For Green Bay Packers fans everywhere, the 2017 season was a disappointing one. There is no other way to put it. With annual and continued high expectations, Packers fans are only happy if the team is doing one thing: winning Super Bowls.
That is the level of excellence that fans require of their hometown, fan-owned Green Bay Packers.
Coming off of their first playoff miss since 2008, the Packers knew that changes were needed. The team decided to move on from nine-year stand-in at defensive coordinator, Dom Capers. Fans everywhere rejoiced. Then 13-year general manager Ted Thompson made the decision to step down from the position into a lesser role within the organization. Again, fans were triumphant, but this time it was with more caution.
The team and its fans had experienced sustained success in the NFL for nearly 13 seasons. That is something that a majority of NFL teams cannot attest to. Fans called for Thompson’s head because he was unable to do that one thing; that one task that would make Packers fans everywhere satisfied.
Thompson was only able to bring one Super Bowl championship to Green Bay during his tenure and this was not enough for passionate Packers fans. They wanted multiple. They had a good reason to believe they deserved multiple championships, and that reason is and was franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
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The team announced that Director of Player Personnel incumbent, Brian Gutekunst, would be the successor to Thompson. Fans were cautiously optimistic. They were excited to finally get the change they had been pleading for, but feared they would be giving up the sustained success they had experienced.
One of the biggest oppositions to the Thompson regime was his lack of interest to explore the avenues of free agency. Fans clamored for the former GM to patch roster holes and shell out contracts to top-notch free agents. But Thompson refused, and persisted on building his roster through the draft.
One of Gutekunst’s first tests was the free agency period. One could argue that the rookie passed. He acquired premium talent such as tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. He did have to make some tough decisions as well, like cutting fan favorite and 10-year Packer Jordy Nelson.
The next shift from one regime’s philosophy to the next was the pre-NFL Draft visits. Thompson routinely used this time to vet late-round draft picks and potential undrafted free agents. Given that the team has its highest first-round pick since 2009, Gutekunst decided to use this time to vet all of the possible high-level talent he could select with the 14th pick. Again, fans were ecstatic to changes in the process.
I, however, would urge fans not to assume the student is entirely different than the teacher. Gutekunst has stated multiple times to the press of his intentions to stick to the strict and traditional drafting thresholds of the past. The system stems from Packer legend Ron Wolf and his tenure as the team’s general manager when they won one Super Bowl, went to another, and made it to the playoffs six times in 11 years.
Looking back at the success of both Wolf and Thompson, it is easy to see that their system works. The Packers have been one of the most successful franchises in the NFL over the last 20 years thanks to this system. Gutekunst has learned everything he knows from under this system and has seen its effects first hand. Why would the rookie GM abandon an effective and successful team-building strategy? He won’t.
While Gutekunst may have made some tweaks to his predecessor’s ideal team-building philosophies, the root of all decisions will remain the same. Gutekunst has stated that he has and will continue to heavily rely on Thompson during the draft. Thompson has since stepped into a senior advisor role within the organization. The decisions will be Gutekunst’s to make. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that Thompson will be a bug in his student’s ear.
Packers fans, as demanding of excellence as they are, may want change in order to produce results. However, the reality is the system is not going to change. If it isn’t broke, you don’t need to fix it. Gutekunst will not be a mirror image of his predecessor. But Packers fans beware, his decisions will be easily traceable to those of his predecessor’s.