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Xavier McKinney and Josh Jacobs join Packers looking to contend for a Super Bowl

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The last time the Green Bay Packers were players in high-stakes NFL free agency was 2019. With general manager Brian Gutekunst signing four starters, the team reached NFC Championship games in 2019 and 2020 and posted three consecutive 13-win seasons.

In free agency this week, Gutekunst made safety Xavier McKinney and running back Josh Jacobs among the four highest-paid players at their positions.

While money talks, the ability to join a potential Super Bowl contender was the draw, both players said at Lambeau Field on Friday.

Jacobs, the former Las Vegas Raiders star who will replace longtime standout Aaron Jones atop the depth chart, said he had 10 or 12 suitors when the free-agent negotiating window opened on Monday.

“Ultimately, it came down to what I seen and what I believed in with this team, the history of this organization, and feeling like I’m wanted by an organization,” he said.

What did he see with the Packers?

A chance to win — in five years, he reached the playoffs once and hasn’t won a playoff game — and a chance to get back to his 2022 form, when he led the NFL in rushing.

“Obviously, young quarterback, young skill guys, good offensive line,” Jacobs said. “So, for a running back, can’t load the box and, when you do, you still got guys that can move people around. I think that’s the thing that kind of excited me the most.”

The young quarterback is Jordan Love, who in Year 1 as the replacement for four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers topped 4,100 passing yards and finished second with 32 touchdown passes. Even with a limited resume, he was a lure for both players.

“Obviously, it’s a competitive league and you need an elite quarterback to be able to even have a chance,” said McKinney, who had nine interceptions in four seasons with the New York Giants. “I believe that he is an elite quarterback. Obviously, I played against him and I watched him play, and I think he’s really good and the sky’s the limit for him. I know he’s a great leader — I’ve heard great things about him — so it’s going to be real fun being a part of this team and being able to go to work with these guys every day. It’s going to be a hungry group. We’ve got a lot of young talent.”

McKinney filled arguably the biggest void on the team. Darnell Savage, Jonathan Owens and Rudy Ford played the overwhelming majority of the defensive snaps last season and were headed to free agency, with Savage ultimately signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Owens with the Chicago Bears. The team needed to do better as it transitions to new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley’s scheme, one in which safeties are tasked with playing critical roles.

McKinney, who had three interceptions, 11 passes defensed and 116 tackles last season, was the best safety in free agency.

“Heart, competitiveness and playmaking ability. Instincts are really high,” he said in describing his game. “Just making the guys around me a lot better and pushing them. Just trying to put on a show, really. That’s my goal, is to go out there and play as best that I can and be able to help the team and put the team in the best position to be able to win games. That’s why I’m here and that’s what I’m going to be here to do.”

McKinney and Jacobs were teammates at Alabama. Both players said they never thought they’d play together in the NFL, let alone in Green Bay.

Having both signed four-year contracts on Thursday, they will be cornerstones for a team that is searching for its first Super Bowl win since 2010.

“Me knowing him for so long, even over the years we still talk all the time,” Jacobs said. “For me to be able to come here with him, we were talking about it last night, sitting down eating, it’s special. I don’t think it’s really hit me yet, being here and everything like that, but I think it’s going to be fun.”

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