Packers: Comparing Brian Gutekunst’s first offseason to Ted Thompson’s

Green Bay Packers, Ted Thompson (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Green Bay Packers, Ted Thompson (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

In his first offseason at the helm, how has new Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst measured up to the front office debut of Ted Thompson in 2005?

When the Packers replaced Ted Thompson with Brian Gutekunst as their general manager in January, the reasoning was clear: The team believes they need to be more aggressive in free agency and rely less heavily on the draft in order to return to the Super Bowl.

It came as no surprise when the Packers signed two or three impact players with Gutekunst at the helm, and for good measure, the new GM’s draft class got high marks from the experts.

His predecessor shouldn’t be cast away and forgotten, though. In 13 seasons as the head of the front office, he proved his keen eye for rookie talent countless times as the team reached the postseason on nine occasions, and the Packers won a Super Bowl with a roster that was almost exclusively drafted by Thompson.

He was sometimes maddeningly frugal and antisocial, but his methods were effective more often than not.

We’d love to see Gutekunst tie Thompson on the Super Bowl scoreboard as soon as possible, but that’s not a given. With much of the 2018 offseason in the rearview mirror, let’s compare Thompson’s debut efforts in 2005 to the moves Gutekunst has made in his first offseason.

Ted Thompson

The legendary Brett Favre was not an early member of the Ted Thompson Fan Club. Inheriting a salary cap mess created by GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman, many of Thompson’s early decisions were unpopular.

In order to trim payroll, Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper was released, and so was starting guard Mike Wahle. The Old Gunslinger also cringed when the team chose not to re-sign Marco Rivera, further depleting his offensive line.

Looking back, it was a necessary evil to begin a rebuild, and although you can’t fault Favre for his tenacious win-now mindset, Thompson prevailed in the long run.

He cemented his legacy in the Packers’ front office with his very first selection in the draft: Aaron Rodgers, a future Hall-of-Famer who dropped all the way to pick #24. It was a bold pick that altered the course of one of the league’s most successful franchises and the league itself.

In his inaugural draft, Thompson also netted a sterling defensive back from the unheralded college of Bethune-Cookman, a free safety whose talent was essential to winning Super Bowl XLV: Nick Collins.

Linebacker Brady Poppinga was a decent pick in the mid rounds. Other than that, Thompson did show signs of human error by taking second-round receiver Terrence Murphy (five career catches) as well as safety Marviel Underwood (no career interceptions) in the fourth round.

Still, Thompson’s first two selections as GM of the Packers were Rodgers and Collins. Respect.

Now, on a much less glowing note, consider Thompson’s first foray into free agency. The formidable Rivera and Wahle tandem was replaced by “cost effective” guards Matt O’Dwyer and Adrian Klemm.

The former was cut in no time and the latter found his way to the bench midway through a disastrous 4-12 season that cost Mike Sherman his job. Due to a wave of injured running backs, Thompson did sign Samkon Gado (who totaled three 100-yard rushing games), and to put things into perspective, that probably counts as the GM’s finest free agent signing of 2005.

Brian Gutekunst

If tight end Jimmy Graham and/or defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson can outdo the production of Samkon Gado in green and gold, then the new GM can claim more success than Thompson in his first year signing free agents. The bar has been set low in that regard, but Thompson also deserves credit for not dumping a salary cap burden onto Gutekunst.

In Graham, the Packers landed a five-time Pro Bowler who caught 10 touchdowns in his final season with the Seahawks. He should provide the passing attack with a threat over the middle they haven’t consistently had since the days of Jermichael Finley.

As for Wilkerson, he did seem unmotivated as a Jet last season, but the seven-year vet has amassed 44.5 career sacks, and he figures to be a force lining up alongside the likes of Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, and Dean Lowry.

Tramon Williams has been reunited with the team, and although he is 35, Pro Football Focus rated him the ninth-most efficient cornerback in his 2017 campaign with the Cardinals. On a two-year deal, Williams was brought on board at an excellent value.

More from Lombardi Ave

Gutekunst addressed a team weakness in backup quarterback by trading for DeShone Kizer, and sending disgruntled CB Damarious Randall to the Browns.

In addition to Randall, the new GM opted to part ways with free agent Morgan Burnett in the secondary. Burnett had been a fixture at strong safety since being drafted by Thompson in 2010.

But it’s the departure of beloved receiver Jordy Nelson that broke ground as the first divisive move of the Gutekunst era. The new GM paralleled his forerunner here by cutting ties with talent and drawing a double-take from the franchise quarterback. The early message from both GM’s was to value the long-term health of the organization over any criticism that may come internally.

As for the draft, the Packers garnered acclaim with Gutekunst calling the shots. He executed a trade with the Saints that scored a first-round pick in 2019.

With the 18th pick, which they received from Seattle, Gutekunst still got his target: dynamic CB Jaire Alexander from Louisville, who has been touted as the second-best corner in the draft. To ensure even greater depth at corner, the team’s Achilles heel, the new GM selected Iowa standout Josh Jackson midway through the second round.

Also worth noting were the selections of linebacker Oren Burks in the third round as well as a trio of wide receivers–J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. If just one of those receivers pans out, it will soften the blow of losing Nelson.

Gutekunst is just beginning his journey of comparisons to Ted Thompson, and we won’t have a verdict for many years.

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Early on, however, Gutekunst has been aggressive, shrewd, and bold. It took Thompson six years to assemble a championship team. Gutekunst is expected to deliver a title in half that time (or less). And with Aaron Rodgers set to turn 35 in December, the clock is running.