Packers GM Brian Gutekunst praises Jimmy Graham, indicates veteran tight end will return

Ryan Wood
Packers News
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It’s a busy day for the Green Bay Packers at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. General manager Brian Gutekunst spoke with reporters Wednesday morning. Head coach Matt LaFleur will speak with reporters this afternoon.

Here are some of the topics Gutekunst addressed:

On his evaluation of tight end Jimmy Graham (who is due to receive a $5.3 million roster bonus in March): “Yeah, obviously Jimmy had a productive year for us last year. Was really, really proud of him. He fought through a lot of things just to be out there. Guys who have played as long as he has don’t have to do that, so his professionalism was on display each and every day. Yeah, I look forward to seeing what he can do for us this year.”

Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham (80) makes a catch against the LA Rams linebacker Cory Littleton (58) Sunday, October 28, 2018 at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Cal. Jim Matthews/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wis

On whether Aaron Jones can be a lead running back: “Yeah, I think the nature of the NFL, it’s tough to have one back carry the load. Aaron is certainly capable. He’s got to obviously continue to condition his body so he can be available all the time, but obviously when he’s on the field he’s a difference maker for us, and we want him out there as much as we can.”

On the situation with free-agent receiver Randall Cobb: “Randall has been a great player for us. He’s one of the all-time Packers. We’re still kind of putting that puzzle together. Obviously, we had draft meetings and free-agency meetings, and now we’re here at the combine. As we get all the information together as we approach the next few weeks, we’ll kind of have a better idea of all that.”

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On the situation with free-agent linebacker Clay Matthews: “Yeah, same thing. I mean, Clay has obviously been, he’ll be a Packer Hall of Famer. He’s been a great player for us for a long time. He’s still playing at a very, very high level, and we’ll kind of get to that as we go over the next two weeks.”

On importance of free agency: “Free agency is a small market. There’s not a ton of players in that market, but I think it’s a tool that can help us with our roster. But I think you do have to be careful, because certainly the amount of money that these guys are making in free agency can hinder you down the way. So it’s a tool that I think that we’ll try to be in there for conversation, and then when the right opportunities present themselves, we’ll be ready to go. But the way we build our team, the foundation of our team, will always try to be through the draft.”

Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst talks to the media Wednesday during the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

On how he values compensatory picks after not receiving any this year: “I think, obviously, you look at it, and you plan out over the — who are you going to lose? And if you go after, how is that all going to play out? What is the balance there? I think it’s kind of a year-to-year thing. We’re always in the mode of trying to win a championship this particular year. So as far as free agency is concerned, if there’s a player out there, an opportunity we feel that can do that, the compensatory process isn’t going to hold us back from doing that. There’s other ways to acquire picks, and I believe in having a lot of picks. I believe that’s important, and certainly we’d like to get them through the compensatory process. I think if you’re a healthy, vital thing, that’s probably what’s going to happen. But there are times when the decision to win now is going to override that.”

On whether Matt Lafleur’s affiliation with Rams coach Sean McVay was part of why he was hired: “Yeah, I wouldn’t say the affiliation with Sean, it was more about the success that he’s had when he was at Washington and Atlanta and then L.A. Obviously, I talked to a lot of people about him before we had the interview. I was very impressed with what they had to say about him, and I thought it said a lot too that he could have stayed in L.A. He wanted to call plays, so went to Tennessee and had to do things differently with that personnel group, and did a really good job there. So was really, really impressed with the first sit-down and kind of how he handled things, his passion and his vision for our team.”

On whether it was important to find a head coach who had worked directly with franchise quarterbacks, as LaFleur did with Matt Ryan in Atlanta, because of Aaron Rodgers: “Yeah, I think it was important. Obviously, we have one of the best that’s ever played the game, and our team is built — specifically on offense — around him. So certainly that was an important factor. Obviously, he’s very, very important to our team. So that relationship is always important, but for us it’s very significant. So that was an important part of how we went about it.”

On how important this spring will be with implementing a new system: “Yeah, we’ll see when the players come in. I think they come in, in early April. We haven’t had a lot of that kind of change in Green Bay where we’re implementing a lot of new things, but even when Mike Pettine came in last year, there were some new tweaks, and there’s always kind of a learning curve. This will be significant for us in April and May, all those early times will probably be a little bit more less redundant than it has in the past, because it’s going to be new. I think at the same time, it can be a really positive thing for our players, especially our players who have been around for a long time. Because it will challenge them, and hopefully bring out the best in them.”

On whether he’s behind schedule with scouting after going through a coaching search: “I’m on schedule now. I think obviously through the December period, the January period where some of those things took my attention away, I probably got a little bit behind. But once we got to the end of January and draft meetings, I’m kind of back to where I would always be.”

On whether he has to scout for different type of players with LaFleur as his head coach rather than Mike McCarthy: “No, I don’t think so. I think certainly there’s some differences in their offense and what they’re looking for, and there’s some minor things where we’ll kind of adjust. But for the most part, football is football. We’re looking for good football players who can do a variety of things, and that hasn’t changed.”

On his evaluation of wide receivers Equanimeous St. Brown, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and J’Mon Moore as rookies last season: “I was really happy. I think each had their moments during different times of the year. That transition to the NFL game can be a big one. A lot of receivers don’t usually see production until the second or third year, and I thought those guys had a lot of challenges, and they met them head on and gave us help — especially down the stretch. Both EQ and Valdes-Scantling had big moments, and J’Mon was a little bit behind them but at the same time he worked every day, showed up. We saw definite improvement through the year, and I think the future for those three guys is pretty bright.”

On needing Oren Burks and Moore to make Year 2 jump: “Yeah, it’s critical. Obviously, we always talk about second-year jumps and things like that, but it’s not just them. It’s guys who’ve been in the league 10 years. It’s always about getting better each day, and to come together as a team. Those things are going to be vital for us to have the success we want to have.”

On how injuries to starters helped develop depth on defensive line last season: “Yeah, I thought we saw some really positive signs. Obviously, Kenny Clark has turned into a dominant player for us, and then Mike Daniels is Steady Eddy like he always has been. But I thought the ability, late in the year Montravius Adams and (Tyler) Lancaster, to see those guys do some really good things gave us some hope going into this year that they can be significant factors for us.”

On what newly hired Milt Hendrickson adds to Packers personnel staff: “Obviously, he’s an experienced scout. He spent most of his time in the Midwest. He was also a pro scout early in his career in Baltimore. I coached with Milt at UW-La Crosse way back in the day, so I’ve known him for a very, very long time. He’s very much a fit for kind of the staff we have now. A lot of those guys knew him already, and it’s been pretty seamless. It’s really just another guy that I trust to kind of just help us put this thing together.”

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