Packers GM Brian Gutekunst opens door to drafting quarterback in first round
GREEN BAY - Brian Gutekunst finds himself in an enviable position as he enters his third offseason in charge of the Green Bay Packers' roster, and he appears willing to maximize whatever leverage he can.
There is not yet a large sample size of past experience to predict the Packers general manager’s intent and motives. Gutekunst, like any young GM, can still benefit from a sleight of hand. Should a remark be taken at face value? Only time will tell.
With that uncertainty, perhaps it’s worth remaining skeptical this spring when Gutekunst shares his approach to quarterback prospects. But the Packers GM made clear his conviction Friday that drafting a quarterback in the first round would be a worthwhile pick — if the right one is available.
“Everything I’ve been taught,” Gutekunst said, “that’s where you start. You start with the quarterback. So you evaluate them every year, and I think it’s always on the table. It’s a good crop this year. It’s a good group of quarterbacks. I think it’s a little deeper than it has been in the past. It will be interesting.”
Even if it remains unlikely, the possibility of the Packers using their 30th overall pick in the first round to draft a quarterback certainly is interesting.
Aaron Rodgers, now 36 years old, is the same age as Brett Favre was when the Packers initiated their changing of the guard in the 2005 draft. Gutekunst was in the war room when predecessor Ted Thompson made the controversial but franchise-altering decision to draft Rodgers, who sat three years behind Favre. Gutekunst was a Southeast scout, removed from much of the Rodgers decision, but he referenced the experience Friday as a lesson on how to be bold when the moment calls.
It would be nothing short of bold for Gutekunst to draft a first-round quarterback this spring. Rodgers still plays at a winning level — hello, 13-3 — and has four years left on his contract. But by the quarterback’s own admission, Rodgers lost a step with his mobility last season. At this stage, Rodgers isn’t getting that step back.
Gutekunst said Rodgers “played at a really high level” in his first season under new coach Matt LaFleur, and he’s excited to see what Year 2 could yield from the pairing. But Rodgers has an extensive injury history, including broken left and right collarbones, a knee scope in 2015 and multiple soft-tissue injuries with his legs. Those injuries could only become exacerbated with age.
So it’s fair to wonder how much longer Rodgers can continue playing at his high level, especially coming off a season in which he posted a 95.4 passer rating, his lowest since 2015 and third lowest ever as a starter.
“The guy’s really unique,” Gutekunst said, “in the way he takes care of his body and the way he works at it and the way he goes at it. so I don’t really think — Drew Brees is coming back. I don’t think you can put a lot of limits on it. I certainly wouldn’t want to. He’s such a unique player. I know how he prepares himself.
“I think he’s got a lot left.”
If Rodgers indeed has a lot left, why draft a quarterback? A backup QB isn’t pushing the Packers to the Super Bowl in 2020. Considering their surprising 13-3 record and trip to the NFC championship game last season, a more practical first-round pick might be a receiver, or tight end, or linebacker, or even a defensive lineman.
Gutekunst perceives drafting a talented quarterback as a win-win: Either the prospect becomes a player on which to build the franchise’s future, or he remains a valuable trade asset. He referenced his experience as a young scout under former Packers general manager Ron Wolf. Gutekunst worked for the team when Wolf drafted Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks.
“Ron traded a first-round pick for a quarterback that nobody wanted,” Gutekunst said, referring to Brett Favre. “Ted (Thompson) drafted a quarterback when he had a hall-of-fame guy sitting there who was going to play at least three more years. That’s kind of how I’ve seen it. My first 10 years in the league, it was Hasselbeck and Brooks and all those guys. Ron was able to turn those guys into picks down the line.
“I just think the quarterback position is so important that you can never not address it if you think you have an opportunity to take a player that can play in the league.”
Gutekunst’s conviction that drafting a quarterback in the first round would be worthwhile doesn’t mean he’ll eventually make that call. With a surprising amount of roster needs for a team coming off a 13-win season, the Packers could benefit from as many draft picks as possible. In that sense, broadcasting a willingness to draft a quarterback with the 30th overall pick could be beneficial.
The Packers sit in prime position for a quarterback-starved team to trade back into the first round. Gutekunst might as well be declaring himself open for business.
It’s wise to keep options open, whether that’s drafting a quarterback or trading out of the first round. One thing is clear: Gutekunst won’t let his current quarterback’s opinion dictate which option he eventually chooses.
“Aaron wants to win,” Gutekunst said. “I think that’s the most important thing to him. He knows we’re trying to make the best decision for the football team moving forward, so I’m not worried about that. With all players, you can’t control that. Players get happy and sad about all kinds of things. I’m not too concerned with that.”