Brian Gutekunst

Brian Gutekunst On Aaron Rodgers, Deals, Front Office Setup

As Brian Gutekunst prepares for his first season as Packers GM, he takes the reins of a team coming off its worst performance of the decade and one that is mired in contract negotiations with its cornerstone player.

The Aaron Rodgers extension buzz has picked up, but it’s not certain the Packers will have this deal done by the regular season. And Gutekunst doesn’t seem to believe that’s been a key deadline for a player with two years remaining on his contract.

I don’t think there’s any timetable on it. it’s just a matter of getting to the point that both sides think it’s the best thing moving forward,” Gutekunst said in an interview with PackersNews.com’s Pete Dougherty. “The perception of when the deal was getting done is probably why people are anxious outside of this building. Inside the building it’s always one of those things that’s taken its normal course. From my perception it’s not something that’s dragged on longer than I thought it would.”

As for if the Packers — who may prefer a longer-term pact than Rodgers does — would push this well beyond this season and into a 2020 franchise tag, Gutekunst doesn’t envision it. The Packers’ party line throughout the offseason is the expectation Rodgers’ deal is finalized this year, and Gutekunst believes his quarterback is deserving of a contract that makes him the highest-paid NFL player in history.

That would mean anything north of $30MM per year.

I think Aaron is one of the more unique players that I’ve ever been around or seen. It’s a tough question, but I think he’s as deserving as anybody,” Gutekunst said of Rodgers’ potential place atop the NFL salary spectrum, as he was when he signed his current five-year, $110MM deal in 2013. “I don’t think it will ever come to (a tag situation). I think this is something that’s moving along at the right pace and should come to a conclusion at some point. I don’t think we’re looking at those things right now.”

Despite the Raiders currently employing Khalil Mack, the Packers are oddly the Las Vegas frontrunners to be the team signing his checks by season’s end. The Packers were notoriously stingy in pursuits of players outside the organization under Ted Thompson, but Gutekunst will be in the market for top-level talent in trades or free agency.

However, the Packers — factoring in an imminent Rodgers re-up — would be in a historic place in the event of a Mack trade. One team has never employed two $20MM-per-year players, and any team trading for Mack would almost certainly have to a $20MM-AAV-plus extension upon doing so.

When you’re talking about unique players, there’s only so many of them out there,” Gutekunst said. “At the same time, the financial challenges may be difficult, but without players you can’t win. It’s like any significant player, they’re not inexpensive, but you have to have them to win.”

However, the first-year GM doesn’t have as much power as his predecessor. Gutekunst, Mike McCarthy and executive VP Russ Ball all report to Packers president Mark Murphy. Gutekunst, who maintained Thompson will still be in the picture from time to time, assessed this setup and the potential hurdles that will come with roster-building as a result.

If we have differences (McCarthy) explains to me what he’s thinking. I explain to him what I’m thinking, and we usually kind of get to a common ground,” Gutekunst said. “But again, this is my first go-through with this, the 53, so we’ll see how it goes. I’ve had a relationship with Mike since he’s been here, even before that. I don’t anticipate any issues where it’s going to come to that.

“… I have no regrets about taking the job at all. It was clearly spelled out to me from the beginning by Mark. Again, it wasn’t something I’d worked under before. Mark has been very up front, if there’s any player I want to sign, I have all roster decisions that way. That’s never come up. I’ve never been prevented from signing a player if that’s what I wanted to do.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Packers GM Discusses Offseason, Bulaga, Lewis

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has been a busy man since being promoted to the gig in January. After having previously served as the team’s director of college scouting and director of player personnel, the executive is now hands-on with every aspect of the organization.

The 44-year-old recently appeared on a pair of Packers-centric podcasts, “Nagler’s Never Right” and PackersNews.com, to discuss some of his team’s offseason additions and his role as general manager (via Aaron Nagler of JSOnline.com and Jason B. Hirschhorn of NFL.com)…

On the signing of offensive lineman Byron Bell, and whether the addition was an indication that the Packers weren’t optimistic about starting tight tackle Bryan Bulaga‘s recovery from a torn ACL:

“I think moreso for us, we had an opportunity to add a guy who not only has started and played tackle, but guard as well. Having a guy that’s going to be able to compete with our group that has 40-some starts under his belt, I think that was something that was attractive to us…It was one of those things that as we moved on, we felt it would improve the entire group.”

On the addition of free agent tight end Marcedes Lewis:

“I don’t think that’s something we expected, for him to come loose. Obviously he had not only been a really good player for (the Jaguars) but an exceptional leader and teammate there.

“For us, I just think that we’re tickled to be able to get him. The amount of experience he has at that position, I think it’s really going to be valuable to us. The tight end position is one of those positions that it’s really tough for young players to come in and make an impact. Obviously, as much experience he has not only in the passing game, but as a blocker as well, I think it’s something that will hopefully provide a lot of positive things for us coming forward.”

On the fact that team president Mark Murphy retained the power to fire and hire head coaches (as opposed to the GM making the decision):

“It was certainly different than what I’ve been exposed to here in Green Bay. I needed some time to kind of process it. I think the thing to me that made it OK with me was the people. The relationships I already had with Mark [Murphy] and Mike McCarthy and Russ Ball. I think that’s what made it OK and made it easier for me. But it was certainly something I hadn’t seen or been a part of in my professional career.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Gutekunst On Rodgers Extension Status

Top Packers decision-makers continue to expect an Aaron Rodgers extension to be finalized this offseason. Brian Gutekunst continued to express that sentiment recently. And the new GM addressed some other components of this process as well.

Rodgers is set to have a cap number of $20.562MM this season, which is the penultimate year of his current contract. Gutekunst said lowering that may be an option.

Obviously, the way the contract could be structured could help lower the cap number, give us a little bit more flexibility,” Gutekunst said, via Jason Wilde in a Wisconsin State Journal story. “But at the same time, when you have a player of Aaron’s ability and what he’s done for this organization and what we expect him to do moving forward, I think you just kind of want to get that taken care of. From our standpoint, he’s obviously very important to where we’re trying to go. It just makes sense for everybody.”

The 34-year-old quarterback signed a five-year, $110MM deal in April 2013. That contract, then atop the quarterback spectrum, has been surpassed by many in the past five years. Most recently, the Kirk Cousins/Vikings pact — three years for a fully guaranteed $84MM — changed the market.

The prospect of a $30MM-plus AAV agreement for Rodgers has been posited by some outside the organization, and the Packers as of now have no intentions on convincing their centerpiece player to accept a team-friendly deal.

I don’t think there’s really been any discussions about that,” Gutekunst said. “He’ll be under contract for two more years, and we expect him to be a Packer for the rest of his career. Those discussions haven’t gotten to that point yet.

Wilde writes that the Packers want to move forward with these negotiations soon to avoid any animosity between the team and Rodgers. And Gutekunst said top Green Bay negotiator Russ Ball and David Dunn, Rodgers’ agent, are in the beginning stages of these talks.

… It would be nice. Again, the sooner the better,” Gutekunst said of the Rodgers contract being completed before the season. “But at the same time, I don’t think there’s any stress in that one as far as what both sides want to do. It’s just a matter of getting to the right agreement.”

Rodgers would obviously be justified in asking for $30MM fully guaranteed per season, or north of that, based on his accomplishments compared to Cousins’. The Packers’ performance with and without Rodgers during the seasons that have seen him miss time due to injuries would justify this as well. But Gutekunst does not expect the Cousins contract to impact the Packers’ proceedings just yet.

Obviously, that was a pretty significant contract, and Aaron is a very significant player to us,” Gutekunst said. “Our thought process hasn’t changed because of that contract. Where we’re headed will still be the same.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Mark Murphy Explains Decision To Restructure Packers’ Front Office

After Ted Thompson oversaw one of the NFL’s most stable organizations for over a decade, the Packers will have one of the more unique front office setups going forward.

Thompson moving into a different role with the franchise prompted Packers president Mark Murphy to subsequently divvy up the former GM’s responsibilities between successor Brian Gutekunst and Russ Ball, who was once considered the favorite for the GM post.

Neither will have the power to hire or fire Mike McCarthy, with Murphy being in line to do that if the time comes, and McCarthy will report to Murphy as well. Gutekunst and Ball will report to Murphy, with the former being in charge of the Packers’ offseason and regular-season rosters, along with the draft, with the latter running the salary cap and negotiating deals.

Murphy explained his decision to revamp the front office in an answer to a Packers fan on the team’s website.

A key factor in my thought process was to improve communication within football. I felt that, over time, silos had developed within football operations and communication had suffered,” Murphy said. “Also, I wanted to create a structure that gave Brian the best chance to succeed.

By narrowing his responsibilities, it allows him to focus on the most important aspects of his job, the draft and determining the 90- and 53-man rosters. As I came to the end of the search process, I realized how important it was to keep both Brian and Russ with us. I determined that having both of them (as well as Mike) report to me would help us achieve this objective. Finally, all organizations evolve over time and I believe this change will help us improve as we move forward.”

This adjustment may have come as a way to appease McCarthy, who hasn’t made it too much of a secret he wants the team to be more open to free agency as a method of roster augmentation. A Thompson protege, Ball was not expected to deviate much from Thompson’s old-fashioned approach to team-building. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes McCarthy may have wanted out if Ball was given the job.

But the Packers attempted to keep everyone happy by opting for this arrangement, and their best-of-both-worlds attempt will be interesting to observe this offseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Packers To Prioritize Tight End In Free Agency?

Packers new general manager Brian Gutekunst has many routes he could potentially take in his first offseason at the helm. Making a splash at tight end in free agency is one of the possibilities according to USA Today’s Pete Dougherty"<strong

Going after a big name at tight end isn’t unfamiliar territory for the Packers, who swung and miss on their signing of Martellus Bennett in 2017. The team had some success with Jared Cook in recent years, but have lacked a consistent, big-bodied pass catcher at the position for years.

One name that Dougherty thinks should be on the team’s radar is Jimmy Graham, who is unlikely to return to the Seahawks in 2018. The veteran tight end secured his fifth Pro Bowl selection after tallying 57 receptions and 10 touchdowns in 2017.

Adding Graham to a receiver corps that includes Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb would give the team arguably the best pass-catching group in the NFL. Throw in the fact they would also have Aaron Rodgers slinging them the ball and Green Bay’s offense could be a matchup nightmare for defenses.

Graham was the NFL’s top-paid tight end the last four years with average annual salary valued at $10MM. He will almost assuredly not command that type of money after four underwhelming seasons in Seattle by Graham’s standards. A return to a pass-happy attack, however, could see the former Saints great reemerge as an elite option at the position.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Vikings, Cards, Packers, 49ers

For the first time all season, the Vikings will have all three of their quarterbacks healthy when they host New Orleans on Sunday. Even with the return of Sam Bradford and the health of Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum “is the guy” reports Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio.

This should come as no surprise, as Keenum has been among the league’s top signal-callers since taking over for Bradford early in the season. The question, however, will be if the team wants to have all three suit up on Sunday. Florio’s sources say that won’t be determined until right before kickoff. Florio thinks untimely concussion evaluations could play into the decision.

Regardless of the decision, Keenum will have as long a leash as possible as the starter. The sixth-year quarterback enjoyed a breakout campaign, throwing for 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns while posting a stellar 98.3 passer rating. It is unknown at this time if Bradford will leapfrog Bridgewater for the backup role.

Here is more from around the NFC:

  • Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is the perfect candidate for the Cardinals head-coaching vacancy, AZ Central’s Dan Bickley writes. Bickley notes Shurmur’s ability to get the most out of his quarterback as the underlying factor. He also thinks the hiring of Shurmur would ensure the return of Larry Fitzgerald. The hiring, however, would go in opposition to former head coach Bruce Arians’ wishes that defensive coordinator James Bettcher get the job.
  • Packers head coach Mike McCarthy reportedly met with team president and CEO Mark Murphy and expressed concerns Russ Ball wouldn’t be aggressive in free agency, USA Today’s Pete Dougherty reports. The meeting in theory caused Murphy to not promote Ball to general manager after Ted Thompson left the spot. Dougherty has doubts that the meeting had any impact on the situation. He also laid out another theory that Murphy preferred Brian Gutekunst all along for the job.
  • There is confidence on both sides that the 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo will strike a deal, NBC Sports’ Matt Maiocco writes. If the sides don’t reach an agreement, it’s almost a guarantee that the quarterback will be franchised. After leading the Niners to wins in each of his first five starts, Jimmy G is a safe bet to be the QB in San Francisco for a long time.

Packers Rumors: Wolf, Gutekunst, FA

An offer for a prominent Packers job is on the table for Eliot Wolf, Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (on Twitter), but it’s uncertain he accepts it at this point. Before the sides can progress on a deal, the 35-year-old exec must determine if he wants to stay in Green Bay. Wolf was bypassed for this job after withdrawing his name from consideration for the 49ers’ GM position last year, and the Browns are expected to pursue him. Wolf worked with John Dorsey for several years before Dorsey became the Chiefs’ GM in 2013. New Green Bay GM Brian Gutekunst said Monday (via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com) he wants Wolf to remain on staff but acknowledged executive has other opportunities.

Here’s more from Green Bay and the latest from the North divisions.

  • What could change for the Packers is their offseason approach. The Ted Thompson years involved scant free agency participation, but Gutekunst looks to have a more modern approach to player procurement. Gutekunst said the Packers will be active in free agency, at least participating in bidding for players they covet, and (via Silverstein, on Twitter) the new GM said this announcement excited the Packers’ staff. “We’re not going to leave any stone unturned in every avenue of player acquisition,” Gutekunst said, via Wes Hodkiewicz of Packers.com (Twitter link). “… Our foundation is going to be the draft, but [free agency] is an absolute must as an accessory piece. We’re not going to be able to sign every player, [but] we want to be in the know of everything that’s going on. We have to be prepared to pull the trigger.”
  • Gutekunst may not be making a change at head coach anytime soon. Signed last week to an extension that runs through 2019, Mike McCarthy doesn’t look to have lost any support as a result of this front office change. “We have a great relationship,” Gutekunst said today. “I have a ton of respect for him as a football coach and as a man.”
  • Team president Mark Murphy said (via Demovsky), however, if a decision is made to ultimately fire McCarthy, he will make it and be responsible for hiring his successor. Other than that, Murphy said he will not meddle in football decisions. Silverstein notes (via Twitter) the previous arrangement involved all football parties answering to Thompson whereas this one could leave some uncertainty with Gutekunst, McCarthy and Russ Ball each reporting to Murphy. Ball has been given a title bump and now has a more direct line to Murphy.
  • McCarthy’s comments last week about the next GM being a “good fit” may have been a shot at Thompson’s free agency-phobic tendencies, Silverstein writes, adding they also may have induced the Packers to contact the Seahawks about a John Schneider interview. While Seattle blocked that move, Silverstein notes McCarthy’s comments may have prompted Murphy to hire Gutekunst in order to see the team take a more proactive approach to stocking the roster in free agency. Silverstein writes Ball was expected to approach free agency like Thompson, his mentor, so this decision could be interpreted as McCarthy getting his way. While Gutekunst worked under Thompson throughout the latter’s tenure, Silverstein writes that other execs who received opportunities elsewhere — Schneider, Dorsey and Reggie McKenzie — were not shy about signing free agents.

Russ Ball To Remain With Packers

The Packers promoted Brian Gutekunst to GM and continued their in-house approach to football operations, but this will result in a change in how their front office is structured.

Without Ted Thompson in the fold, Gutekunst won’t be the only person reporting directly to team president Mark Murphy. Fellow GM candidate Russ Ball will be staying with the Packers and will now join Gutekunst and Mike McCarthy in reporting directly to Murphy, Tyler Dunne of Bleacher Report reports (on Twitter).

Ball will also receive a new title and a raise, Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com reports. The 10-year Packers exec is now the franchise’s executive vice president/director of football operations, although Demovsky adds the cap guru’s duties will remain largely the same — negotiating contracts, being in charge of the cap and overseeing other departments.

Fellow GM candidate Eliot Wolf not being mentioned in this troika that now reports to Murphy could signal his imminent exit from Green Bay. The sought-after GM interviewee figures to have opportunities elsewhere, with reported interest coming from the John Dorsey-led Browns, if he so chooses.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Packers To Hire Brian Gutekunst As GM

The Packers are promoting their director of player personnel, Brian Gutekunst, to general manager, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports (via Twitter) that it will be a five-year deal for Gutekunst.

Brian Gutekunst (vertical)

Gutekunst is highly respected in scouting circles, and Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com writes that Gutekunst is the most well-rounded scout in Green Bay’s personnel department. Demovsky adds that Gutekunst dazzled Packers’ brass in his recent interview with the club.

Green Bay elected to hire Gutekunst, who has a strong personnel background, as opposed to fellow internal candidate Russ Ball, who is more of a salary cap guru (despite the fact that Ball was seen as the frontrunner throughout much of this process). In addition to Ball, the team also interviewed director of football operations Eliot Wolf, who for years was seen as the heir apparent to longtime GM Ted Thompson. Thompson, of course, stepped down to a different role within the organization at the beginning of the month, thereby triggering the team’s search for a replacement. It will be interesting to see what will become of Wolf and Ball now.

The Packers also expressed interest in Vikings assistant GM George Paton — though Minnesota denied Green Bay’s request to interview Paton — Seahawks GM John Schneider, and Ravens assistant GM Eric DeCosta. But in Gutekunst, they get an executive who was been with the club for 19 years — he started his Packers tenure as a collegiate scout — and who appears ready for his chance to run a franchise. Indeed, he had an excellent interview with the 49ers last offseason and nearly became San Francisco’s GM.

As Ed Werder tweets, an internal hiring like this one may be good news for Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, whose long-term future with the team could be bolstered with Gutekunst’s promotion.

Gutekunst was scheduled to interview with the Texans for Houston’s GM job today. Per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter), Gutekunst did travel to Houston yesterday and had dinner with Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, but Green Bay never gave him the chance to interview with with the Texans.

The Texans, meanwhile, are likely to hire Bills VP of player personnel Brian Gaine as their next GM, according to multiple sources.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans To Interview Packers’ Brian Gutekunst

Brian Gutekunst interviewed about the Packers’ sudden GM vacancy earlier this week, and he’ll make a trip outside of Green Bay to meet about another opening soon.

The Texans will interview Gutekunst on Sunday in Houston, Mark Berman of Fox 26 tweets.

Houston has already scheduled an interview with Bills exec Brian Gaine, who is viewed as the early favorite, but Gutekunst — currently the Packers’ player personnel director — has been a popular target over the past two offseasons. He was also mentioned as a Texans candidate once Rick Smith’s leave of absence opened this position to outsiders.

Gutekunst may also be fighting an uphill battle in Green Bay, with Russ Ball viewed by some as the favorite to succeed Ted Thompson. This occurring could certainly prompt Gutekunst to look elsewhere for a job, and the Texans are going to evaluate him this weekend.

The Packers exec interviewed with the 49ers and Bills last year for their GM openings. He withdrew from consideration for the San Francisco job.