When Brian Gutekunst was named General Manager of the Green Bay Packers in January 2018, he was quoted as saying that the organization would not leave any “stone unturned as far as every avenue of player acquisition.” In almost a year and a half as a leader of the front office, Gutekunst has stayed true to his word.
Just this week, writers noted distinct differences between Gutekunst and his predecessor Ted Thompson in terms of their strategies of acquiring talent. Not only have the Packers added high-caliber special teams players in the hopes of also uncovering the talents that made them drafted as position players, they have also more thoroughly explored the waiver claim market.
While Green Bay continues to largely employ a draft-and-develop strategy for building its roster, it has not been the only method of acquiring talent under the new regime.
Gutekunst’s first draft as GM in 2018 resulted in a promising group of young players. While the development of second-day selections Josh Jackson and Oren Burks will be a key to the long-term assessment of the class, early contributions from Jaire Alexander, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Equanimeous St. Brown are more favorable than some of the Packers’ recent drafts.
Outside of Thompson’s trade back into the first round to pick Clay Matthews in 2009, the Packers have rarely showed as much early-round aggression in draft-day trades as they have the last two years under Gutekunst. Last year, the Packers traded back from pick 14 in the first round with the New Orleans Saints to gain an extra first round choice in 2019. They then used a third-rounder to trade back up to get the man they wanted in Alexander. Even this April, Green Bay took no chances of losing Darnell Savage, trading up nine picks to scoop up the safety.
While it is too early in Gutekunst’s tenure to judge his drafting skill, he has at least been aggressive via that route.
Undrafted Free Agents
Any disciple of Thompson can be expected to value the undrafted free agent pool and Gutekunst has been no different, keeping several such players that were signed last offseason. The Packers retained Tim Boyle, Alex Light, Raven Greene, and James Crawford on the initial 53-man roster, while eventually activating Tyler Lancaster during the season. While not an original Green Bay undrafted signing, rookie cornerback Tony Brown was signed in late September and showed the potential to be a valuable piece moving forward.
Green Bay has found many undrafted gems in the past decade and Gutekunst appears to be just as committed as Thompson was in giving those players a legitimate chance at roster spots.
While trades are less frequent in the NFL than other major professional sports leagues, the Packers made their fair share of end-of-preseason trades when determining the final 53-man roster under Thompson. Gutekunst also made a late-August deal when he shipped Brett Hundley to Seattle, but he was also active at uncommon times.
Gutekunst’s first major move as GM was sending Damarious Randall to Cleveland for DeShone Kizer, an unforeseen early-March trade in which Green Bay hoped to improve its quarterback depth. While the Packers did not necessarily add a player, they were more active at the 2018 trade deadline as well, dealing Ty Montgomery and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in two separate moves. Each player, on expiring contracts and unlikely to be re-signed, brought back draft pick collateral to Green Bay.
The Packers made several waiver claims during the 2018 season, including the additions of defensive back Natrell Jamerson and defensive lineman Fadol Brown who will each be fighting for roster spots again this summer. But the Packers have continued to be active through the waiver route in 2019.
Just in the last month, Green Bay has claimed cornerback Mike Tyson, wide receiver Jawill Davis, and kicker Sam Ficken. The pursuit of tight end Jordan Leggett this week, though Tampa Bay won his rights, was yet another example of Gutekunst trusting his pro scouts and trying to increase the competition at a position that had already added depth this offseason. Waiver claims should continue to be a cost-effective way for the Packers to pick up role players under Gutekunst.
Restricted Free Agency
It is not often that the Packers have turned to the restricted free agent market for talent. More often, they have had internal players such as Aaron Kampman sign an offer sheet with another team before ultimately matching the offer. While most restricted free agency pursuits from Green Bay would be considered a surprise, Gutekunst has proven he has not ruled those opportunities out.
In his first few months on the job, Gutekunst shocked many when he signed Chicago cornerback Kyle Fuller to an offer sheet. Whether it was to force the Bears’ hand on a lucrative long-term deal or an intentional attempt to improve the defense, the focus on Fuller indeed showed that Gutekunst would leave no stone unturned.
Unrestricted Free Agency
Last but certainly not least, unrestricted free agency has been a renewed focus under Gutekunst to improve the roster. In his first free agency, the Packers landed Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Davon House, Tramon Williams, and Byron Bell in the spring before bringing Bashaud Breeland in September.
But those moves were pale in comparison to Gutekunst’s dealing in 2019, moving quickly to sign Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Adrian Amos, and Billy Turner on the second day of free agency. While the extreme level of activity should not be expected every year under Gutekunst, it represented a willingness to shake up the roster and commit money to getting quicker results on the field.
After years of futility in free agency under Thompson, Green Bay has raised eyebrows with its number of free agent moves under Gutekunst.
Brian Gutekunst vowed to explore all options of acquiring talent when he took the Packers’ GM position and so far he has lived up to that promise to large extents. And with Green Bay trying to get back to the postseason, he may have plenty more moves up his sleeves as the year plays out.