Here’s the situation. Brian Gutekunst and Russ Ball have been patiently waiting in the wings for half of their careers. Gutekunst has been in the Green Bay Packers’ front office for 20 years and Ball has been in various NFL front offices for 27 years. Suddenly, team president Mark Murphy hands them the keys to an enterprise that is beginning its 100th year in a dog-eat-dog world of NFL football.
They must have been dreaming and planning for this moment for many years. Their ascendency comes at a time when the Packers, over seven years’ time, have fallen from the top of the heap to a team with a losing record. They inherit a team in dire need of a personnel makeover.
Their challenge is more daunting than any challenge former general manager Ted Thompson had to face in many years. They have both a tremendous challenge and opportunity.
How do you shore up, if not rebuild, a roster? By trades, by free agent signings and by the draft. What has been Gutekunst’s plan and how is it going? And whenever I say Gutekunst, I mean Gutekunst and Ball.
A week before free agency opened, Gutekunst traded to acquire backup QB DeShone Kizer. We don’t know if the trade will turn out to be Brett-Favre-like, but it was clearly a carefully planned move.
All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson were picked off in the first two days of free agency. Regardless of whether they were overpaid, there was definite evidence that Gutekunst had a plan and he executed it.
The above moves were consummated by March 16. And that’s when almost all of Gutekunst’s trade and free agency strategies came to a halt. The sole exception was bringing back cornerback Tramon Williams, who was signed on March 22.
As I’ve related, several NFL teams have added (or re-signed former players) 15 or more players to their rosters in about the past month. Green Bay remains stuck on four. Not only that, they stand to lose many more players than they’ll gain through trading and free agency: Jordy Nelson, Morgan Burnett, Damarious Randall, Jeff Janis, Richard Rodgers and Joe Thomas, and they may well also lose Jahri Evans, Davon House, Ahmad Brooks, Quinton Dial, Ulrick John and Brett Goode.
We fans have eagerly watched and waited for the team’s high-need voids to be filled: edge rusher, wide receivers (plural), cornerbacks (plural again). I’m unaware of any concerted efforts to secure an edge rusher. Late in the free agent game, the Packers took a look at receiver Jordan Matthews, but his three injuries in 2017 must remain a huge concern, because New England picked him up for $1 million for one year.
Williams should help at cornerback, but the Packers are obviously prepared to lose Davon House and they gave up Damarious Randall, so there’s currently a net loss at this critical position.
As I write, the free agency market is about played out. There’s also little player trading activity, as opposed to draft selection trading.
So, what is Gutekunst’s plan at this point? By process of elimination, he’s going to fill up the roster with draft choices – rookies! Unless he trades away some picks, this means a dozen college-age kids will soon take up residence at St. Norbert’s.
The plan must be to build this team back up through the 2018 draft and by developing the promising players selected in the 2017 draft. All of the general manager’s actions signal that this season is going to be (1) a time for player development and gaining of experience; (2) a housecleaning of the roster – in large part to make room for the draftees; (3) a youth movement; and (4) a rebuilding year.
Free agency has once again been a bust for the Packers.