Green Bay Packers

Midweek Musings: Gutekunst must deliver in fourth draft as Packers GM

Share:

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn

It seems like eons ago that the Green Bay Packers were in the midst of their search for the successor to longtime general manager Ted Thompson.

It’s almost hard to believe that Thursday marks Brian Gutekunst’s fourth draft as the Packers’ primary decision-maker.

Hired in January 2018, the franchise’s former director of college scouting and director of player personnel was tasked with revamping a roster that finished 7-9 in 2017 — Green Bay’s first non-playoff season in almost a decade.

In that respect, despite another playoff-less performance in his first season, Gutekunst has largely succeeded. Green Bay didn’t require a complete overhaul in lieu of Gutekunst’s promotion as much as the franchise needed a new vision and a jolt to the supporting cast. Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams and David Bakhtiari were an excellent starting point, and it was on Gutekunst to find his stars some support.

Enter Matt LaFleur. Enter Za’Darius Smith. Enter Jaire Alexander. Enter consecutive 13-3 seasons and appearances in the NFC Championship.

But the Packers general manager isn’t infallible. He has faults. He has a track record long enough now to recognize the successes, but also the shortcomings.

On Thursday when Gutekunst embarks on his fourth draft as general manager, it might be his most important. The clock is ticking, whether it be due to age or contract status, for a handful of the Packers’ core players. The upcoming 2021 season might be the final kick at the Super Bowl can for the roster as we’ve come to know it.

When Gutekunst was hired in 2018, one could not imagine a cozier situation (despite the Packers’ lackluster record the previous season). He already had the quarterback, so the hardest box to check had already been marked. And he entered a situation which much of the fanbase was ready for someone, anyone, to replace Thompson.

While Thompson built a Super Bowl winner and his DNA was present all across NFL front offices in the 2010s, his reluctance to utilize free agency was a non-starter for most Packers fans as the team drifted farther and farther away from its last title. Fair or not, as the New England Patriots continued to win championship after championship, Packers fans could not escape the thought that, “If only Thompson did a little more, that could’ve been us.” Gutekunst could merely whisper “free agent” to win over the hearts of Packers fans.

“We’ll be in every conversation,” Gutekunst said of free agency at his introductory press conference, adding that slight caveat that the team’s lifeblood will continue to pump through the NFL draft.

The issue with such a stance — for the record, it’s the correct one — is that every draft selection is magnified.

Ultimately, that’s what doomed Thompson in his latter years. In the 2015 draft, Thompson didn’t land the Packers a single long-term starter. Gutekunst’s free agency splurge in 2019 was an attempt to remedy that. Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Adrian Amos were all 2015 draft picks — for other teams. It was the Packers that offered them those lucrative second contracts, as Green Bay’s own 2015 class didn’t warrant more commitment.

After signing Jimmy Graham in 2018 and spending up to $183 million on four free agents in 2019, Gutekunst’s offseasons the past two years have been pretty quiet. Maybe he’s been in every conversation as he promised, maybe he hasn’t. But his decision to stand pat only amplifies the importance of this upcoming draft class.

You could argue that Thompson, like Gutekunst, had the bones of a good team when he took GM duties from Mike Sherman in 2005. He had Brett Favre. He had Donald Driver, Chad Clifton, Al Harris and Nick Barnett, all good players with years left in the tank.

But it was Thompson’s assassin-like approach in his first four drafts that ultimately turned Green Bay into a champion again. Of Green Bay’s 22 starters from Super Bowl XLV, nine can be traced back to drafts from 2005 to 2008. Another, Tramon Williams, was signed as an undrafted free agent during that time span. And not included in that 22 is kicker Mason Crosby, the team’s all-time leading scorer and another member of the Super Bowl-winning team.

Thompson had misses. Who doesn’t? But that track record, especially in the early going of his Packers tenure, speaks for itself.

Gutekunst’s first few drafts have been a bit more tumultuous. Jaire Alexander, Gutekunst’s first ever pick, is a great player. Elgton Jenkins, the Packers’ second-rounder in 2019, was another home run. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, another addition from Gutekunst’s first draft, has developed into a solid deep ball option even if his inconsistencies remain headache-inducing. And Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage, first-rounders from 2019, have shown flashes of excellent play.

But that’s not enough. In three years, Gutekunst has drafted only four players that can be considered regular starters. He’s drafted a few others that maybe, possibly, potentially can be solid starters at their respective positions someday (guard Jon Runyan Jr. was an admirable reserve option last season).

He’s also drafted a first-round quarterback that may never play, a second-round cornerback who when called upon is whistled for so many flags it resembles the United Nations, and a second-round running back who — due to the welcomed return of Aaron Jones — could amount to nothing more than a change-of-pace option. Don’t forget the fifth-round pick spent on a punter who struggles to kick in the cold.

JK Scott excluded, those are premium picks and must be used on players that offer more than maybe, possibly, potentially being able to play at some point. The ship has likely sailed with Josh Jackson. We’ll see with Jordan Love and AJ Dillon.

Because Green Bay owns five picks in the first four rounds and 10 overall, Gutekunst will have every opportunity to maneuver around the draft to add talent. Could he package the Packers’ 29th pick and a third- or fourth-rounder to move up into the early 20s to nab a targeted player? That’s essentially what he did last year, using Green Bay’s 30th pick with a fourth-rounder to move up four spots to pick Love. His aggressive tendencies, at least in the first round, are in stark contrast to his predecessor. But aggression doesn’t necessarily translate to a good selection.

Whatever he does, it’s imperative that Gutekunst add a player in the mold of Alexander and Savage — players that can be instant contributors — instead of more projects. The post-Thompson honeymoon is over and the Packers, with a window closing on this current core that is absolutely capable of winning the Super Bowl, can not afford another mixed or empty bag from their now veteran general manager.

Share:

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x