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10 things learned from Packers GM Brian Gutekunst at the NFL Scouting Combine

Notes on the roster foundation and depth, defensive transition, salary cap and more

General Manager Brian Gutekunst
General Manager Brian Gutekunst

INDIANAPOLIS – Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst made the rounds with both the local and national media on Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Here are 10 things we learned:

  1. Gutekunst believes the Packers have the foundation in place to win a Super Bowl.

"I do, I do," was his unequivocal answer to the question of the Packers having what it takes to contend, coming off their playoff run that nearly reached the NFC title game.

Gutekunst isn't a fan of placing expectations on any team. He didn't do it last year during the offense's major transition because he felt that would only put limitations on the squad. He won't do it for 2024 either because it will only distract from what it'll take to progress further.

"When you finish the year playing at a high level, I think you're hoping you get a little bit of a bounce from that," he said. "But then it gets real, and everybody has to work and come together, and you realize it's a whole different season and nothing that happened last year really matters too much.

"It was exciting to see the guys come together. I think they'll be able to draw from that, but if they don't put in the work this offseason and through training camp and get ready for that first game, it won't matter."

The '23 team did set a blueprint of sorts for giving a team its best shot, though, and that was to get rolling down the stretch. It made the abrupt end to the run all the more painful, because "we had it all in front of us," Gutekunst said. But it provides a meaningful target for anytime adversity hits during the long season.

"Hopefully a lesson that our players and everybody else in the organization will carry with us is that this league can change quickly if you put the work in and you do the right things," he said. "With the thought process of playing your best ball at the end of the year no matter where you're at in the season, if you can get there then you're going to have an opportunity."

  1. The defensive transition is more focused on playing style than specific types of players.

While conversations between the personnel department and new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley are ongoing in the run-up to the draft, Gutekunst doesn't foresee major alterations in the types of players the Packers pursue.

There will be certain considerations given with the base switch to the 4-3, but the Packers have enough returning talent on defense that Gutekunst plans to focus on building depth to push the whole unit.

"The edge and the speed and the aggressiveness that we play with, I think that's what's the most important," he said.

"We have a really good nucleus of players coming back. We need to fill each room with enough competition that those guys feel that and can grow like our offense did this past year. That will be on us to do that. But I do think we're in good hands right now."

  1. That philosophy of fostering competition to let young players progress might be the approach at safety.

That spot is wide open in Hafley's defense currently, with three Green Bay veterans headed for free agency and young reserves from last year left behind.

As much emphasis as Hafley places on the roles played by the post safety deep and box safety near the line of scrimmage in his defense, Gutekunst doesn't consider it a requirement the Packers have a veteran leading that group.

He went all young at receiver last year and it eventually paid dividends, with growth evident at an "accelerated pace." So he won't dismiss doing so at another spot.

"It's about getting the right person and player in that position. It's not necessarily whether they're a rookie or veteran," he said. "Everybody would like guys with experience, but hopefully people will realize that sometimes it's better to be young and let these guys grow together.

"We'll look at it all and make the best decision."

  1. Versatility will remain a coveted trait in the back end, regardless.

If Gutekunst is indeed rebuilding the safety position with youth, he won't be searching necessarily for specific "post" and "box" players.

He wants versatility in order for the defense to better cope with injuries and to make things more difficult on opponents.

"It really helps your defense to be multiple and flexible so teams can't get a bead on what you're doing," he said. "So, in a perfect world, quite frankly, between the two safeties and the nickel, those three guys almost need to be interchangeable completely."

  1. The unexpected rise in the salary cap isn't creating a whole new offseason financial game plan.

Everyone in the league was taken aback last week when it was announced the salary cap would rise by $30 million per team, nearly double the anticipated boost.

The Packers have some decisions looming on high-priced veteran contracts, with David Bakhtiari's the biggest. But their thoughts and plans regarding cap moves and free agency aren't dramatically shifting, as Gutekunst sees the extra space simply as "breathing room."

"It probably alters our thinking a little bit, but not a lot," he said. "It gives us some more flexibility.

"Like I said before going into it, there wasn't going to be anything that prevented us from going after players or doing what we wanted to do, and this kind of cements that."

  1. Initial conversations on QB Jordan Love's new contract likely will begin this week.

Agents and teams routinely get into discussions behind the scenes at the combine, and Gutekunst anticipates initial meetings with Love's representation to take place.

Due to contractual regulations, the Packers can't extend Love's current deal until May, and contracts of this magnitude take time.

"I'm sure I'll see (Love's reps) at some point while we're here," Gutekunst said. "It's a good information-gathering time, for sure."

  1. Quarterback depth is squarely on his radar, too.

Gutekunst was impressed with how Sean Clifford performed as a rookie fifth-round pick last season, saying "he's absolutely proven he can be a No. 2."

"His ability to play in the fire and overcome anything that's going on in the game was pretty unique for a young guy," he said of Clifford's preseason work.

But Gutekunst wants to keep developmental QBs in the pipeline, so the Packers are by no means standing pat at the position with Clifford and USFL champ Alex McGough behind Love. There's a good chance Gutekunst will be looking for a QB on Day 3 of the draft.

"Getting back to drafting multiple quarterbacks is something that I've wanted to do," he said.

"There's some guys with interesting skill sets that are going to get taken later that might have a pretty good chance to make it."

  1. Running back depth is unsettled right now, but a "bigger back" behind Aaron Jones is a priority.

The 6-foot, 247-pound AJ Dillon is headed for free agency, and it's uncertain whether he'll return to Green Bay. Amidst the multiple backs Gutekunst plans to have on the depth chart behind Jones – second-year pro Emanuel Wilson (5-11, 226) is the only certain returnee with game experience at this point – one will be Dillon-like, if not Dillon himself.

"I do think we would always like to have one power, bigger back on the roster for short-yardage situations and playing in the weather and closing out games," Gutekunst said.

  1. Kicker Anders Carlson will have to prove himself.

The Packers already have signed Jack Podlesny to compete this year with Carlson, who missed a combined 13 field goals and PATs as a rookie last season.

"He's got to improve," Gutekunst said of Carlson, a sixth-round pick from Auburn. "I think he had a pretty solid year, but there's going to need to be a curve of getting better.

"I do like the way he approaches it. He's very calm and handles the pressure very well. I'm excited to see what he does in Year 2, but there will be competition in the room."

  1. The fruits of the Packers' last two drafts have been rooted in opportunity to play.

Gutekunst's last two drafts have produced 17 starters or regular rotational players on offense and defense, an astounding success and contribution rate.

The transition from a veteran-laden roster to a more youth-dominated one has played a major part in that.

"I don't think we did something magical," Gutekunst said regarding the team's draft evaluation process, which has only been tweaked here and there. "A lot of it is the opportunity they were given and I think that's really important.

"It's tough as a young player in this league to earn your opportunities and capitalize on them and let that grow."

What that means for the upcoming '24 draft class remains to be seen. Opportunities to play may be harder to come by with less roster turnover and expected improvement from all those '22 and '23 draft picks.

But the last two years have taught the Packers giving youth a chance can have its merits.

"Not being afraid to give guys opportunities and allowing that competition to take place (can pay off)," Gutekunst said.

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