Green Bay Packers

Brian Gutekunst Tipped His Free Agency Plans In Indy

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst met with local reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Tuesday morning, and he addressed a wide array of topics ranging from Jordan Love‘s emergence to David Bakhtiari‘s likely departure and everything in between. He also spoke glowingly of the team’s recent successes in the draft and how a core tenet of Green Bay’s philosophy may affect his decision to pursue any big-name free agents this offseason.

If you look at any mock draft floating around — or if, you know, you watched the Packers play at all last year — it’s apparent they definitely need to bring in safety help. New defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley spoke in his introductory press conference about needing two distinct skillsets at safety. He wants a traditional single-high and a bigger, physical player who will often line up closer to the line of scrimmage.

Based on what Gutekunst said in his media availability on Tuesday, those players will likely come from the draft rather than a splashy free-agency signing.

“Everybody would like guys with experience,” Gutekunst said of filling the defensive backfield. “But I think hopefully, over the past few years, people will realize that sometimes it’s not always the wisest thing to do. Sometimes, it’s better to be young and let these guys grow together. We’ll look at it all and make the best decision, but I don’t think it’s a necessity that there’s a veteran back there.”

Love and Aaron Rodgers are the beacons of Green Bay’s famous draft-and-develop strategy that Ted Thompson adhered to, and Gutekunst is a disciple. However, plenty of other players on the Packers’ roster have benefitted from developing alongside other young players. The wide receiver group was put together for two seasons and appears poised to take the league by storm. Green Bay didn’t force players like Sean Rhyan and Rasheed Walker to start immediately. Still, they are looking at prominent roles in their third year. They even gave a first-round pick like Devonte Wyatt time to grow as a rookie and second-year player, and the Packers will be looking at that approach payoff in 2024.

The defensive backfield is the next position group that Gutekunst appears to be focused on developing through the draft. Jaire Alexander remains the veteran presence of the group. He’s capable of being an All-Pro and provides a steady heartbeat throughout the unit. Carrington Valentine shined in his opportunity this past season as a rookie. He paired alongside Corey Ballentine, whom five teams had waived before he landed with the Packers. In 2021, Green Bay took Eric Stokes in the first round, and he looks poised to settle into a slot corner role if he can stay healthy.

Green Bay has far more draft capital than cap space entering the 2024 season, which limits Gutekunst’s options in free agency, especially if the team doesn’t want to use void years and extensions to push money into the future. His approach with Rashan Gary‘s restructure indicates more of a conservative approach than he had used when he hoped to extend the Rodgers era. The Packers have had more of a commitment to sustainable success rather than an all-in-to-win-right-now approach.

Gutekunst may sign a safety if a player who can fit Hafley’s scheme presents himself at the right value. But judging from the tenor of his comments on Tuesday, that doesn’t seem likely. Players like Antoine Winfield Jr., Kyle Dugger, and Geno Stone might be tantalizing, but the fit still needs to make sense from an overall roster-building and cap-management perspective.

Because Green Bay adhered to its longstanding draft-and-develop philosophy, the Packers have found themselves on solid footing coming out of what could have been an incredibly tumultuous season. While it may be tempting to stray from that philosophy, Gutekunst appears committed to sticking to the plan and trending younger in the secondary rather than signing a high-priced free agent.

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