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Packers GM Brian Gutekunst

Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I grew up playing that great board game, “Risk”. It’s that innocent child’s game whereby you and the neighbor kid, or your insufferable sisters, try to gain world domination by conquering countries and continents, one by one. The game lived up to its name, as it taught you the stakes that were involved when making decisions that could be a success or a disaster. Is the game still out there? Does anyone still play board games?

Brian Gutekunst, Russ Ball, and others in the Packers front office perhaps grew up playing the game too. If they did, they must know that the four deals they made on March 12 were truly high-risk transactions.

How much money they doled out for four contracts that last for four years each is risky in itself, but the timing of these payments is what really makes it a bold gamble. This is as far afield from the Ted Thompson days as you can get.

First off, the Packers enticed the four players with huge signing bonuses: Za’Darius Smith got $20M, Preston Smith $16M, Amos $11M, and Turner $9M. That serves as a virtual guarantee that none will be released in the first year or two, no matter how poorly they might play.

The huge signing bonuses also allowed the Packers to spread out the salary cap hits over the four years. To take just the case of Za’Darius, according to spotrac.com the cap hits are: 2019, $7.25M; 2020, $17.25M; and 2021 and 2022, $20.75M. His “dead cap” amounts are 2019, $20M; 2020, $15M; 2021, $10M; and 2022, $5M.

What this means as a practical matter is that the Packers dare not release any of the four at least for the first three years. If Za’Darius were to be let go after the 2021 season, only then would such a decision be financially feasible: the team would be assessed only $5 million in dead cap money, and would have paid out a total of $50.25M for the first three years of service.

Gutekunst’s March 14 Presser

The team’s GM was relatively forthcoming when asked on Thursday about the free agent deals. At first he generalized “I feel good about the (financial) effects in years to come.” When asked more pointedly, he responded, “We didn’t really jeopardize anything in the future.” That is probably true – if these guys prove their worth with the team.

When one media guy (who is this guy, who asks the most questions?) began with “You didn’t get any great players. . .”, Gute immediately, but calmly, intervened with “I disagree with your comment.” He assured the room: “It’s about wins and losses, and I think these guys will help us win.”

Gutekunst went on during the 14-minute affair to say or imply that: an edge rusher was the team’s top priority in free agency, and they also needed help at safety; locker room chemistry is very important, as it will also be when assessing draft prospects; health history is another piece of the puzzle; signing these free agents gives the team freedom to move around more in the draft; “there are still (FA) guys out there we’re peekin’ at”; and “Green Bay is in a win-now mode all the time.”

Russ Ball

Russ Ball Assumes Center Stage

His new title is Executive Vice President/ Director of Football Operations, but Russ Ball has for years been, and remains, the Packers’ chief contract negotiator and financial guru. I doubt the Packers would go so far out on a limb as they have without trusting in Ball’s expertise and judgment. Ball surely was the key person in getting these deals finalized.

Gutekunst acknowledged to the press on Thursday that Ball “did a great job in the negotiating phase.” While many have criticized the unusual sharing-of-powers arrangement the team has in the Murphy-Gutekunst-Ball triumvirate, everything appears hunky-dory and running smoothly at this juncture.


The die is cast. As the GM acknowledged, the Packers have made risks that reflect a win-now commitment. It’s an exciting time, but also an apprehensive one for legions of Packer fans.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. WinterisHere March 19, 2019

    I play Risk all the time on my phone, if that counts…

  2. Disposable H3ro March 19, 2019

    I play risk whenever I eat Taco Bell after a long night of drinking.

    1. Kato March 20, 2019

      Lmao. Most often ends up in losing

  3. PF4L March 19, 2019

    March 15, 2019 at 4:17 pm

    I’m not saying it’s wrong (they’re trying), i am saying it’s very risky. But then again, after two losing seasons, i truly believe this team is in crisis mode and they are clearly going all in.

  4. PF4L March 19, 2019

    Excellent piece Rob…..We are on the tail end of purging this team of bad contracts. So we should feel pretty damn good about that. Hopefully Daniels high paid fat ass gets sent packing soon, when he plays you barely know he’s even on the field, like T Willy, Jimmy, and former dead weight Nick Perry and Randall Cobb.

    We should also pray we aren’t starting this losing cycle all over again.

  5. PF4L March 19, 2019

    “We didn’t really jeopardize anything in the future.”

    “Win now mode”

    These statements don’t exactly instill great confidence. Rob is right, the first statement could be true, if they all play to their contracts. If they don’t, it absolutely limits your options in the future because you structured their contracts where you have to keep them, even if they don’t perform. There are no guarantee’s, especially when you consider recent Packer free agent signings.

    This years draft and free agency are giving the Packers two possibility’s. They are either going to rise this team up from falling any further, or they are digging their grave deeper.

    The big question the Packers don’t want to answer is…after two years of missing the playoffs, what “exactly” are the expectations of this team this season. If they said make the playoffs and hopefully get past round 1, i could respect that. If they said the expectations are what they always are, winning Championships, They should be fired immediately for living outside the realm of reality.

    1. Howard March 19, 2019

      I think the teams first goal/expectation this year should be winning two regular season games in a row.

    2. R. Duke March 19, 2019

      The biggest risk is always injuries. The RISK games could go on for 48 hours in the college dorm lounge during long, cold winters.

  6. KILLER March 19, 2019

    The conclusion that everything is hunky-dory in the triumvirate because one of the members of said triumvirate (who will never no matter how bad it is ever gets say anything was less than hunky-dory), during a guarded press conference moment no less, says one good thing about one other member of said triumvirate… is the kind of stretch Gumby could only fantasize about carrying out.

    That said, RISK is a fantastic game still alive and well. If you purchase a board game invest in the wood pieces and a premium board as you may be gathered around it for hours. If you are up for rule changes, as follows:

    Game as is= Roll all battle dice one to one with tie meaning the defender wins. This is actually more realistic as the defender is dug in and better knows the occupied terrain.

    Combined Game= If you can find the game Nuke’Em you can shuffle those cards in with the regular RISK deck with draws each turn you take a territory and you then have Nuke’Em RISK a very compelling wild game. Think RISK with occasional missiles and nuclear warheads taking out entire territories.

    Drinking Game= Consume entire cup of beer when one of your continents is successfully invaded so you lose your extra armies. The invader also gets to give one entire beer to the player opponent of their choice. Each turn you hold an entire continent you get to also give an entire cup of beer. Make sure to gather all car keys of visiting friends prior to game start. If Piffle plays make sure to have the couch ready for him early in the game. You don’t even have to get his car keys. He doesn’t have any ever since that fourth DUI.

    1. PF4L March 20, 2019


      1. Ferris March 21, 2019

        Double yawn.