It is an emotional week for Packers nation, to say the least. For the first time in about 15 years, the franchise is poised to undergo a seismic shift, and an incredibly rare change has exacerbated the shock in Titletown. Aaron Rodgers will be a New York Jet. Allen Lazard has already followed him out. So far, it’s hard to pin down exactly what the Green Bay Packers will get in return, but one thing’s for sure: They’ll remain anchored down by the financial consequences of going “all-in” the past two seasons.
By throwing money as far out into the future as possible for nearly all of their major contracts, the Packers climbed their way to over $24 million in cap space ahead of free agency. According to online cap expert Ken Ingalls, they’ll lose approximately $9.5 million of it once the trade goes through. Still, they’ve been arguably the quietest team in the league in the first two days of legal tampering. Green Bay re-signed standout kick returner Keisean Nixon to a one-year, $6 million deal and added former Los Angeles Rams long snapper Matt Orzech.
Burdened by a long list of needs and armed with an excruciatingly low amount of money to fill them, general manager Brian Gutekunst is facing his biggest test yet. Gutekunst set this entire saga in motion when he drafted Jordan Love in 2020. As he enters his fifth offseason at the helm, he will be adding to and modifying a roster that is largely of his own creation, predominantly through the draft. Gutekunst’s job hasn’t been easy in the years since Love was drafted: Crushing playoff losses and the years-long transition away from the Rodgers-Adams era have hung over his head for most of his tenure.
Now, at long last, it’s Love’s team. He had every opportunity to complain. He also had every right to be frustrated that quarterbacks drafted further down the board, years after him, received their opportunities sooner. But all he did was keep working.
On paper, trading Adams and Rodgers in consecutive seasons would leave Love to oversee a rebuild. However, Gutekunst’s solid drafting has them in a far-from-catastrophic spot. Elgton Jenkins, Jaire Alexander, and Rashan Gary are elite building blocks. AJ Dillon, Eric Stokes, and Josh Myers have become key pieces. And by flipping Adams into Christian Watson and Quay Walker, Gutey maximized the value of his disgruntled star, and perhaps even won the trade outright depending on the development of those players.
Gutekunst will have a few crumbs of cap and 10 draft picks, including the 15th overall, plus whatever comes in from East Rutherford. With that, he’ll have to bring in a starting safety, tight end, a couple of receivers, defensive line reinforcement(s), a kicker, a punter, and a backup quarterback. It wouldn’t hurt to add depth to the offensive line, but that could be quixotic given the length of the preceding list. It’s going to take creativity and, most importantly, precision to avoid descending into the state of mediocrity — or abject poverty, in some cases — that has befallen the rest of the NFC North over the past decade.
For the first time, Gutekunst can’t depend on Hall of Fame, interception-free play at the game’s most important position. Moving on from perhaps the most talented signal-caller the league has ever seen and embracing the absolute mystery box that is Jordan Love feels like an insurmountable step back. It feels like it’s time for the Packers to take a breath, exhausted and defeated from repeated runs at a championship, and spend a couple of years recalibrating. But the NFC is too wide open for that.
One could argue that Love’s Packers are more likely to be crowned division champions in 2023 than Rodgers’ Jets. Love battles Jared Goff, Justin Fields, and Kirk Cousins while A-Rod faces down the stacked Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins in the AFC East. It’s not going to be easy, and eventually finding a way through either the San Francisco 49ers or Philadelphia Eagles is a different beast entirely. However, this reset is an opportunity for Gutekunst to show that he can be the architect of a Super Bowl-winning roster in Green Bay.