Brian Gutekunst’s bold moves throughout his first eight months as general manager of the Packers have made it clear that a new era has begun in Green Bay.
Gutekunst is no stranger to Green Bay, Wisconsin. He arrived in 1998, joining the staff of Ron Wolf as a scout. Nineteen years later, he was named the general manager of the Packers. He inherited a team constructed by Ted Thompson over the last 12 years.
Thompson built a reputation as a conservative craftsman, preferring to build his team primarily through the draft. Excluding Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers, almost every significant contributor on his teams was acquired through the draft. Because Gutekunst worked under Thompson for 12 years, the question was whether he would follow in the footsteps of his predecessor.
Gutekunst’s actions have signaled that he will not shy away from bold personnel decisions that he feels improve the Packers roster. When asked about his philosophy at the draft combine in Indianapolis, he said “There’s a limit to what you can do, but we’d like to be really aggressive and see if we can be in every conversation.”
Let’s take a look at five key decisions that have defined Gutekunst’s tenure so far:
1) Jimmy Graham: Graham was one of the premier offensive players available in this year’s free agent class. Gutekunst moved quickly to secure the Pro Bowl TE, signing him to a three-year, $30M contract. Graham looks to be a key element of the offensive game plan for the Packers in 2018.
2) Muhammed Wilkerson: The former Pro Bowl DL was released by the Jets on February 28, 2018. After a dominant run between 2013-2015, Wilkerson saw his performance decline in 2016-2017. However, the opportunity to be reunited with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine could potentially revitalize his career. Gutekunst signed Wilkerson to a one-year, $5M contract.
3) Jordy Nelson: Being a successful general manager in the NFL requires making often unpopular decisions regarding veteran players. Releasing Jordy Nelson definitely reverberated among the Packer fan base. Parting ways with the 33-year old Nelson, created $10.2M in additional salary cap space in 2018. It also gives young WRs such as Geronimo Allison the responsibility of playing a larger role in the offense going forward.
4) First Round Trade: With the 14th pick in the 1st round of the 2018 draft, Gutekunst had the opportunity to pursue several high-profile players. Instead, he traded down to the 18th pick through a series of trades with the Saints and the Seahawks. The key benefit of these transactions was securing the 2019 first round selection from the Saints. After the draft, the Packers’ trades were applauded by the national media as one of the best moves of the weekend. The 2018 selection of CB Jaire Alexander with the 18th pick in the first round looks like a very solid choice based on his performance on the field so far. Gutekunst now has two first round selections heading into the 2019 draft, the only NFL GM to have that luxury.
5) The Khalil Mack Trade: Perhaps the most significant choice that Gutekunst has made so far in his tenure is the trade that he did not execute. Per numerous media outlets, the Packers were considered to be in the final running for Mack’s services before the Bears ultimately secured the trade with the Raiders. While it can be argued that Gutekunst should have been willing to part with his two first round picks and more to acquire a player of Mack’s caliber, his diligent pursuit of the trade reflected an aggressive edge that Packer fans have not seen from the general manager’s office in many years. Only time will tell whether it would have been wise to pay the hefty sum to acquire Mack, both in terms of draft picks and salary cost.
In today’s NFL, you are either moving forward as a team or moving backward. Gutekunst has shown he has the resolve to aggressively execute his vision for moving the Packers forward.