Green Bay Packers

Brian Gutekunst's Philosophy Has Cost Green Bay Everything

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Scouting, managing the salary cap, and personal relationships are all essential to being an NFL general manager. But nothing is more important than the ability to identify where exactly the team is. Brian Gutekunst hasn’t shown this ability, and the Green Bay Packers’ lack of self-awareness has been extremely costly in the last three years.

Green Bay’s title window was effectively open between 2020 and 2021. Aaron Rodgers was playing at an MVP level, Davante Adams was the best wide receiver in football, and the offensive line was good even after David Bakhtiari injured his knee. The defense was flawed but not terrible.

Gutekunst could have made more moves, trying to acquire more talent as other contenders did. But the salary cap was tight, to be fair. Still, other teams were able to manage it, move cap hits to the future, and open space to add veteran players. However, the same general manager who traded two fourth-rounders to move up for Darnell Savage, one to move up for Jordan Love, and another to get Amari Rodgers wasn’t willing to trade those same picks for veteran players. Randall Cobb was the exception, but that was a specific situation, not a philosophical decision.

Gutekunst’s decision to select Love in the 2020 draft was also a clear indication that he wanted to have his cake and eat it too. As the general manager mentioned multiple times, his main goal is to build a perennial contender. However, the moves made for the future harmed Green Bay’s ability to win in the moment and weren’t decisive enough to position the Packers to be good in the future.

Had the Packers drafted Michael Pittman or Tee Higgins instead of Love and made one or two aggressive moves when the window was open, the title chances would have been higher. For comparison, it’s fair to say the Los Angeles Rams wouldn’t have won the Super Bowl without adding Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller last season.

In 2022, the window closed as soon as Adams basically forced the Packers to trade him. They could have stayed in contention by trading for or adding another top receiver (like A.J. Brown), but Gutekunst couldn’t pull the trigger.

In this case, a pragmatic general manager must analyze the team’s situation. Suppose they couldn’t reach the Super Bowl with much better versions of the team in the three years prior, even with Rodgers playing at an extremely high level. Then would it be possible to win it all with a lesser version that would probably result in a decline in performance by the quarterback? The answer was obvious. Or at least it should have been.

The Packers missed an opportunity to trade Rodgers in March, move on from Bakhtiari, and make more moves thinking about the future. Instead, they gave Rodgers an expensive three-year extension, extended some older players, and didn’t add draft capital for the future.

Before the season, one might have considered the investment in the defense would have been enough for it to lead the team and that Rodgers would elevate whatever version of the offense would be on the field. However, it was clear that the plan wouldn’t work for at least three weeks now. (I wrote about it multiple times that it was time to think about the future — underwhelming roster, more playing time to young pieces, coaching changes).

Gutekunst was once unwilling to go all-in, but now he didn’t want to go all-out. Last week’s trade deadline was another missed opportunity to sell some players and acquire draft capital. Darnell Savage, Adrian Amos, Dean Lowry, Bakhtiari, Allen Lazard, A.J. Dillon, and Robert Tonyan are some players who probably won’t be part of the future and could have been dealt. However, the Packers chose not to trade them.

Now the Packers are 3-6, four-and-a-half games behind the Minnesota Vikings, who lead the NFC North. Furthermore, Green Bay is playing at a level that won’t make them win enough games to be a wild card team. They would need to win at least six of the eight games remaining to realistically have a shot.

The season is practically over, and there are no moves left to be made to improve in 2023. They may give more playing time to young players. They might eventually test Jordan Love. But by trying to build a perennial winner, Gutekunst has put his team in position to be perennially disappointing.

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