Brian Gutekunst

Aaron Rodgers Won’t Be Part Of Packers’ Coaching Search

After firing their longest-tenured coach since Curly Lambeau, the Packers will enter a hiring period with a high-profile vacancy.

While Green Bay’s next head coach will be tasked with recharging the Aaron Rodgers-led team and maximizing the championship potential created by the quarterback’s employment, the two-time MVP will not be part of the Packers’ coaching search, team president Mark Murphy said Monday (via Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com, on Twitter).

Obviously, he’s free to provide input and talk to us,” Murphy said, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. “But he’s not going to be a part of the process. … The other thing I would say, Aaron was no part at all in the decision to move on from Mike (McCarthy).”

Murphy will be the one making the hire, not GM Brian Gutekunst, though Murphy said he obviously will not pick a coach with whom the soon-to-be second-year GM is uncomfortable. Gutekunst will be “actively involved” in the search, however (Twitter links via Wilde).

Gutekunst, Russ Ball and McCarthy each reported to Murphy this year in the Packers’ post-Ted Thompson-era arrangement. It appears that power structure will not change entering a crucial time for the franchise.

Interim head coach Joe Philbin will be a legitimate candidate, per Murphy (via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein, on Twitter). Rehired as offensive coordinator this offseason, Philbin was Green Bay’s OC during the team’s most recent Super Bowl title season and finished that stint in Rodgers’ 2011 MVP slate prior to becoming the Dolphins’ HC. But the two-stint Packers assistant landing the top job would obviously be an upset.

The Packers fired McCarthy early to dive into the search process early, but Murphy won’t be hiring a coach before the season ends, per Silverstein (on Twitter). While the Packers are mired in their most disappointing season in more than a decade, Rodgers (via Silverstein, on Twitter) doesn’t view the team as entering a rebuild. Prior to a Rodgers injury leading to the end of the Packers’ playoff streak last season, the franchise had qualified for the previous eight NFC brackets. At 4-7-1, the Packers are now a long shot to make that nine in 10 years.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Reactions To Mike McCarthy’s Firing

Immediately after their shocking home loss to the Cardinals, the Packers fired coach Mike McCarthy. While McCarthy was widely believed to be on the hot seat, it’s still somewhat of surprise the team made the move in-season because of his winning history with the team. The move could have a massive ripple effect on the rest of the league, and reactions and opinion pieces immediately began pouring in.

We’ve compiled the most interesting observations and responses below:

  • Assuming the Jets fire Todd Bowles, McCarthy should be at the top of the list in New York’s coaching search, argues Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. Vacchiano writes that McCarthy is “exactly what the Jets need”, and thinks that the Jets’ next coach needs to be someone like McCarthy, who is used to being in the spotlight, in order to handle the intense media pressure of being the Jets’ coach. Vacchiano thinks McCarthy would be a nice fit with Sam Darnold, and compares him to Andy Reid, who was fired after a long run in Philadelphia and has gone on to have great success with the Chiefs. It’s not the best comparison since Reid has been widely hailed for his innovation while McCarthy has been criticized for being overly-conservative, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the Jets are interested.
  • Because of the new structure of the Packers’ organization, it’ll be team CEO Mark Murphy who is making the call on who to hire as McCarthy’s replacement and not GM Brian Gutekunst, according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. While Florio thinks Gutekunst will have a role in the process, it’ll be Murphy making the final call now, which is a change for the team. Previously, GM Ted Thompson would’ve had the decision making authority in situations like this. For what it’s worth, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets that the decision to fire McCarthy was a joint one made by both Murphy and Gutekunst.
  • The move to fire McCarthy before the end of the season was “almost unprecedented”, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Schefter notes that this is just the second time in league history where a Super Bowl winning coach was let go in the middle of the year, with the only other time being when the Colts fired Don McCafferty in 1972. It underscores how surprising it was that they didn’t wait until after the season out of respect for McCarthy, and helps explain why McCarthy was reportedly blindsided by the decision.
  • The team made the right call letting McCarthy go early, according to Pete Dougherty of Packersnews.com. Dougherty argues that it’ll give the Packers a head start in their search for a new coach, and as such give them a leg up on all the other teams who will be looking for a new coach. Dougherty also writes that “former general manager Ted Thompson would never have done it during the season and might never have let McCarthy go” at all.
  • Ryan Wood of Packersnews.com took a look back at the McCarthy-era, and ranked the highs and lows of his tenure. Among the highs, of course, was the Super Bowl victory, as well as a streak of eight years in a row of making the playoffs, while the lows include today’s loss to the Cardinals and the history of losing in the NFC Championship game.

NFC Notes: Dez, Seahawks, McCarthy

Saints WR Dez Bryant suffered a brutal blow when he tore his Achilles just two days after signing with the club, thereby shelving him for about eight months. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network (video link) noted that Bryant’s recovery timeline could make his 2019 foray into free agency just as complicated as his 2018 one, though RapSheet does report in a separate piece that the Saints are open to bringing Bryant back next season (which Jay Glazer of FOX Sports [video link] also hears). Rapoport also says that Saints head coach Sean Payton fully expects Bryant to continue his playing career, and that Saints players quickly got to know Bryant and were stung by the injury (Twitter link). Given that, and given that Bryant made a concerted effort to improve his route running this offseason, perhaps he will still end up playing for New Orleans.

Let’s round up a few more items from the NFC:

  • Adam Schefter of ESPN.com details (via Twitter) the $500K in incentives (all tied to receptions) that were built in to Bryant’s contract with the Saints, which is obviously a moot point now. Earlier today, Schefter reported that the Saints are expected to pursue Brandon Marshall now that Bryant is on IR.
  • Rapoport writes that, when the Seahawks are sold to a new owner, the beneficiary of the transaction will be the Paul G. Allen Foundation, which consolidated the causes of recently-deceased owner Paul Allen. That means that the proceeds of the sale — which could exceed $2.5 billion — will be going to charity. As of now, Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, has taken more of a visible role in team operations, but the club is still expected to be sold (though it will remain in Seattle). Potential buyers are already preparing for the Seahawks to hit the market.
  • Pete Dougherty of PackersNews.com confirms what we have been hearing for some time: that something is off in the relationship between Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy, which could lead to McCarthy’s ouster at the end of the season. McCarthy is widely perceived to be on the hot seat, though Dougherty points out that team president/CEO Mark Murphy thinks highly of McCarthy and has final say over all football matters. However, Murphy will give a great deal of credence to the opinion of new GM Brian Gutekunst when it comes to the head coach’s future with the club.
  • We learned that top decision-makers for the Giants were in attendance at the Oregon-Utah game yesterday to scout Oregon QB Justin Herbert, even though Herbert is unlikely to enter the 2019 draft. Greg Joyce of the New York Post confirms that GM Dave Gettleman was one of the attendees, along with assistant GM Kevin Abrams and West Coast scout Jeremy Breit. If Herbert changes his mind and declares for the draft, New York will certainly be in play for him.
  • We learned earlier today that the Cowboys nearly fired OC Scott Linehan during last month’s bye.

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.