Aaron Nagler speaks with Michael Cohen about some of the challenges facing the Packers new general manager and what he should prioritize. USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY – It’s still too early to know how aggressive new Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst will be in free agency and the trade market, but if you’re head coach Mike McCarthy you got what you wanted.
Who knows how much McCarthy’s pointed remarks Thursday about the new man being a “good fit” (i.e., someone willing to stock his roster with more than just rookies), caused president Mark Murphy to choose a personnel man over an administrator (Russ Ball) as Ted Thompson’s successor?
It’s likely McCarthy’s comments helped influence Murphy’s decision to contact the Seattle Seahawks about the availability of general manager John Schneider. McCarthy and Schneider are close friends and Schneider was instrumental in McCarthy getting the job in Green Bay in 2006.
Even though the Seahawks blocked Murphy’s attempt, McCarthy still won.
Instead of working for Ball, whose mentor has been Thompson and whose aversion to free agency was predicted to be the same, McCarthy gets to work for a guy whose first impression in the personnel business was courtesy of Ron Wolf, the guy who rebuilt a failing franchise through the draft, free agency, trades and any other mode available to him.
DOUGHERTY: Murphy plays odds in making the right call
Maybe Gutekunst has been influenced by the Thompson draft-only philosophy during the 13 years he has worked under him — he only worked under Wolf for 2½ years — but the three Wolf disciples who got out from under Thompson’s rule — Schneider, John Dorsey and Reggie McKenzie — have not hesitated to sign big-name free agents or make notable trades once they became general managers.
The only thing about lobbying for and getting the type of general manager you wanted is that you have eliminated all the excuses for not winning another Super Bowl.
If Gutekunst is truly his own man and doesn’t like what he sees next season under McCarthy, he just might decide to go with his own guy. After inheriting coaches, Wolf waited a month and a half before he fired Lindy Infante and Thompson waited a year before he fired Mike Sherman.
And so while McCarthy might have pulled off a little bit of a power play with the hiring of a personnel man, he also set up a must-win scenario for himself next season.
Before the offseason is through, McCarthy will have switched coordinators on both sides of the ball, potentially received a decent amount of free-agent help and taken in a draft class possibly 12 deep, including the highest pick (14th) the team has executed since the 2009 season.
More importantly, he likely will start the season with a healthy Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, both expected to have fresh new contracts and a chance to become one of the top quarterback-receiver tandems in the NFL. If everything goes right, McCarthy could enter 2018 with the most talent he has had since the 2010 season.
If that sounds like a bad thing, it’s not. It’s the best scenario McCarthy could imagine going into the final two years of his contract.
But it carries with it heavy demands and McCarthy must live up to them.
If the unthinkable happens and Rodgers gets hurt again, is he going to stubbornly refuse to play someone other than Brett Hundley? Is he going to be blind to the inadequacies of his backup quarterback and waste another season because he wasn’t prepared for Rodgers to get hurt?
Is he going to get enamored with his passing game and totally forget that rookies Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones showed they can be vital parts of the offense? Is he going to try to kick 57-yard field goals in stadiums where 57-yard field goals never have been made?
Still an issue for McCarthy heading into next season is the considerable number of injuries the Packers have suffered over the past five seasons or so. McCarthy has stood behind his strength and conditioning staff while changing the practice-day patterns, hiring a nutritionist and using every bit of technology available on the market to measure physical stress.
It hasn’t changed a thing.
If the Packers wind up having another one of those injury-plagued seasons, no one is going to cut him a break this time around. He calls the shots when it comes to training his football team and the buck stops with him if the Packers can barely field a team in their final game again next season.
Based on conversations with sources familiar with Gutekunst, McCarthy will be getting an ally, someone level-headed, intelligent, amicable and an excellent judge of talent. If Gutekunst can somehow get Eliot Wolf, the other internal candidate along with Ball, to remain with the organization, the Packers will be the better for it.
With Gutekunst in charge of personnel, Wolf right by his side helping evaluate pro and college talent and Ball there to make sure the Packers are managing their salary cap and not overpaying for undeserving players, then Murphy’s decision could turn out to be a franchise changer.
McCarthy badly needed more help than Thompson was giving him, even if Thompson’s last two drafts could wind up being among his finest. Draft picks get hurt because they don’t stop training from the moment the bowl season is over until 12 months or so later when the NFL season ends. Their bodies wear down and when they are sidelined, McCarthy winds up playing undrafted rookies.
If Gutekunst had his eyes open this past season he saw that the Packers weren’t deep enough to survive the loss of Rodgers for seven weeks. If he’s really general manager material then he’ll draft or sign a quarterback to create competition for Hundley.
But all he can do is deliver the talent. The rest is up to McCarthy.
And regardless of him having the third-best winning percentage of any active coach since 2006, he has to prove his program isn’t stale, that after 12 seasons, players still believe in him.
He has to produce.