Brian Gutekunst knows what the perception of the Green Bay Packers is around the league. The franchise traded quarterback Aaron Rodgers and lost Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Robert Tonyan, and Marcedes Lewis in free agency. They didn’t add any external veteran players. Therefore, it’s fair to expect a transition year with ups and downs for the young squad. But that shouldn’t — and won’t — change what the Packers intend to do: compete.
“I know there’s been a lot of talk about the youth and all that, but it’s no excuse. I don’t think it was intentional to be young,” Gutekunst said during his media availability earlier this week. “I think our intention was to be athletic, fast, and have a really competitive camp so the best guys rose to the top, and I think that’s what we accomplished. But it wasn’t just to be young.”
After digging into Packers’ numbers from last season, Barney Stinson’s theory that “new is always better” might apply. Therefore, addition by subtraction could be an important factor in Green Bay.
When Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb were off the field last year, Aaron Rodgers‘ QBR was 62.2. The number dropped to 39.2 when one or both were on the field, a 23-point difference, enough to drop him from fifth to 26th on ESPN’s stat. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Lazard and Cobb were bad, but sometimes Rodgers forced the ball to them, looking for known commodities when the young players were in better positions to execute and produce. That’s something the Packers intentionally want to avoid in the new era.
“These guys were brought in for us to be better – better than we were last year,” Gutekunst added. “They were all brought here for a reason. They’ve got to come together as a team, and that takes a lot of time and effort. Certainly guys that have more experience are more used to that. But the expectations don’t change.”
The Packers have by far the youngest receiving weaponry in the league — not only this year but in the past six years. Every wide receiver is a rookie or second-year player. Every tight end is, too, except for Josiah Deguara.
Green Bay’s pass-catchers (age):
- Dontayvion Wicks (22)
- Luke Musgrave (22)
- Tucker Kraft (22)
- Romeo Doubs (23)
- Jayden Reed (23)
- Malik Heath (23)
- Ben Sims (23)
- Christian Watson (24)
- Samori Toure (25)
- Josiah Deguara (26)
There might be issues because of that. Drops, wrong routes, technique mistakes. But it’s not like veteran players don’t make mistakes, either. Last year, we frequently saw miscommunications between Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who the Packers released during the season. So why would Green Bay sign veterans just to take opportunities and reps of the young players?
“I do think there’s going to be times this year where, because there were so many knowns before, that we have an opportunity to grow and grow fast,” Gutekunst added. “And that’s exciting.”
Process to reach the ceiling
The Packers certainly have a much lower floor than they had in the past few years. But the results in 2022 were bad anyway, and the team missed the playoffs for the first time in the Matt LaFleur era. So what was preventing them from looking for the higher ceiling? That’s the plan now. It might take some time, and the growth might not be linear, but the Packers expect to build a long-term structure.
“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of learning along the way, but we feel really good just about the overall speed, athleticism, and (that we have) guys that love football and love to compete,” Matt LaFleur mentioned. “You can’t get totally focused on the outcome. I’m a process-driven guy anyways, and I think our coaches and players are as well. And so, you just take everything in stride.”
And the process is so important for this new team. Sometimes, the young guys may get away with mistakes because they are so talented. Other times, they can execute the right way and be unsuccessful for a variety of reasons. But in the long run, doing the right thing will allow the team to grow together and be more reliable.
In the current version of the NFL, building a strong offense, especially in the passing game, is the most sustainable and predictable way to have a good overall team. And in a league in which teams have been pushed to the middle, sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back to advance more steps later. That’s what the Packers are trying to do.
It has never been intended to be a full rebuild. But the Packers are willing to go through the growing pains because they know how strong the offense can be on the other side.