After a tumultuous off-season that included reports his star quarterback wanted him fired, Brian Gutekunst has to be feeling a little vindicated. The Packers sit atop the NFC after 10 weeks, which in itself would not be a huge surprise given their success the last two seasons. But what has been most impressive is how they have gotten there. Playing most of the season without 3 All-Pro players, the Packers have not skipped a beat. Gutekunst deserves a lot of praise for this, as he has been relentless at trying to improve the margins of this roster. The result has been one of the deepest rosters of the Rodgers era.
The most obvious addition to point to now, was likely the most unheralded when it happened. Signing De’Vondre Campbell as a street free agent in June appeared as yet another modest attempt to upgrade the neglected inside linebacker position. But Campbell has been unleashed in his Packers tenure – and is currently the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the month.
This is but one example of the difference between Gutekunst and his predecessor Ted Thompson when it comes to roster building. Gutekunst has shown dedication to churning the bottom of the roster with veterans, rather than solely relying on internal development. For a team with an aging star quarterback and a salary cap time bomb set to explode, it’s a fairly low-risk, potential high-reward way to improve a team. Players like Rasul Douglas and Whitney Mercilus have been able to make a real impact without a huge monetary investment.
What Gutekunst has also done well is his ability to cut ties quickly with players that haven’t panned out. Draft pick or free agent – if they aren’t producing, they aren’t sticking around. Now, true that this doesn’t absolve Gutekunst from making these decisions in the first place, but he has shown that he won’t double down on poor personnel decisions for the sake of his own pride. Cutting JK Scott and subsequently trading for Corey Bojorquez single-handedly changed the Packers woeful special teams unit. Bojorquez sits 2nd in the NFL currently in net punting average. These are the types of moves that seem small individually but can significantly improve a roster.
On top of all of that, the impact from the Packers recent draft picks has been profound. After the national media’s indifference towards the 2021 draft class – Eric Stokes has been one of the top rookie corners in the league, and Josh Myers and Royce Newman have been Day 1 starters along the offensive line. This comes at the same time that both Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage are ascending to star players, and AJ Dillon has demonstrated a skill set that few knew he possessed from his time at Boston College.
Right or wrong, a lot of people are now going to judge Gutekunst solely from his handling of the quarterback transition either this offseason or next. But he deserves a lot of credit for the roster he has put together, from the stars at the marquee positions to the valuable depth pieces that have stepped up when their number has been called upon.——————
Jared is a rogue Packers fan from a Steelers family and an overall football junkie, including playing 4 years at Ithaca College. You can follow him on twitter at @JPrugar.