INDIANAPOLIS – Brian Gutekunst isn’t making any bold proclamations about how many outside free agents the Packers plan to sign once the new league year begins on March 14.
However, the team’s new general manager promises Green Bay’s front office will be organized and ready to react to any opportunity to improve the team this offseason.
“My big thing was I just want to make sure we’re hyper-prepared for whatever opportunity,” said Gutekunst at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Whether they’re free agents coming into the market pretty quickly, whether it’s salary-cap casualties, guys who got cut that we weren’t expecting. I just think the more prepared you are, the more quickly you can pull the trigger and just be involved in the situations more.”
While the blueprint hasn’t changed when it comes to the type of players the Packers look to acquire, Gutekunst admits free-agency meetings have been “a little more extensive than they have been in the past” under previous GM Ted Thompson.
Thompson’s approach was rooted in the ideology that he didn’t want to risk potentially losing a homegrown playmaker down the line because the organization signed an outside veteran who may not work out in the long run.
That philosophy served the Packers well during their run to eight consecutive playoff appearances, but also resulted in Green Bay going five calendar years without an unrestricted free-agent signing.
Gutekunst has several considerations to take into account during his first offseason as GM. Although the Packers took care of two of their biggest pending free agents, receiver Davante Adams and center Corey Linsley, in December, Gutekunst also has to keep in mind the ramifications of a possible contract extension with Aaron Rodgers that could come this offseason.
Hinting at his preference to hold onto veteran receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, Gutekunst must make calls on Green Bay’s other 10 unrestricted free agents. All of those variables will directly affect the organization’s free-agency activity.
“We’re going to be as aggressive as we can be,” Gutekunst said. “We’re really excited and really have grand thoughts of what we can do in free agency, but at the same time, we’re not going to risk our future or risk signing one of our really good players down the line to acquire someone we don’t really believe is going to impact our team.”
One of the biggest pieces of advice Thompson handed down to Gutekunst was acknowledging the reality of how a smaller market of available talent often bumps up the price tag of free agents.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy is on board with Gutekunst’s approach. After emphasizing the importance of fit earlier this offseason with Thompson’s successor, McCarthy said both he and Gutekunst are in lockstep when it comes to building a competitive 90-man roster.
Similar to Thompson’s reign as GM, the Packers still are dedicated to their draft-and-develop mentality and the importance of developing the bottom half of their roster and practice squad.
“We need to increase the competition in our training environment,” McCarthy said. “We’ve done it for 12 years, we’ve got a great system of player acquisition, what Brian’s doing in free agency is obviously a whole different approach and the amount of workload that’s going into that. We’re going to benefit from that. Just (build) the competitive 90-man roster, and then to me it’s on the coaches. If you just keep feeding that roster, that’s the way it’s got to be.”
When asked during a lunch with Green Bay reporters Wednesday what he needs from a GM, McCarthy offered three words of advice – consistency, support and communication – before Gutekunst chimed in.
“Really, really good players,” added Gutekunst with a smile, leading to McCarthy replying he’ll “try to keep the pressure off of you.”
The Packers have several needs, many of which originate on defense, but McCarthy acknowledges there is more than one certified way to meet them. It’s one thing to be active, but it must be coupled with research and reason.
“We like the word ‘aggressive,’” McCarthy said. “But I think it’s like anything, you have to just be in touch with the reality of the process. The process of veteran free agency is different today than it was prior to Brian being the GM, so it’s a whole different breakdown and approach.
“We don’t want to lose good players, that’s something we always focus on, particularly our own. We’ve spent pretty much our 12 years here really focusing on improving from within. But we need outside resources, we’ve determined that. At the end of the day it’s a market that every team is involved in and we’ll see what happens.”