When Brian Gutekunst was introduced as general manager of the Green Bay Packers in January 2018, he firmly stated he would use “every available avenue” to build the Packers’ roster.
This could not have been farther from the team building philosophy of Ted Thompson, who built almost entirely through the draft and rarely looked at free agency or the trade block.
Now in his fourth year in the position, Gutekunst has made good on that promise, assembling what could well be the most talented Packers roster to take the field in at least a decade.
Today I want to focus on one specific “avenue” Gutekunst has used to build this team: trades.
Gutekunst has been very involved on the trade block since training camp began:
Whoops, I double counted the Yiadom-Jackson trade. So 3 of 9.
— Zach Kruse (@zachkruse2) August 25, 2021
This continues a precedent he set early in his tenure. He would happily seek to acquire players or picks via trade, and will just as readily dispose of players he no longer has use for through this channel.
Repeatedly, Gutekunst has gotten compensation for players that he was going to cut anyway, which always should be considered a win.
This has been interesting to me for some time, so today we’re going to take a quick look at every trade Gutekunst has made outside of the draft (with a couple notable exceptions) in his tenure Green Bay Packers GM so far and see what patterns we can find.
Let’s start at the very beginning.
March 15, 2018
Gutekunst trades starting cornerback and former first-round pick Damarious Randall, a 2018 fourth-round pick (No. 114) and a 2018 fifth-round pick (No.150) to the Cleveland Browns for QB Deshone Kizer, a 2018 fourth-round pick (No. 101) and a 2018 fifth-round pick (No. 138)
This move came two days after Gutekunst made his first splash move: releasing wide receiver Jordy Nelson. By offloading Randall, who had been the Packers’ best cornerback in 2017 (sheesh, what a time), Gutekunst showed he truly meant business.
The trade for Kizer represented a good-faith effort to patch up the backup quarterback position with a talented but troubled player, just a couple months removed from watching Brett Hundley tank the team’s season.
The pick swaps aren’t particularly important here. But player-for-player trades aren’t particularly common in the NFL these days, so it was interesting to see Gutekunst make a trade involving player compensation in his very first dip into the trading block.
Kizer is now a free agent and Randall is on his third team since leaving Green Bay. The move for Kizer was a low risk, high reward maneuver that didn’t end up hitting, but it did give the Packers reasonable compensation for a malcontent who was playing out of position and had not lived up to his draft status.
Gutekunst trades Pick No. 14 to New Orleans for Pick 27, Pick 147 and a 2019 first-round pick
Gutekunst trades Pick No. 27, Pick No. 76 and Pick No. 186 to Seattle for Pick No. 18 an Pick No. 248
Lots happening here, so basically what it boils down to is this:
The Packers had the 14th pick in the draft. Gutekunst, sensing his chosen player would be available a few picks later, traded down and got an extra first-round pick for 2019. He then traded back up, kept the extra first-round pick for 2019, and managed to get the same player at No. 18 (Jaire Alexander) he wanted to begin with.
Just an absolutely masterful first round of his first draft, and set the Packers up for two impactful selections in the 2019 draft.
Gutekunst trades CB Lenzy Pipkins to Indianapolis for LB Antonio Morrison.
This is a move that, in hindsight, didn’t accomplish much, but once again showed Gutekunst as being willing to go for player compensation rather than draft pick compensation.
Any time you go player-for-player, you show your willingness to try to build for the team now. Ted Thompson tended to conduct trades solely to stock up on draft picks. So it’s something that Gutekunst’s first two trades in the NFL involved player compensation.
Pipkins played for four teams in the three seasons after leaving Green Bay. Morrison did not contribute much to the Packers in one year, and has not played in the NFL since.
Gutekunst trades QB Brett Hundley to Seattle for a sixth-round pick.
This trade is an example of Gutekunst knowing when to cut bait and move on. There was no way the team could keep Hundley in 2018 with the baggage he carried over from the 2017 season. Kizer was at least as good an option to back up Aaron Rodgers, and was a significantly more talented player.
Really, this was a mercy killing. Hundley is now on his third team in the last several seasons, and the Packers used the draft pick on Dexter Williams, who is fighting for a roster spot in his fourth camp with the Packers.
Gutekunst trades S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to Washington for a 2019 fourth-round pick
Gutekunst trades RB Ty Montgomery to Baltimore for a 2019 seventh-round draft pick
This was a big day for Gutekunst, and showed his incredible ability to get value for players he wanted gone anyway.
Ha Ha was playing bad football and was in the final year of his contract. To get a fourth-round pick from Washington out of that situation was nothing short of a miracle.
Montgomery was as good as cut after costing the team big time against the Los Angeles Rams. Here again, the team got a draft pick as compensation when he likely would have just hit the waiver wire anyway.
The #118 pick the Packers got for Clinton-Dix ended up being part of the package that allowed Gutekunst to trade up for Darnell Savage in the 2019 draft (more on that soon). Talk about an upgrade.
Gutekunst trades Pick No. 30, Pick No. 114 and Pick No. 118 to Seattle for Pick No. 21
Gutekunst was able to leverage the extra first he got from New Orleans in the 2018 draft and the fourth round pick he got for a half-season of Ha Ha Clinton Dix to move up and draft Darnell Savage out of Maryland.
Savage, entering his third season, is an ascending player with superstar potential.
This was the ultimate payoff to Gutekunst’s two best moves in his first season. Savage looks like a building block who can be with the team for many years to come.
Gutekunst trades OL Justin McCray to CLE with a pick swap (seventh round)
Gutekunst trades LB Reggie Gilbert to TEN for sixth-round pick
McCray played a fair amount of time at multiple positions for the Packers, but was looking like a camp cut in 2019. Gutekunst managed to get at least some value for the big man, who is now in Houston. The Packers used the seventh-round pick on OL Simon Stepaniak.
Gilbert, too, was a likely camp cut before being traded. Gilbert has since spent some time with four teams in the last two years and is not currently on a roster. The Packers used the sixth-round pick on S Vernon Scott.
These trades were both examples of Gutekunst managing to find value for players who would not have made the final roster anyway.
Gutekunst trades 2020 seventh round pick to New York Giants for LB BJ Goodson and seventh round pick.
Gutekunst used the pick he got in the Ty Montgomery trade to take a flyer on Goodson rather than waiting for him to hit waivers.
Goodson played one season in Green Bay and didn’t make much of an impact. But it cost the Packers essentially nothing to get that contribution for him.
Gutekunst trades WR Trevor Davis to Las Vegas for a 2020 sixth-round pick
Davis committed one too many miscues in the return game and failed to develop into a reliable offensive rotational player. He is now on his fifth(!) team since the trade, while the Packers used the pick they got in the deal to take Jon Runyan, Jr., who has been in the mix for some significant playing time in Green Bay.
Gutekunst trades Pick No. 30 and Pick No. 136 to Miami for Pick No. 26
The COVID-19 pandemic made the logistics of trading players complicated in 2020. Gutekunst made just one trade in the entire calendar year, and it was one that will reverberate throughout time for the franchise.
Gutekunst traded his first-round pick and a fourth-round pick to move up four spots in the first round to select QB Jordan Love, the heir apparent to Rodgers.
The move is not nearly as aggressive or reckless as many detractors like to say it is. A fourth round pick is a small price to pay to move up to take the player you have at the top of your board at that point, especially considering the Packers entered the draft with 10 total picks to work with.
The backlash was entirely due to the politics of taking a quarterback in the first round when your current quarterback is a living legend a year and a half removed from signing a record-breaking extension.
Time will tell whether the move pays off on the field. This is certainly the trade that will define Gutekunst’s legacy with the team.
But the mechanics of the trade itself are sound. To move up and grab a quarterback in the first round and only really have to give up a fourth-round pick to do so, that’s a deal you take every single time if you’re convinced it’s the right quarterback.
Gutekunst trades 2022 sixth-round pick to Houston for WR Randall Cobb
Gutekunst himself says this is not a deal he would have made without Rodgers’ urging, but it does have his thumb prints all over it nonetheless. Gutekunst gives up minimal value to get a large potential return.
What doesn’t show up in the trade report is that he even managed to get Houston to cover more than half of Cobb’s paycheck for the season.
For the number of snaps Cobb is likely to play in this offense, that’s outstanding value.
Gutekunst trades CB Josh Jackson to New York Giants for CB Isaac Yiadom
A simple player-for-player swap at the same position gave two bubble players a chance to make it with a change of scenery. Absolutely no risk involved here, as Jackson wasn’t going to make the team anyway.
Gutekunst trades CB Ka’Dar Hollman to Houston for a 2022 seventh-round pick
Yet again, Gutekunst finds value for a player that likely wasn’t going to make the roster. Instead of cutting Hollman and getting nothing, Gutekunst comes away with a seventh round pick a few years after taking Hollman with a sixth round pick.
The bottom line
So what can we take from looking at all these trades so far?
First, it’s clear that Gutekunst has absolutely no qualms about cutting bait with players that have failed to live up to expectations or who do not have a future with the team. We’ve seen that in players he chooses to release, but also the players he trades.
Second, even in situations where it would seem there’s no value to be found, Gutekunst frequently manages to get value anyway. In some cases, he even manages to get the other team to overpay (see: Clinton-Dix).
Third, I would venture to say Gutekunst has yet to make a bad trade, at least from a mechanical standpoint. In looking at all of these trades, there’s not a single circumstance in which I think “wow, Brian got worked here.” Quite the contrary–I frequently find myself wondering how he’s able to get away with it.
Even the Love trade, which will remain controversial for years, is an extremely sensible trade when you look at it solely from a value standpoint.
There are certainly instances in which the compensation hasn’t worked out. Kizer couldn’t put it together. Goodson and Morrison both disappointed at linebacker. But in those cases, Gutekunst moved on quickly rather than waste time trying to recoup the investment from the players, opting to rip off the bandaid and stay aggressive with team-building instead of hoping a bad player would suddenly stop being bad.
There are far too many general managers in the league who routinely get skunked with trades. But the Green Bay Packers are in good hands with Gutekunst in that department.
Entering his fourth year, the man has not once shown he will be taken advantage of by other executives, and continues to find value where seemingly none exists.
This thing has already gotten quite long, so quick hits will make their triumphant return next week, as we launch into regular season mode!