We’ve all watched, sometimes with fascination and sometimes in horror, as general manager Brian Gutekunst has forcefully taken the reins of the Green Bay Packers.
The failure to retain Morgan Burnett was the final bit of information I needed. The Packers are not positioning themselves for a deep run in the playoffs. They’ve instead launched an effort to rebuild the team for a run in 2019.
The turnover in players, coaches, and front office personnel has been massive. Face it, you can’t realistically give up all that continuity, and deal with so much change, without a considerable adjustment period.
Other than Aaron Rodgers, the heart of the Green Bay offense going back to 2011 has been Jordy Nelson – but he was let go and it was done before his talents were depleted. The heart of the team’s defense, also since 2011, has been strong safety Morgan Burnett, and he too left before his time was up.
It seems likely that some others will follow, either before or shortly after the draft. A partial list: Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga, Jahri Evans, Davon House and Richard Rodgers – and let’s add Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
In parting ways with Damarious Randall and Burnett, the team has committed itself to starting Josh Jones at strong safety and Kevin King at cornerback. They weren’t ready to go last season – to the point where at least King might not be a solid player until his third year, 2019.
The 2018 draft is ripe with possibilities: 12 picks, six of them in the first 138 selections. This leaves Gutekunst and his team with endless possibilities: trade up, trade down, trade away and go after as many as half a dozen guys who ought to be able to contribute this season. “Contribute” does not, however, mean that more than one or two are likely to have a real affect in the win-loss column in their first year.
Are any of the defensive backfield reserves, other than Kentrell Brice, ready to start? Jones, Donatello Brown, Marwin Evans, Demetri Goodson, Josh Hawkins, Lenzy Pipkins, Herb Waters, Jermaine Whitehead – I don’t see any major contributors here for 2018. Maybe Evans or Pipkins will get there by 2019.
The Packers actually had a rookie ready to play a starring role last season. Coach Mike McCarthy had to be blind not to see and utilize the talents of running back Aaron Jones.
If the Packers have a fine draft, look out in 2019, but don’t expect a large rookie class to immediately lead the team to the promised land this year.
If you need any more proof that Gutekunst is pursuing a rebuilding strategy, watch and see how many hangers-on are let go in free agency or by the time the roster is pared down: guys like Geronimo Allison, Ahmad Brooks, Joe Callahan, Trevor Davis, Quinton Dial, Brett Hundley, Jeff Janis, Ulrick John, Richard Rodgers and Quinten Rollins. If guys like these are let go to make room for anywhere from five to nine 2018 draft choices, that’s a sure sign of a team in rebuild mode.
If the Packers were gearing up for a strong run in 2018, wouldn’t they be concentrating on plugging up their biggest holes with a couple of solid veteran players? Yes, they have salary cap limitations, but you haven’t seen Green Bay try to acquire a mid-value free agent edge player, wide receiver or cornerback.
I’m assuming the offer made to Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller wasn’t genuine, but was merely meant to tweak the Bears. I sure hope it wasn’t genuine – that offer would have broken the Packers’ bank if it had come to fruition.
Finally, there’s that perception that Rodgers needs lots of time – years – to feel in synch with his receivers. The perception has been borne out regarding Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. Of Rodgers’ top four receivers, at least two will be new to him: Jimmy Graham and Nelson’s replacement. If Cobb moves on, that will be three out of four. And this doesn’t take into account that none of the Packers running backs have much experience at being a target of Rodgers.
Aaron Rodgers Super Bowl window might be closing, but it appears to me the Packers are knowingly sacrificing the 2018 season so that they can make the strongest possible postseason run next year.