10 things learned from Packers GM Brian Gutekunst

He discussed the franchise tag and salary cap issues, plus several players and their outlooks for 2021

General Manager Brian Gutekunst

GREEN BAY – Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst covered a number of pertinent topics in multiple media sessions Tuesday.

Via Zoom, he addressed the full Green Bay media corps for a little over 15 minutes, and then he spoke separately with the team's beat writers for nearly half an hour.

Here are 10 things learned from those sessions with the Packers GM:

1. Just because the Packers haven't pulled out the franchise tag in 11 years doesn't mean they won't use it on RB Aaron Jones.

The Packers last used the franchise tag on defensive lineman Ryan Pickett in 2010, but Gutekunst stressed that the application drought is "not a philosophical thing to avoid it."

With Jones such an integral part of the Packers' offense and a long-term deal not yet reached, Gutekunst suggested tagging Jones is definitely on the table.

"We certainly could," he said. "I think it's something we're working through.

"I do think there's usually better ways to go about it, but if that becomes what is in the best interest of the Packers, I think we'll do that."

The deadline to apply the tag is March 9, six days before the free agency negotiating window opens. Tagging Jones would allow the Packers to keep him for at least another year and/or buy more time to work out a long-term contract, or potentially trade him for a draft pick higher than a future compensatory selection.

2. Inevitably, the salary cap is foremost on Gutekunst's mind right now.

As the Packers continue working to get under the projected lower salary cap for 2021 due to the pandemic-related revenue losses of 2020, they've restructured David Bakhtiari's contract and released Christian Kirksey and Rick Wagner.

More transactions along both lines sound imminent.

As for restructures, Gutekunst said the Packers have contacted multiple veterans to explore options.

"We've reached out to a number of players … working with those guys to find solutions to this cap issue," he said. "I'm appreciative of those guys. I think everybody wants to try to put the best football team out there in '21 that we can."

He did not name anyone who might be released but said there are "a lot of moves to make still."

3. Some of the Packers' pending decisions will burden future salary caps to try to win now, but the hope is to strike a balance.

Regarding free agency, which is expected to see a lot more veterans available than normal due to widespread cap maneuvers, Gutekunst acknowledged the Packers may not have the chance to do much.

If a good fit emerges, they're likely to create cap space as they go along rather than clear so much room in advance that the next couple of years become overly compromised.

"While we have our eyes on '21, and that's what's most important, '22 and '23 are factors as well," he said. "If a player becomes available that we weren't expecting or will require us to make more room, we'll go down that route. But at the same time, there's some danger in pushing everything into '22 or '23."

Even with the league's new TV deals pending, Gutekunst anticipates this year's league-wide cap crunch could continue into next year as well.

But the Packers will be pushing money out this year to try to win now, because Gutekunst believes the opportunity is there.

"We have a really good football team," he said. "I think the core of our football team is going to be really strong the next few years, and we want to give ourselves every chance to compete for championships within that time."

4. The Packers don't want to lose C Corey Linsley, but they understand he's in line for a hefty contract.

The 2020 first-team All-Pro center has said publicly he doesn't expect to be back, though he'd never close the door on Green Bay. Gutekunst echoed the Packers aren't closing the door, either, but he's not sure yet "what's possible and what's not" with Linsley.

"There's a lot of pieces to this puzzle we're trying to put together," Gutekunst said. "Finding a way to bring him back would be ideal, but at the level of compensation he's at, he's earned that."

5. The early stages of Bakhtiari's recovery are going well.

Returning from a torn ACL in December to start the 2021 season in Week 1 would be an incredible feat for Bakhtiari, and no one's counting him out.

That said, Gutekunst mentioned Billy Turner and Elgton Jenkins as the first two options to play left tackle if he's not ready when the season starts.

"He looks great for where he's at," Gutekunst said. "You guys know him well. He's going to work his tail off, and he's a unique human being in the way he's able to overcome challenges.

"All signs are good right now."

6. If Marcedes Lewis wants to play a 16th season, the door to the Green Bay locker room is open.

The veteran and one of the league's best blocking tight ends is a pending free agent who has considered retirement in the past. Late last season he expressed a desire to continue playing, and the Packers would love to keep his leadership part of this team's foundation.

"The way he prepares, the way he takes care of himself, even after a lengthy career like he's had, what we ask him to do he's still able to do at a very high level," Gutekunst said. "He's very important to Matt (LaFleur) and our offense but also to me and our whole team. You can't have enough guys that are wired like him in your building."

7. QB Jordan Love is going to play a lot in the 2021 preseason.

The Packers' first-round draft pick last year has yet to take a snap in any NFL game. Last summer's preseason was wiped out, and he spent his rookie year as the No. 3 QB and a game-day inactive.

Getting a healthy amount of live action will be important for both his development and the evaluation process, so the Packers can assess where he's at.

"It was disappointing we weren't able to get him out there in the preseason last year," Gutekunst said. "Looking forward to it this year – the more, the better.

"Guys get better through playing. Practice is always important but the live game reps for all players is something you can't replace."

8. A new defensive coordinator won't have the personnel department hunting for different types of players.

Joe Barry taking the defensive reins from Mike Pettine will require very little change in what the Packers are looking for on that side of the ball.

"There might be some subtle things, but I think we've always strived to find versatile players that can really thrive in any scheme," Gutekunst said. "I think you have to be able to do multiple things and be a well-rounded football player in this day and age.

"I think he (Barry) is excited about the group we have coming back."

9. The cornerback position will be getting plenty of attention this offseason.

No. 1 corner Jaire Alexander is one of the best in the league, but Kevin King is headed for unrestricted free agency, Chandon Sullivan is a restricted free agent, and recent draft picks Josh Jackson and Ka'dar Hollman were healthy scratches for the NFC title game vs. Tampa Bay.

"We are looking for some of those young players to take a jump. We're going to need them to," Gutekunst said. "But at the same time, I do think that's an area that's important for us to address moving forward."

10. Nothing's certain yet with WR Devin Funchess.

A free-agent acquisition last year, Funchess opted out due to COVID-19, which tolled his contract, so he remains on the team's reserve list for now.

"We have had some contact with Devin (about) possibly being a part of our squad moving forward," Gutekunst said. "There's a lot of different pieces that kind of affect each other. We're working through all that."

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