Packers GM Brian Gutekunst takes hard-line stance with midseason deadline trades
GREEN BAY – Brian Gutekunst said he wasn’t sending any messages at Tuesday’s trade deadline. That’s his official stance, at least. In the first-year Green Bay Packers general manager’s calculation, performance was prioritized.
There were certainly other factors involved with Gutekunst’s decision to trade safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and running back Ty Montgomery. Locker room culture mattered. Team chemistry, or perhaps the waning of it. In the case of Clinton-Dix, Gutekunst also referenced assuring the Packers got a draft pick for a player who wasn’t going to play in Green Bay next season.
“Considering that we’d like to be active in free agency,” Gutekunst told assembled media Wednesday, “and obviously if we’re active in free agency, that affects the compensatory process. So this was an ability to get a very valuable pick next year in 2019 that obviously there’s no conditions on him. It’s a fourth-round pick.”
So there were multiple factors involved at the trade deadline, an afternoon coach Mike McCarthy called “a different Tuesday” than usual. Clearly, it was a different deadline than usual. But there were no intended messages, Gutekunst said.
Regardless, Tuesday’s shock waves were clearly felt.
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It was, quite possibly, the day Gutekunst made the Packers his team. He had already gone through his first draft, which is looking better and better by the week, and his first final cuts. He was bold last spring, releasing Jordy Nelson and shipping former first-round pick Damarious Randall to Cleveland.
But trading a starting safety who was a Pro Bowler not long ago and a running back formerly viewed as a starter in the middle of a season is another level. That Clinton-Dix and Montgomery had become distractions inside the locker room was no coincidence. The message Gutekunst sent was definitive.
Don’t want to play for the Packers? Then leave.
“I think you take everything into consideration when you make these kind of decisions,” Gutekunst said, “but performance comes first. That’s always kind of the major factor in these decisions, but everything is taken into account.
“It’s never usually just one thing.”
Left tackle David Bakhtiari said he didn’t think Montgomery’s comments Monday, that the running back no longer trusted his teammates and questioned his role on the team, helped his cause. But Bakhtiari said he also felt bad for Montgomery after several teammates anonymously questioned his motives for ignoring coaching instructions and returning a kickoff instead of taking a touchback late in Sunday's game.
“I think that’s (expletive),” Bakhtiari said. “If you’re ever going to talk about another man, you should put your name on it.”
There are consequences to making midseason trades of this magnitude, whether intended or not.
With Montgomery gone, the Packers shrunk their running back rotation to two. Gutekunst said the need to get Aaron Jones more touches did not factor into his decision. But Montgomery’s departure likely will lead to a more featured role for Jones in the Packers' offense.
Gutekunst also said it “isn’t enough” to have two running backs on the 53. Not long after, the Packers announced running back Tra Carson was elevated from the practice squad to the active roster, and running back Lavon Coleman was signed to the practice squad.
But Gutekunst’s trades also stretched beyond game planning. He knew that in jettisoning Clinton-Dix, the Packers' recent drafts that already look thin would be further diminished.
Of the 28 players the Packers drafted from 2013-15, only three remain on the 53-man roster: left tackle David Bakhtiari (2013, fourth round), receiver Davante Adams (2014, second round) and center Corey Linsley (2014, fifth round). Each is among the NFL’s best at their position, but that leaves 25 other draft picks who are no longer with the team, including first rounders from those years: Datone Jones (2013, not re-signed), Clinton-Dix (2014, traded) and Randall (2015, traded).
“It’s the NFL,” Bakhtiari said. “If he wants to take a hardline stance and be a GM and keep guys he wants to keep and cut guys or trade guys, whatever he wants to do, good. I don’t think anyone should feel comfortable. It’s a performance-based league. We get paid to perform. If you’re not performing, or any other matter that he doesn’t feel you should be a part of the organization, then so be it.
“I respect it. That’s what I’m talking about. Think about it, you shouldn’t feel comfortable. You should enjoy being here, but you shouldn’t feel comfortable.”
Gutekunst’s predecessor, Ted Thompson, would have been more inclined to hold onto players the franchise had drafted.
There is some risk of his hard-line stance backfiring, especially in the decision to trade Montgomery. It could, perhaps, make players wary that any mistake could lead to a pink slip. The NFL game moves too fast to play with fear of making an error. Gutekunst said he isn’t worried about that.
He wasn’t trying to send a message Tuesday, not officially. What Gutekunst brought was a measure of accountability, an attribute he stressed from his first day on the job in January.
“I’m not really into sending messages to the locker room,” Gutekunst said. “I think anybody that has ever played in the NFL understands this is a performance business. So if you don’t perform, there will be consequences. But again I don’t make any decisions to send direct messages to the locker room.”