GREEN BAY – Brian Gutekunst knows the unfortunate reality – and subsequent opportunity – of the Packers missing the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
Entering his first offseason as general manager, Gutekunst has been presented a luxury his predecessor, Ted Thompson, was afforded only twice in 13 years on the job – ownership of a top-15 pick in the NFL Draft.
The 14th overall selection is one small silver lining to a season in which the Packers went 7-9 and saw their franchise record for consecutive postseason appearances end at eight.
Gutekunst currently has 12 picks at his disposal after the NFL announced Friday this year’s compensatory selections.
“This is a huge time to re-energize our roster, build the competition throughout,” said Gutekunst when asked last month about possibly having 12 picks in this year’s draft. “We’ve got to be on our game, and everybody in this organization understands that.”
A member of Green Bay’s personnel department since 1999, Gutekunst knows firsthand how quickly a solid draft can change the fortunes of a franchise. He saw it in 2009 when Head Coach Mike McCarthy made wholesale changes to his defensive staff after a 6-10 campaign.
After McCarthy hired Dom Capers to install his version of the 3-4 defense, Thompson weaponized the defense with Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji with the ninth overall pick and then traded back into the first round to take USC linebacker Clay Matthews at No. 26.
The two were immediate upgrades. The Packers jumped from 20th in total defense to second in 2009, and a year later, Matthews and Raji were vital contributors in Green Bay’s run to the franchise’s fourth Lombardi Trophy.
The Packers’ latest defensive reset started last month when McCarthy hired Mike Pettine as coordinator. Like Capers in 2009, Pettine is a former head coach who touts an impressive resume as a defensive coordinator with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.
Meanwhile, Gutekunst and his scouts will begin sorting through more than 300 prospects at next week’s NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in hopes of finding an impact player or players.
It’s not unheard of for a team to go from 7-9 to Super Bowl champion. In fact, the Philadelphia Eagles were in the exact same boat as the Packers last year when they took Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett with the 14th overall pick.
Barnett, a member of the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team, made the biggest play of his young career when he recovered Brandon Graham’s strip-sack of Tom Brady to help the Eagles put the finishing touches on their first Super Bowl championship.
A few other gems that have been uncovered at No. 14 over the years include defensive end Robert Quinn (2011), safety Earl Thomas (2010, Seahawks), safety Malcolm Jenkins (2009, Saints), cornerback Darrelle Revis (2007, Jets), and linebacker Thomas Davis (2005, Panthers).
The Packers have needs on both sides of the ball and must make decisions on up to 10 players who’ll hit unrestricted free agency next month. What form the 2018 Packers take is now up to Gutekunst and he can’t wait to get started.
“What happened this year can’t happen again. This is not what we’re about here,” Gutekunst said. “It’s almost one of those things, you don’t feel like you have to breathe but you also can’t wait – it’s like anything, when you lose you want to get to the next game as fast as you can.”
That process begins next week in Indianapolis.