Brian Gutekunst’s first cutdown weekend has come and gone and as the Green Bay Packers head toward their first real game of the season, the Acme Packing Company staff is still sorting through the rookie GM’s moves. Here are our lasting takeaways, thoughts, and questions form the weekend that was.
Bob Fitch: Brian Gutekunst is actually making change
As the style of play has changed in the NFL by emphasizing slot receivers and positional versatility in the backfield, the fullback - a position close to my heart - has been phased out. Only a handful of teams actually had a true fullback on their roster last year and the Packers were one of them. Not anymore! Ripkowski has been cut, and the Packers seem to be embracing modern football.
In Ripkowski’s place is a fourth tight end, Big Bob Tonyan, who certainly played his way onto the team in the preseason. Jimmy Graham is essentially a huge wide receiver at this point in his career so carrying an additional tight end might make sense, but by keeping seven wide receivers plus Kumerow on IR in addition to the four tight ends, it shortens the amount of spots elsewhere, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The cornerback position has 5 players, two having injury history and two being rookies. I’m skeptical that all of those end the year healthy and a bit more depth would be nice, but all of these surprise additions (Tim Boyle! James Crawford! Alex Light! Raven Greene!) show me that Gutekunst isn’t afraid to shake the tree a bit in search of new fruit, something that’s been needed in recent years.
Last point - Donnerson > Fackrell.
Evan “Tex” Western: Gutekunst doesn’t care about optics
I was stunned when we finally got the final roster breakdown on Saturday, and although it made a little more sense by the time Monday rolled around, I am still a bit in shock in the way that the Packers broke down their offense initially. First of all, there are no fullbacks on the 53. Has Mike McCarthy finally acquiesced to the fact that the position is a dinosaur, or is Brian Gutekunst forcing him to evolve instead? Joe Kerridge still came back on the practice squad, but he has only ever been a special teams player anyhow.
As for the eight receivers, I thought that Trevor Davis would be a goner once it was revealed that the team was trying to shop him for a draft pick. But Jake Kumerow’s trip to injured reserve and the lack of any consistency on kick and punt returns from others on the team helps make some sense of the decision to initially keep all eight players.
That doesn’t even get into the decision to cut some high draft picks from Ted Thompson’s last few classes. All told, what this tells me is that Gutekunst isn’t worried about the optics of making decisions that seem to initially be unusual or off-the-wall to the average fan. Frankly, I appreciate that.
Peter Bukowski: Don’t let one mistake become two
Too often, the Packers under Ted Thompson gave their own draft picks a pass. They had to, it was the only way they brought in any new talent, so developing that talent became paramount. Brian Gutekunst decided no more. Vince Biegel, a fourth-round pick at a need position: out. Quinten Rollins, a former second-round pick at a premium position: he gone. Kyle Murphy, who opened the season at right tackle in 2017: donezo.
Gutekunst was not going to suffer through dealing with players who can’t play even if he had a had in bringing them into the fold under the previous regime. When Mike McCarthy said it’s hard to go into your locker room if you don’t keep the best 53 guys, he meant it and it showed when final cuts came around. If guys don’t perform, their draft status shouldn’t matter and this new regime handled its business that way in 2018.
Shawn Wagner: The Packers’ gamble with their group of edge rushers could be an Achilles heel
To me, the fact that the Packers released Vince Biegel after just one season wasn’t a total shock. But that they didn’t replace him with a proven depth player was.
Last season, in addition to drafting Biegel, the Packers added an established veteran in Ahmad Brooks following the final cuts in an effort to aid the pass rush outside of Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. While that move didn’t work as anticipated, it was a safe attempt. But the Packers adding just Korey Toomer, a journeyman with just two sacks in his career, offers no upgrade over simply keeping Biegel or Chris Odom this season. With Matthews and Perry’s injury history on top of Kyler Fackrell’s low upside, the Packers have few legitimate pass rushing options. While Reggie Gilbert may continue to blossom in year two, it’s still far from a guarantee.
The Packers added some cornerbacks in the offseason to bolster that group and Mike Pettine’s system may assist the pass rush from the defensive line and inside linebackers. But the edge rushing crew presents no more excitement than last year and could really hold the defense back if and when injuries resurface.
Wendi Hansen: Brian Gutekunst is getting work DONE
My GUTE reaction about hiring Gutekunst as the Packers GM in early January was spot on: he’s here to make moves, give players the chance to shine and get ish done. His imprint on the team can be seen even before cutdown weekend, but there were a few takeaways that I got as he narrowed down the Pack to a 53-man roster.
One, he did try to get Mack, but in the end, it came down to feasibility. We were able to make a few trades over the last week because we did not acquire him that in the end, will ultimately put us in a better position. Two, he went with keeping eight WRs which was kind of a surprise. The thing about Gutekunst is he makes smart decisions, even if that means going out of the norm. While it can be a numbers game, it’s also about quality, and that is something that Packers have got this season.
Jonathan Barnett: Khalil Mack to Chicago changes first quarter of the season.
There has been a lot of talk on this subject. First take is to freak out. The second take is blow off the Bears as still terrible.
The Bears were a bad team last year, but young at key positions. Still, the defense was 10th in yards per game. That is with a young quarterback that did not keep the defense off the field enough. They were also 15th in sacks. Considering that the Bears were rarely up enough to force teams into obvious passing situations, this is good. Now add Mack. This is a legitimate top ten defense. Remember, they also drafted a new middle linebacker as well.
No reason to freak out, just do not undersell what this means. The Packers will be entering with a quarterback who is coming off an injury shortened season, who only threw four preseason passes. Having the Bears and Vikings to start this season will be a serious challenge. Failing in these games could have long term effects.
For those repeating the mantra that “the Raiders only traded to the Bears because they thought they would still be bad enough to earn Oakland a high draft pick,” I point out that the singular assumption that makes this reasonable is thinking the Raiders are really smart about judging football personnel. The opener just got much more interesting.
Paul Noonan: the Packers have finally modernized their roster construction
Only keeping 2 running backs, and no fullbacks is an excellent sign that the team has fully modernized itself. Even though Aaron Jones will be back at some point, it’s heartening, and surprising that the team didn’t waste a roster spot on a useless fullback. Gutekunst has been impressive so far, and little peripheral signs like this, as well as listing the starting depth charts with 3 WRs, should give everyone confidence that, even if you disagree with a move, plenty of thought and research probably went into it. This is one of my favorite 53 man rosters. Still could use a backup tackle though.
Jon Meerdink: Edge rusher group could be instructive
Like Shawn above, I was most surprised by how Brian Gutekunst handled his edge rusher/outside linebacker group this weekend, both in what he did and did not do. Keeping just four outside linebacker types was a surprise. Not adding any others was at least as big of a surprise, perhaps moreso.
But I wonder if this configuration could show us a bit of how the Packers plan to use their edge rushers this season. Perhaps Mike Pettine plans to lean more heavily on the defensive line in his personnel groupings, meaning there will be less of a need for the traditional 3-4 outside linebacker type player. Maybe that means Clay Matthews will move around or play off the ball more as Pettine relies more on schemed pressure. It’s obviously conjecture, but the early season will show us pretty quickly whether such a thin group can last.