Green Bay Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst enters his third season as the team’s General Manager. After a controversial offseason, all eyes will be on him.
Brian Gutekunst was hired on January 7, 2018, to be the team’s new General Manager after Ted Thompson was reassigned. He took over a team that had some issues with talent on the roster but vowed to continue to be aggressive in building a team around Aaron Rodgers.
Through Gutekunst’s tenure, he has shown that he is like Thompson in some ways, but is certainly his own man. He has been more aggressive in the free-agent pool. That much has been evident. The running joke around the league was that the Green Bay Packers could close up shop after the season and open up again in April when the draft took place.
Gutekunst hasn’t done that. He’s made good on his promise to be aggressive. The Green Bay Packers have been in every conversation, as he said they would be.
That’s certainly been more exciting than the way Thompson built his teams. Has it been better?
Let’s take a look at what Gutekunst has done since becoming the man in charge of the roster.
For the record, this will include moves of significance during the offseason. For that reason, trading DeShone Kizer for a 7th round pick doesn’t qualify as significant.
Trades: Damarious Randall for DeShone Kizer; Pick 14 for pick 27 and a 2019 1st round pick. **In Season** Ha Ha Clinton Dix to Washington for a 4th round pick
Free Agents: Tramon Williams, Jimmy Graham, Muhammad Wilkerson, Marcedes Lewis.
Draft: Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, Oren Burks, J’Mon Moore, Cole Madison, JK Scott, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, James Looney, Hunter Bradley, Kendall Donnerson
Analysis: Brian Gutekunst’s first offseason came with the Packers coming off of a 7-9 season. The season was seen as one with a bit of an asterisk because they lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers for a majority of the season with a broken collarbone. The team was able to win enough games with Brett Hundley to give Rodgers a chance to return and guide the team to the playoffs. Instead, Rodgers looked rusty and the Packers fell in Carolina, effectively ending their season.
Gutekunst went to work that offseason trying to add pieces to a roster in need of depth. His first move as General Manager was trading Damarious Randall for DeShone Kizer. The hope was that Kizer could solve the backup quarterback issues that plagued the team from a season ago. Randall was a problem in the locker room. The Green Bay Packers reportedly came close to cutting Randall after an incident caused him to get sent to the locker room during a game.
The trade has essentially turned into a wash. Kizer was a complete disaster in the four full quarters he played any significant minutes in. He turned the ball over too often. Randall wore out his welcome in Cleveland and is now playing on a 1-year contract for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Free agency was a bit of a mixed bag. Muhammad Wilkerson can be counted as an incomplete. He suffered a horrific leg injury in the team’s third game of the season.
Tramon Williams turned out to be a wise investment. He gave the team two good seasons. He could be brought back for a third year but has yet to be signed at this point.
Marcedes Lewis has been a solid role player and has been a big presence in the locker room. He’s likely to be the team’s starting tight end going into 2020 before giving way to Jace Sternberger.
Jimmy Graham has been beaten up enough, but it’s the biggest blunder of Gutekunst’s first offseason. While it didn’t necessarily work out the way, the Packers traded Jordy Nelson for Jimmy Graham. If the team wanted to have an aging pass catcher with a bloated salary, they were better off keeping Nelson.
Moving on from Nelson wasn’t necessarily the wrong move on its face, but replacing him with Graham and nothing else was. Graham made it two seasons into his three-year contract. Graham being given a second season was even a debate. It was certainly plausible the Packers could move on after one season.
It’s not as if Graham’s decline was hidden either. Graham never found his form in Seattle. It’s not as if he was playing with a bad quarterback there. The move was always questionable. It turned out it was even worse than that.
The situation from that offseason that stings the most is the one with Allen Robinson. It’s common knowledge that Robinson chose Chicago over Green Bay. You can’t really blame Gutekunst for that. This offseason certainly looks a lot different if he were able to land Robinson instead of Graham.
The draft was where Gutekunst has made what is perhaps his signature move to date. Gutekunst traded out of the 14th overall selection, picking up an extra first-round pick from New Orleans. Gutekunst would later move back up and select Jaire Alexander. Alexander has certainly looked the part in his first two seasons. He looks like someone primed to become a star in his third season.
Apart from Alexander, however, the draft has yielded minimal results. Josh Jackson has not delivered on his draft stature. Oren Burks has either been injured or unable to get on the field. J’Mon Moore never found his footing in Green Bay and was released after his second training camp.
MVS and EQ have a chance to salvage the back half of the draft. They’re certainly being given that opportunity.
Drafting a punter and a long snapper never made sense. Bradley hasn’t made any noticeable errors. That’s about all you can ask for with a 7th round long snapper. That said, it would have been more prudent to take a flier on a player at another position.
Scott has had some moments, but if the team is going to draft a punter, he better be one of the best in the league. Scott has not been that through two seasons.
Trades: Brett Hundley for a 6th round pick.
Free Agents: Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Billy Turner, Adrian Amos
Draft: Rashan Gary, Darnell Savage, Elgton Jenkins, Jace Sternberger, Kingsley Keke, Ka’Dar Hollman, Dexter Williams, Ty Summers
Other: Hired Matt LaFleur
Analysis: This free-agent class is the crowning achievement of Brian Gutekunst. Za’Darius and Preston Smith are both home runs. Adrian Amos is a standup double. Billy Turner is a single.
The Smith brothers helped transform the defense overnight. They’re two of the leaders on the defense, and they were incredibly productive. Getting both players was a massive feather in the cap for Gutekunst. Turner struggled in his first season, but average play at the guard position is so hard to come by, there is value in that. Amos has been an excellent running mate next to Darnell Savage.
He was an upgrade over Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and poured salt in the wound in his first game as a Packer by intercepting Mitchell Trubisky to essentially ice the game.
If the free-agent class is the crowning achievement, hiring Matt LaFleur is a close second. The coach never looked overwhelmed in his first season. He took a six-win team to a 13 win team in his first season. The players responded well to him. He rebuilt a culture that was described as toxic. LaFleur looks to be a very good young coach.
The draft is hard to judge since the players have only completed one season. Through that one season, Elgton Jenkins looks like a rock at his position.
Darnell Savage certainly looked the part at times but was kind of a mixed bag after an ankle injury limited him for the middle portion of his season.
Apart from that, every other draft picks essentially red-shirted in their rookie season. The pick of Rashan Gary was met with a lot of scrutiny, and perhaps for good reason. Gary wasn’t overly productive in college. Other pass rushers taken around Gary include Brian Burns and Montez Sweat. Both players were popular picks amongst the Packers’ fan base. Both players were more productive in their rookie seasons. The story isn’t written yet, but Gary needs to be productive in his second season, otherwise having two first-round picks could go down as a missed opportunity.
The 2020 season will be a big opportunity for guys like Gary, Sternberger, and Keke to help this team make a significant jump toward the Super Bowl.
In addition, he gambled big on players like MVS and EQ to take a second-year leap to be productive players as the team’s second option at wide receiver. He kept Graham around for a second year as well. None of those moves turned out well for him. The Green Bay Packers’ second-best receiver last year was Allen Lazard. Gutekunst doesn’t really get extra credit for that either, because he cut Lazard out of camp.
Free Agents: Rick Wagner, Devin Funchess, Christian Kirksey
Draft: Jordan Love, AJ Dillon, Josiah Deguara, Kamal Martin, Jon Runyan Jr, Jake Hanson, Simon Stepaniak, Vernon Scott, Jonathan Garvin
Analysis: Wagner is a cheaper alternative to Bryan Bulaga who was allowed to leave via free agency. He’s likely a downgrade at right tackle. Funchess has opted out of the 2020 season. Christian Kirksey is an upgrade over Blake Martinez.
The draft was a bit of a head-scratcher when it happened. Ultimately, this class will all depend on Jordan Love. If Love is good, Gutekunst and LaFleur will be around for the foreseeable future. If he busts, they’ll both be run out of town and charged with the crime of not getting immediate help for a 13-3 team that fell one game short of the Super Bowl.
The story that really emerges from the 2020 offseason is that Gutekunst is betting on his guys.
The wide receiver story has been told over and over again. That said, the Packers really didn’t get a lot of help for Rodgers. They’re counting on development from Allen Lazard, MVS, and EQ.
On the defensive side of the ball, Gutekunst told reporters after the team was run over in the NFC Championship Game that he liked their defensive line. That seems bold considering the team’s run defense was a massive weakness that reared its ugly head in two of the team’s four losses.
Kenny Clark is a star, but he is surrounded by a lot of players that are likely JAG’s. Kingsley Keke is someone that is being relied upon to make a big jump.
Gutekunst in free agency has basically been batting above .500. That’s incredible. The Smith brothers, Amos, Tramon Williams are all great signings. Turner is a solid one, even if it is unspectacular. Graham is a legitimate bust. The jury remains out on Kirksey and Wagner.
The draft is where the concerns come into play. At this point in Gutekunst’s tenure, how many picks can you safely say you feel really good about?
For me, the answer is Jaire Alexander, Elgton Jenkins, and probably Darnell Savage.
Other players have potential. Gary, MVS, EQ, Keke, and Sternberger could all make a big jump in 2020 and make this look ridiculous.
The 2020 draft will be Gutekunst’s signature draft. Everything comes down to Jordan Love.
Using only the evaluations I had from the draft pre-work I did, I didn’t have a high opinion of the Packers’ draft. I wasn’t high on Love. Dillon was a Day 3 pick. Deguara was a Day 3 pick.
Trading up for Love still doesn’t make sense to me. It’s a poor use of resources.
That story will write itself in the years to come.
Ultimately, Gutekunst will have a lot of questions to answer if this team does not get better in Matt LaFleur’s second season.
Through his first three offseasons, it’s definitely been a mixed bag.
Gutekunst might be more exciting than Ted Thompson, but he has a long way to go before he can be considered on the same level as him.