Packers: Why Brian Gutekunst deserves to be Executive of the Year
By Dillon Graff
I have no problem going on record saying I was skeptical of the Brian Gutekunst hiring back in early 2018, and that it took a good deal of time for him to win me over. Thankfully, with the benefit of hindsight, I don’t need as much convincing anymore.
This past off-season, you’d be hard-pressed to find an NFL GM who was under more scrutiny than Gutekunst. He was lamented for his fractured relationship with Aaron Rodgers, and “not having done enough to capitalize on Aaron Rodgers’ win-now window”. Rather than feed into the media, Gutey kept his head down and put together an off-season that is looking a lot like a home-run.
Yes, this is in all likelihood the Green Bay Packers‘ “last dance” due to serious financial constraints following this season. But, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that the Packers aren’t likely sitting in the position they are today without multiple key moves made by Gutekunst.
So, let’s unpack all the decisions that have led to Green Bay sitting at 9-3 and headed towards another NFC North division title.
Repaired relationship with Aaron Rodgers
The media in large part led us to believe Gutekunst was the head of Rodgers’ frustrations. It’s fair to criticize the way he’s handled their relationship in the past, but it’s obvious that Gutekunst has worked to improved his working relationship with the Packers’ franchise quarterback.
So much so, that Rodgers agreed to return to the franchise, and has on multiple occasions complimented the improved communication between the two this season.
He also traded for wide receiver Randall Cobb in effort to appease 12, and show that he was serious about listening to Rodgers when he felt certain players could help the team win.
Re-structured contract with Preston Smith to keep him
It seemed like a forgone conclusion that Preston Smith would be cut in the off-season to free up some much needed cap space. Smith was fresh off a disappointing campaign in which he registered just four sacks and disappeared for long stretches of the season.
Instead, Gutekunst and Smith re-worked his contract to keep him in Green Bay on an incentivized “prove it” deal that’s worked out well for both sides in 2021.
Smith has done a great job defending the run and has improved this season as a pass-rusher. He’s been especially important due to the absence of Za’Darius Smith. Outside linebacker depth would be awfully thin had Gutekunst not made this decision.
Signed De’Vondre Campbell for pennies on the dollar
It’s no secret that Green Bay has had lackluster production from the inside linebacker position for the better part of the last decade. That’s what’s made the signing of De’Vondre Campbell all the more meaningful in 2021. Campbell has been electric for Green Bay, and has been one of the biggest difference makers on the defense.
So far, Campbell has registered 99 tackles, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles in his age-28 season.
Essentially, he’s been a complete player and a steal at the price Gutekunst brought him in on. Campbell is headed towards a big payday in the off-season, and even if it’s not from Green Bay, his contributions can’t be overstated.
Plucked Rasul Douglas off a practice squad
At the beginning of October, Rasul Douglas was sitting on the Arizona Cardinals’ practice squad – which now seems ridiculous. This proved to be another stroke of genius, because Douglas has played like a bonafide starter since coming to Green Bay.
Douglas has appeared in seven games, starting four and has registered two interceptions and a touchdown. He’s also allowed just 23 receptions on 44 targets (52.3 completion %) which is impressive in its own right.
This low-cost, low-risk signing has proved to be one that’s made a significant impact for the Packers in-season to tread water despite their injuries.
Traded for punter Corey Bojorquez
At the end of the preseason, Gutekunst finally solved the Packers’ punting woes by trading for Corey Bojorquez. He’s proved to be a revelation for the special teams unit – averaging 43.8 yards in net average (fourth in the NFL). It’s also worth mentioning that the Packers haven’t had a punter finish in the top five in the last 45 years.
You never really know how bad your punting situation is until it gets fixed. This move proved to be a potential long-term fix at the position.
Strong 2021 class
One can never judge a draft class in year one, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that his most recent draft class has already turned out three preferred starters on a Super Bowl-caliber team: Eric Stokes, Josh Myers, and Royce Newman.
No front office member went through more this off-season than Brian Gutekunst, and yet he turned out arguably his best season of personnel moves yet. I think it’s time his name starts getting mentioned when discussing NFL Executive of the Year nominees because I’d be willing to put his resume up against anyone at this point.
Gutekunst is proving to be one of the very best in the NFL at his job, but how he handles this coming off-season will likely determine how he’ll be remembered.