As Brian Gutekunst transitions into his role as the tenth general manager of the Green Bay Packers, many expect the Packers to make a real splash in many facets of the offseason.
And for good reason.
Let’s face it. New general managers are hired for a reason. Whether it is for team performance, lack of chemistry, poor team-building, retirement, or simply fresh blood, the new leader is counted on to make adjustments as deemed fit. It shouldn’t be surprising to see them initially active.
But for Green Bay, a team characterized by its reluctance to enact significant change in recent times, intrigue is beginning to build. The last four general managers have swung big with mixed results in their first couple of offseasons.
Prior to the Packers’ glory years, Tom Braatz served as executive vice president for football operations (today’s general manager) beginning in 1987. Braatz may ultimately be remembered for conservative decision-making, as well as drafting the team’s all-time bust in Tony Mandarich.
Yet, Braatz still made several initial moves that impacted the direction of the Packers in his first two seasons. Some of those included the hiring of Lindy Infante as head coach in 1988 after the resignation of Forrest Gregg, drafting of future starting quarterback Don Majkowski in 1987 and star receiver Sterling Sharpe in 1987, and trading away of Hall of Fame wide receiver James Lofton also in 1987. These moves carried varying levels of success, but the Packers didn’t make enough sterling moves in Braatz’s first two years to offset what had become a stagnant, mediocre franchise.
The dawn of the Packers’ modern era of success came with the arrival of Ron Wolf in late 1991. Wolf’s first months on the job eventually landed him in Canton, replacing Infante with Super Bowl XXXI head coach Mike Holmgren and trading a first round draft selection for Atlanta Falcons backup quarterback Brett Favre. Via the draft, Wolf also acquired future offensive weapons Robert Brooks, Edgar Bennett, and Mark Chmura in 1992 while adding center Frank Winters as a Plan B pickup.
Wolf’s second offseason was a memorable one too, landing future Super Bowl defensive starters Wayne Simmons and Doug Evans in the draft and both Mike Prior and the “Minister of Defense” Reggie White in the NFL’s first true free agency period. With the additions of Holmgren, Favre, White, and numerous others, Wolf changed the complexion of the franchise during his first two years in Green Bay and set a tone for championship contention.
At the end of Wolf’s run in Green Bay, the Packers promoted then-head coach Mike Sherman to a dual role as coach and GM in 2001. In an interesting scenario, there was not a coaching change in the first two seasons of Sherman’s leadership. However, Sherman’s time as GM is marked by a number of lackluster drafts and free agent signings in those couple of years.
Sharing his first draft with Wolf in 2001, Sherman traded a first round pick and Matt Hasselbeck for first and third round picks that eventually became Jamal Reynolds and Torrance Marshall. Although his second draft resulted in Javon Walker and Aaron Kampman, Sherman’s swing and miss on Reynolds, while trading away an up-and-coming NFL quarterback for next to nothing, led to Packer setbacks in years to come.
Like Wolf, Sherman’s first two years of free agency as the sole decision maker were eventful, but came with a price. The most notable free agent bust, perhaps in Packers history, came in the form of defensive end Joe Johnson in 2002 who recorded just two sacks after signing a six-year, $33 million deal. Sherman then added fullback Nick Luchey, linebacker Hannibal Navies, and defensive end Chukie Nwokorie in free agency in 2003 (his second offseason in full command), all of whom failed to become game-changers. Sherman’s first two free agencies as a general manager were certainly active, but not a good omen for the rest of his managerial career.
Most recently, the Packers have marched to the tune of Ted Thompson. Although Thompson may be remembered in Green Bay for his lack of risk-taking in the free agency period, that certainly wasn’t the case during his first two offseasons.
Like Braatz and Wolf before him, Thompson dealt with a coaching change soon into his time with the Packers, firing Sherman after one season together in 2006. The move led to the arrival of current head coach Mike McCarthy, who led the Packers to one Super Bowl with Thompson as GM. Like the aforementioned general managers had made a priority, Thompson added a quarterback of the future in Aaron Rodgers during his first draft.
After a fairly quiet 2005 free agency period, Thompson (in non-Ted fashion) went heavy on free agent pickups in 2006. Adding key defensive cogs Charles Woodson (seven-year contract) and Ryan Pickett (four years), as well as disappointing safety Marquand Manuel (five years), Thompson took a chance on extensive contracts with as much as $76 million at stake. With Woodson, the Packers resurrected an injury and locker room concern into an NFL Defensive Player of the Year, while Pickett became a dependable front seven player for a Super Bowl winning team. The 2006 offseason stood out as an anomaly during the Thompson years in terms of free agent investment and set the tone for the Packers’ longest playoff streak of all time.
With Gutekunst as the new leader of the Pack in 2018, Green Bay again finds itself in a similar spot when looking two years down the road. Will there be consistency in the form of a head coaching change? Will there be a quarterback of the future addition? Will there be more memorable roster changes in the draft and free agency to elevate the team to another Super Bowl?
Time will tell, but history would indicate all of three scenarios are conceivable.