How refreshing is it to have a general manager who is open and candid about his team and his approach to building a team? When Ted Thompson stepped down as the Green Bay Packers’ GM, it would have been impossible for his successor to be less transparent with the media. However, Brian Gutekunst has proven to be as open as one could hope for since stepping into the role.
On Friday morning, Gutekunst wrapped up the 2019 season with a press conference, speaking to reporters for just over 30 minutes at Lambeau Field. While Gutekunst addressed a number of topics, one facet of his approach to player acquisition continues to stand out in contrast to his predecessor: the willingness to acquire significant players through routes other than the NFL Draft.
Gutekunst has made several big free agent signings in his two offseasons at the helm, and the results have ranged from disappointing (Jimmy Graham) to tremendous (Za’Darius and Preston Smith, Adrian Amos). But another area in which Gutekunst has dabbled is the trade market, and at midseason in 2019 he was evidently working the phones hard.
In his Friday press conference, Gutekunst said there was one area where he was looking to add a player around the 2019 trade deadline: finding an “explosive offensive player” — a category that likely refers to a wide receiver. While there were a few players who did change teams before the deadline, such as Mohamed Sanu and Emmanuel Sanders, Gutekunst said that there were few opportunities there and he and his staff did not feel they were of “sound value.”
Some Packers fans expressed frustration that the team did not add talent in that area at midseason, but this revelation should at least give those individuals comfort knowing that the general manager shared their concern with the depth in that area. That also suggests that the front office will look to add explosive offensive talent this offseason, whether through free agency or the 2020 NFL Draft, with the latter boasting a tremendous amount of receiver talent.
Meanwhile, the inside linebacker position is a massive question mark heading into 2020, and Gutekunst acknowledged that as well. “We’re going to have to take a long look at inside linebacker and make sure we’re squared away there,” Gutekunst said, while noting that starter Blake Martinez will be a free agent this offseason.
The off-ball linebacker position is one that Thompson seemed to ignore in the first two days of the draft throughout his tenure as GM. Under Thompson, the team drafted exactly one non-edge rusher linebacker in the first three rounds of the draft, using the fifth overall pick on A.J. Hawk in 2006, and they did not sign a single notable player at the position in free agency. Otherwise, the team made do with day-three picks such as Martinez, Jake Ryan, Brad Jones, and Desmond Bishop, or with undrafted players.
Gutekunst has already showed a willingness to expend more resources at linebacker than his predecessor, trading up in 2018 to select Oren Burks in the third round. That position now looks to be a priority for him and the Packers this offseason, and it would not be a surprise if the Packers re-signed Martinez or added a player there in free agency. The free agent linebacker class includes first-time free agents like Cory Littleton (formerly of the Rams) and Joe Schobert (Browns), as well as veterans along the lines of Danny Trevathan (Bears) and Sean Lee (Cowboys).
While there is no guarantee that the Packers make major moves at these positions this offseason, it does appear that Gutekunst and his staff have plans to improve the talent pool in these areas. Given that depth and playmaking ability at receiver and linebacker were among the team’s biggest issues in 2019, it is nice to see the scouting staff acknowledge them as places to focus their efforts.