This week, the big news out of the Green Bay Packers organization has of course been the hiring of Brian Gutekunst as the team’s general manager. With his approach to team-building being a bit of an unknown — even though he did address it a bit in his opening press-conference — there is more uncertainty in the Packers’ front office than ever before.
Therefore, our Walkthroughs this week look not at our expectations for the team’s success or how Gutekunst will build the team, but rather specific strategies, actions, or approaches that we want the new GM to employ as he begins his tenure.
Peter Bukowski - Taking care of business
The No. 1 thing is I want Gutekunst to color inside his lines. That doesn’t mean I want to see him follow the Ted Thompson method (TT12?) to the letter. I want him to trust his instincts, his training, and his experience. He got this job because he’s an excellent talent evaluator, so do that, but don’t try to overcompensate for what’s happened in the past with Thompson and go on a spending bender like a 20-year-old with a trust fund. This is my way of saying “trust the process.” Draft and develop works. Don’t be afraid to sign free agents, but don’t feel pressured to do so either, just because it’s what the fans want or because it’s what Thompson didn’t do. In other words, don’t be so in a rush to make your own mark on this franchise that you get away from what has made it the most consistent franchise of the last 25 years outside of New England.
Owen Riese - Bring in high profile help
The No. 1 thing I want Gutekunst to do is hire Scot McCloughan to be his head advisor after Eliot Wolf leaves to take another job (editor’s note: this happened Wednesday morning, as Wolf accepted a job in Cleveland). McCloughan is one of the most talented evaluators in football, and being around an actual support system that will help him fight his demons that he lacked in Washington can help him overcome his addiction and he can help get the Packers’ roster back where it needs to be. While Gutekunst is clearly the decision-maker, and even credited McCloughan with helping him develop his love of scouting, McCloughan could be an invaluable asset to the Packers organization, however long his tenure would be.
I understand this is farfetched, not to be mistaken with the Pokemon, Farfetch’d.
Shawn Wagner - More risks
I would like to see Brian Gutekunst take more risks on high-upside players on the defensive side of the ball in free agency and the draft. I’m not a hater of the draft-and-develop method, but every year can’t be the same one-size-fits-all approach to filling certain positions of need.
Judging from his opening press conference, Gutekunst plans to at least be part of the picture for noteworthy free agents. I’m not a fan of spending large sums of money in free agency without awareness of the salary cap and upcoming internal free agents, but Gutekunst certainly must take more risks in shoring up the defense than his predecessor did. With the hiring of Mike Pettine as defensive coordinator, Green Bay should be able to employ multiple fronts and be a contender for a number of impact players they haven’t had since a younger, healthier Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, and Nick Collins.
In addition, Green Bay has passed on potential stars with question marks such as Myles Jack and Reuben Foster in recent drafts, leaving the defense with many safe and steady, yet unspectacular pieces. Of course, for every Foster there is a Randy Gregory, but Green Bay’s unwillingness to take chances has led them to where they are now. It’s up to Gutekunst to change that culture and build a defense that will allow an Aaron Rodgers-led offense to have another chance at a deep postseason run.
Paul Noonan - More of the same
I’m probably the biggest Ted apologist in...I don’t know, maybe the world, and believe that the Packers have had Super Bowl-level rosters for the vast majority of his tenure. In my view, his system works and works well, and my biggest fear is Gute veering too far afield into free agency. The Packer roster is getting up there at some key spots and while they should never go into rebuilding mode with Rodgers at the helm, they need to shore of the core with young talent. Judicious use of free agency is fine, but Ted was a master of looking three years down the road and focusing his acquisition strategy on the long game. Focusing outside of the immediate is an underrated skill, and I hope Gutekunst maintains that discipline even if he strays off of the Ted philosophy in other ways.
I view the 2017 season as mostly unlucky, with some lackluster defense. The sweeping changes in the front office and coaching staff strike me as worrisome, and I fear the team will misidentify problems and subsequently overreact.
Jon Meerdink - Collaboration with coaches
Behind the scenes reports indicate mounting frustration from Mike McCarthy over the past couple seasons with Ted Thompson’s reticence to provide him with a certain type of player. McCarthy wanted guys who he could plug and play, veterans and ready-made players that didn’t need to be developed for a season or two before they could fill a role on offense or defense. With Mike Pettine now on board as defensive coordinator, the Packers may be seeing some similar requests from another coach.
While a GM can’t (and probably shouldn’t) give his coaches everything on their wish lists, it would be encouraging to see Gutekunst take some more recommendations from the coaching staff. It would only help the coaches do their jobs, and in the long run it might make the coaching staff easier to evaluate. If the coaches are getting what they want from the man in charge, they only have themselves to blame if their units don’t perform.
Evan “Tex” Western - Continue dipping into bargain free agency
I believe that the 2017 offseason was a bit of an evolution for the Packers in terms of their approach to free agency. For the first time in a long time, Ted Thompson showed a willingness to fill clear holes on the roster with veteran depth players who were willing to sign short-term contracts. I’m thinking of course about players like Jahri Evans, Davon House, Lance Kendricks, and around the time of final roster cuts, Ahmad Brooks and Quinton Dial.
Although not all of them ended up in starting roles, each one of these players provided valuable snaps, and a couple did end up being critical players this season. It’s similar to how the Patriots approach free agency, and it’s in a way similar to the way Thompson approached draft picks as being lottery tickets -- the more times you try, the more successes you’ll have. And as long as you keep the contract values low and the length of the deals short, it’s easy to handle the inevitable misses. With Gutekunst now in Thompson’s chair, I hope that he continues to use this low-risk, high-reward method of player acquisition as a way of supplementing the draft-and-develop philosophy that should continue to guide the construction of the roster.