Green Bay Packers: Reviewing Brian Gutekunst’s first year

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 02: A statue is seen in the snow before a game between the Green Bay Packers and the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field on December 2, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 02: A statue is seen in the snow before a game between the Green Bay Packers and the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field on December 2, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

After one full year as general manager of the Green Bay Packers, Brian Gutekunst will have some work to do this offseason.

On Jan. 7, 2018, the Green Bay Packers promoted then-Director of Player Personnel Brian Gutekunst to general manager. Gutekunst was signed to a five-year contract, replacing former general manager Ted Thompson, who still works for the Packers as Senior Adviser to Football Operations.

Thompson, who previously served as GM from 2005-17, had a unique management style. He rarely met with the press and was always known for his draft-and-develop philosophy, often skipping out on signing marquee free agents or re-signing veteran players.

The strategy obviously worked for a while, as it brought a Super Bowl back to Green Bay during the 2010 season. But Thompson’s style would eventually grow old (although there were a few exceptions; Thompson signed Ryan Pickett, Charles Woodson, and Julius Peppers to lucrative contracts).

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His 2015-17 draft classes proved to be abysmal and eventually led to Packers president Mark Murphy pulling the plug on Thompson as GM. In fact, the only member from the 2015 draft still on the roster is Jake Ryan, who tore his ACL in training camp and becomes a free agent this offseason.

Needless to say, Thompson didn’t do a very good job of setting up the roster for his successor. If there was anything he did do right during his final few years as GM, however, it was signing star receiver Davante Adams and center Corey Linsley to contract extensions before the end of the 2017 season, perhaps as a parting gift to the newcomer Gutekunst.

When Gutekunst was announced as the new GM, it came as a slight shock to many. Russ Ball, the current Executive Vice President/Director of Football Operations, was pegged as the odds-on favorite to win the job, with former Director of Football Operations Eliot Wolf as a close second.

Gutekunst was actually on his way to interview for the Houston Texans’ general manager position when he got the call from Murphy stating he had won the Packers’ job. Before last year, he had also interviewed with the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills in the past.

As soon as he took over for the Packers, it was all business. Gutekunst wasted no time in purging the roster, releasing veteran players such as Jordy Nelson, bringing in marquee free agents like Jimmy Graham and Muhammad Wilkerson, refusing to re-sign players like Morgan Burnett, and even trading away a few pieces in Damarious Randall and Brett Hundley.

He also drafted a nice-looking rookie class, including budding star Jaire Alexander, a potential starter in Josh Jackson, and two contributors for Aaron Rodgers in Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. In drafting Alexander, Gutekunst actually traded back and acquired an extra first-round pick for this coming draft.

He then locked up Rodgers to a new four-year, $134 million extension in August, making him the highest-paid player in NFL history. It was a sign that the Packers were serious about contending for the future and wanted to keep Rodgers happy, considering he still had two years left on his then-current deal.

Clearly, Gutekunst wanted to build the roster in his own mold. But even after just one offseason of work, the roster still isn’t officially ‘his’. After a disappointing record of 6-9-1 in 2018, the Packers will have a crucial offseason ahead.

This coming offseason the Packers are projected to have roughly $30 million in cap space with several players unlikely to be re-signed (a la Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb). They could also elect to release a few aging veterans like Nick Perry, Mason Crosby, Bryan Bulaga or Graham.

Gutekunst’s first offseason could have gone a lot better, but all things considered, it could have gone a lot worse. The biggest takeaway was the fact that he was even willing to go out and sign top free agents like Wilkerson and Graham. Although both had little impact — Wilkerson due to injury and Graham due to scheme/usage — the effort was there from Gutekunst.

The Packers will need to have their eyes on several key positions entering the NFL Draft. With a rare high pick at No. 12 overall, and the New Orleans’ Saints first-rounder to complement (pick still TBD), Green Bay has an excellent opportunity to acquire blue chip talent that could step in and contribute immediately.

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Gutekunst will also have his eyes on free agent safeties, pass rushers and receivers. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Packers connected with some big-ticket names.

The 2019 offseason will be the most important in recent memory for the Green Bay Packers. He’s already helped in hiring a new head coach in Matt LaFleur. This offseason will be Gutekunst’s first chance to really put a stamp on the roster in his second year as general manager.