Brian Gutekunst has done an adequate job as Green Bay Packers general manager.
When hired prior to the 2018 season, his job was to supplement a roster that delivered a 7-9 record the season before and showed clear signs of deterioration well before that.
With that responsibility, he checked a lot of the right boxes.
But Gutekunst now finds himself in a perilous situation, one that is largely of his own making. Attempts to add to a floundering team reek of his desperation to save a lost season.
The NFL trade deadline was last Tuesday, Nov. 1, and a record 10 deals were made. The Packers were not involved in any.
Don’t mistake inaction for lack of effort, though. Reports surfaced of several trades Gutekunst and Co. attempted to make.
– The Packers offered a second-round pick for Steelers receiver Chase Claypool. They were “outbid” by the Bears.
– The Packers offered a first-round pick for Panthers receiver DJ Moore. Carolina elected to retain their player.
– The Packers “made a strong run” at Raiders tight end Darren Waller. He ultimately stayed put.
– The Packers inquired about Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, former Lions tight end TJ Hockenson, and former Giants receiver Kadarius Toney. It’s unclear if a formal offer was made in those instances.
If this were Game of Thrones, Gutekunst would be known as “The General Manager Who Tried.” That is the reputation he’s created, whether it be through his “we’ll be in every conversation” comment or a misunderstanding of trade rules.
Part of judging a general manager’s performance is not only assessing what they do, but when they do it.
The Packers, 3-5 at the time of the trade deadline, had no business adding pieces. That was only cemented with the ensuing loss to the lowly Detroit Lions.
Jay Glazer’s report about Gutekunst’s interest in Moore is particularly concerning.
While Moore is a useful player, he’s not transcendent. It’s very possible Carolina’s stubbornness cost the franchise a top 10, or maybe better, draft pick.
Green Bay is currently slotted for No. 8 overall. The Packers’ next three opponents (Dallas, Tennessee and Philadelphia) have a combined record of 19-5, while the remaining schedule also includes meetings with the 7-1 Vikings, the suddenly potent Bears and the playoff-bound Dolphins.
Could you imagine if the Panthers accepted that deal and the Packers lost out on a top five pick (something the franchise hasn’t had since 2006)? Gutekunst is in no jeopardy of losing his job — nor should he be — but that alone might’ve been a fireable offense.
Gutekunst is only one pillar of the Packers’ operation, and while it’s an important one, blame also lands at the feet of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur.
Rodgers — whether it be lack of offensive support, his thumb injury or the fact that he’s simply playing bad football — has not come close to the player that won back-to-back MVPs. And for all the praise LaFleur has received for reviving Rodgers and winning games at an unprecedented clip, he’s proven a shrinking violet when the team faces genuine adversity.
Yet in the last three years, it’s Gutekunst that has failed in his role far more often than he’s succeeded.
His 2020 draft class looks like a huge miss, and the 2021 class doesn’t look promising at the moment either (we’ll withhold judgement on 2022).
He estranged the franchise’s two best players. While he was able to repair the relationship with Rodgers, the entire handling of Davante Adams’ contract and ensuing departure looks like a failure.
He made Jaire Alexander the highest-paid cornerback in football; he retained De’Vondre Campbell, Rasul Douglas, and Preston Smith; he exercised the fifth-year option on Darnell Savage; he spent both 2022 first-rounders on defenders. All of this for a unit that’s middle of the pack in points allowed, and among the worst in takeaways and run defense (in fairness, he can only provide the ingredients for that unit, he can’t cook).
Gutekunst shares a lot of qualities and philosophies with his predecessor Ted Thompson. Like Thompson, Gutekunst wants to ensure the Packers are successful in the moment and in the future.
When Rodgers was 28, that made a lot of sense. Not so much at 38, with the Packers in a free fall.
Understanding timing, it seems, is Gutekunst’s greatest weakness. Where was the big swing in 2019 or 2020, or in spring following the Adams trade?
The 2022 season is a lost cause, and now a pivotal offseason awaits. On his to-do list, Gutekunst must hash out Rodgers’ status, decide if the weekly David Bakhtiari injury rollercoaster is worth the ride, and choose whether to keep Jordan Love in the fold for an additional year.
Gutekunst’s tenure has been defined by half-measures. Whatever the path forward is, it must be a decisive one.