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Brian Gutekunst’s in-season additions prove vital in Packers’ Divisional Playoff victory

Three post-Draft or in-season acquisitions should have Gutekunst in the running for top executive in the NFL this year.

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-Seattle Seahawks At Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Chandon Sullivan, Tyler Ervin, and Jared Veldheer will all share a connection that carries beyond the 2019 season, regardless of when the Green Bay Packers’ campaign comes to an end. These three players are inextricably linked as in-season acquisitions of the Packers, as general manager Brian Gutekunst picked each of the three off the scrap heap. And without the contributions of these players, it is entirely likely that the Packers would not have escaped the Divisional Playoffs to earn a rematch with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.

All three took strange routes to get to Green Bay. Veldheer came out of retirement in November, and the Packers claimed the veteran offensive lineman on waivers after he requested his release from the Patriots. Ervin came as a waiver claim as well, landing with the Packers three days after Veldheer did. Meanwhile, Sullivan was not truly an in-season addition, but he was an afterthought as his signing was just a minor transaction in the wake of the 2019 NFL Draft.

After signing with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted rookie in 2018, Sullivan spent last season bouncing back and forth between the practice squad and the active roster. Five days after the Eagles waived him in May, the Packers came calling with a contract, and he has been an important piece of the secondary all season long. He ended up playing just over a third of the Packers’ defensive snaps and almost half of the team’s special teams plays, earning a significant role starting in week five. Sullivan ended up finishing fifth on the team in pass breakups with six, and he added an interception and a forced fumble in the regular season.

In Sunday’s postseason game, the first of Sullivan’s career, he recorded a single tackle — doing so in pass coverage on tight end Jacob Hollister — but should have had a much more impactful play early on in the game. On Seattle’s opening drive, with the Packers already up 7-0, Jaire Alexander flipped Hollister in the air, and the tight end lost control of the football before landing on the ground. Sullivan appeared to fall on the football for a recovery, but the officials ruled that no clear recovery took place, and Seattle kept the football. While not a turnover, Sullivan’s play was excellent, as he suited up for 23 snaps on defense in the game.

Ervin has provided the Packers with a spark in the return game that they had lacked all season, giving the team a massive jolt in his first game with the team. With the Packers sitting at a dismal negative-8 punt return hards through 12 games, Ervin accounted for 51 alone in his first game in green and gold, eventually totaling 106 in his four regular season games. But late in the season, head coach Matt LaFleur has started drawing up plays for Ervin on offense, putting his speed and quickness to use. Against the Seahawks, Ervin provided a bit of a jolt in the running game, with carries of 18 and 7 yards, but his return ability scared the Seahawks enough for them to decide to mortar-kick their kickoffs high and short to keep the ball out of his hands.

And then there’s Veldheer, who on Sunday proved to be the most essential player of the bunch. Veldheer, a former third-round pick back in 2010, got his first taste of action in week 17 when he filled in for fellow 2010 draft pick Bryan Bulaga after the starter received a concussion. With Bulaga back from the concussion protocol by midweek, Veldheer appeared to be headed for a backup role again on Sunday, but an unexpected bout of the flu sent Bulaga to the locker room even after the team had him suit up in uniform as active.

For the vast majority of the game, Veldheer held up tremendously well, providing a solid presence at right tackle. While there were a few noticeable mistakes, his steadiness allowed the offense to function normally, giving Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams the time to carve up the Seahawks’ secondary. The dropoff from Bulaga to Veldheer is clearly much smaller than the drop to Alex Light, and his addition to this team may well have saved this offense in light of Bulaga’s surprise unavailability.

All three of these additions has provided the Packers with players who play critical roles, whether as a rotational player, a special teams weapon, or a crucial backup. And while Gutekunst may receive accolades for the big-name free agents he brought in last March, acquisitions like these — the kind that Ted Thompson seemed to be unwilling to make — are the other part of the puzzle that the Packers have put together to get themselves to the NFC Championship.