who is scheduled to hit free agency, was a steady and reliable force at inside linebacker, piling up tackles in record numbers over the past four years, the Packers are hoping Kirksey is a speedier version and can succeed in coverage where Martinez fell short. Kirksey theoretically brings more speed to the position, if he can still run the 4.58 40 that he did at his pro day in 2014. And his transition to the Packers' defense shouldn't take long, considering he played for coordinator Mike Pettine for two years in Cleveland.

What's the risk: Injury. Kirksey hasn't finished a season in the past two years. He tore a pectoral muscle in Week 2 last year and didn't play again. That was after he missed nine games in 2018 because of ankle and hamstring injuries. Before that, however, he played in every game in each of his first four NFL seasons. One thing was apparent last year with GM Brian Gutekunst's free-agent signings: All of them had been healthy, so the risk was seemingly lower, and sure enough Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos and Billy Turner were among the snap leaders at their positions. One scout familiar with Kirksey believes he will be a solid addition to their linebacker group if he can stay healthy and called him a good guy in the locker room.

Devin Funchess, WR

The Packers are brining in former Indianapolis Colts receiver Devin Funchess.

What it means: The Packers have finally started their weapons upgrade, but it's likely just a start. They swung big with tight end Austin Hooper but weren't willing to pay the reported $10.5 million a year that the Cleveland Browns gave him. Their backup plan was to start building depth, and that's where a veteran like Funchess comes in. He's still young enough (he'll turn 26 in May) that his best football could be ahead of him, and he has the physical traits (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) that are hard to find. The question has always been whether Funchess has enough speed. Last month, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst was asked what he values more, size or speed? "You'd love to have a 6-4, 225-pound guy that can do it all," Gutekunst said. "I do like tall, long athletes and we certainly have some of those guys, and I'm excited what they can do moving forward. I think you've seen across the league what a group of guys who can really run -- with how the game is called today and the rules of the game and stuff -- I think that's something we'll certainly put an emphasis on this year."

What's the risk: Depending on the cost, it could be low. Funchess signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Colts last season and didn't make it through the first game before he broke his collarbone. Which leads to the next risk factor: injury. He's the second free agent the Packers signed this year that couldn't get through last season. It was the same for linebacker Christian Kirksey. However, with Funchess there's not a big injury history, having missed just three games in his first four NFL seasons combined with the Panthers. His last 16-game season (2017) was his most productive with 63 catches for 840 yards and eight touchdowns.

Rick Wagner, OT

The Packers agreed to terms on a two-year deal with former Lions offensive lineman Wagner.

What it means: The Packers gave themselves a veteran option at right tackle and still left open the possibility they could replace Bryan Bulaga, who is expected to cash in big on the open market, with a draft pick. The two-year, $11 million (including a $3.5 million to sign) deal isn't major tackle money but could end up being a value signing. GM Brian Gutekunst could still draft a tackle high in a what is considered a strong class at the position but that player wouldn't be forced to start immediately. Wagner, 30, could bridge the gap between Bulaga and the next long-term starter. Also, because Wagner and ILB Christian Kirksey are both street free agents (cut by other teams), they will not count against the compensatory draft pick formula. The Packers were shut out of comp picks this year because of their big signings last March.

What's the risk: Letting Bulaga walk. Of course, there would have been significant risk to re-signing him, too, given his injury history and age (he's about to turn 31). But when healthy, Bulaga was one of the best right tackles in the league. He ranked 12th among all NFL tackles (right and left) in ESPN's Pass Block Win Rate (91.7%) last season, giving Aaron Rodgers a pair of top-notch pass protectors (left tackle David Bakhtiari led all tackles at 95.7%). Wagner ranked 24th (89.3%) in that metric.