GREEN BAY – In a slight departure from tradition, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst sat down with a group of beat writers on Friday, before heading to the NFL Scouting Combine next week in Indianapolis.
Normally, the annual offseason Q&A session takes place in Indy, but Gutekunst wanted to do it in advance of his trip this year, so here are five things learned from the Packers GM with the combine right around the corner.
1. He's not focusing the offseason on figuring out how to beat the 49ers.
Including playoffs, the Packers went 14-4 in 2019, with two losses – including the final one in the NFC title game – coming to San Francisco. But Gutekunst gave a rather quick "no" when asked if his thought process in the coming months will be geared toward leapfrogging the 49ers.
"We work on us," he said. "I don't think you can tailor it to any one team. I think if anything, you lean more toward your division.
"Every year is different. What San Francisco was this year, it could be somebody else next year and it could be completely different. You have to be well-rounded and have to be able to win games different ways. To me, that's how you look at it."
In that vein, when it comes to addressing the team's biggest needs in free agency and the draft – whether they be wide receiver, tight end, offensive tackle and/or inside linebacker, depending on decisions made with veteran players' contracts – he very well could add multiple players at a spot to try to improve again. That's how the Packers upgraded at both outside linebacker and safety last offseason.
"I don't have a problem doing that," he said. "I don't think it's something you set out to do because you just don't know what opportunities will present themselves. But I certainly think that's a way to attack an area of need."
2. Free agency next month won't be like March of 2019 around here.
Everyone should already know that, because it's just being realistic. No one's salary-cap situation would allow for four major signings on the first day of free agency two years in a row.
But Gutekunst isn't planning on just sitting out free agency, either, because there's more to the process than just the first few days. In fact, he noted the Packers will probably be looking at a larger group of potential targets than a year ago when their focused was narrowed to those multiple top-tier guys at their positions.
"I would say the group we're going to look at this year is going to be much broader," he said.
"I think when you look at free agency overall, with salary-cap casualties and different kinds of things, I think we'll be able to add some players to our roster that can help us. But we're certainly not in the position we were in last year with the resources. We're going to have to do some different things this year."
More details with regard to that plan will get sorted out in early March, when the Packers will have decisions to make on pending free agents as well as other contracts. Free agency officially begins March 18, with the negotiating window opening up two days prior.
"After we get through free-agency meetings, after we get through draft meetings and then we get back from the combine, the picture starts to get a little clearer," he said. "I'm going to be patient and get to the other side of the combine before we start making any decisions."
3. One decision sounds somewhat made, though: He plans on bringing Mason Crosby back.
The veteran kicker is a pending free agent and is coming off maybe his best season, tying the franchise record for field-goal accuracy (22-of-24, .917), missing just one extra point, and setting a personal best for touchback percentage on kickoffs (62%, 49-of-79).
"I think when you have a guy who has been through the fire like Mason has, for a guy in my position it makes us feel very comfortable," Gutekunst said. "He obviously had an excellent year last year. He's a big part of our team, a big part of what we're trying to do here. I'm very hopeful that will reach the right ending."
4. He's high on Aaron Rodgers' upcoming second season with Matt LaFleur, and he's got his eye on quarterbacks in the draft. Those two things are not incompatible.
Gutekunst emphasized he wouldn't hesitate to draft a quarterback he liked, and possibly high in the draft if the right one is there, even while he's still fully confident Rodgers has "got a lot left."
His perspective is that it's always worthwhile to develop young QBs, because there's so much that's unpredictable and unknown. And if that prospect isn't needed when he's ready, he can be turned into another asset, which he learned by watching Hall of Fame GM Ron Wolf trade Matt Hasselbeck to Seattle and Aaron Brooks to New Orleans during Brett Favre's tenure.
So he's not averse to drafting a quarterback at the expense of another player who would theoretically help the Packers more right away in their quest for another championship in the Rodgers era.
"People have asked me about the windows thing, but I really never try to look at it that way," he said. "I think I know where our team is at every year and what we need to do to try to help us win in the upcoming season. I do think Aaron played at a really high level this past year and I'm excited about Year 2 with Matt and where those guys can go together. But I don't think that situation really affects the other as far as the quarterback stuff goes.
"I just don't think developing a young quarterback is … a waste. You just don't know when that time is going to be when you're going to need him. I know this – if you make it a priority to develop quarterbacks I think it's going to be a positive for your organization."
5. He sees the changes to this year's combine setup as a positive from a scouting standpoint.
While formal interviews with players have been reduced from 60 per team to 45, those have been extended by a few minutes each. There will also be two stages of informal interviews in Indy rather than just one.
Under the old setup, informal interviews involved a mass of humanity of players, scouts and coaches trying to meet up. For scouts, that's often been a reacquainting process, with them having met the players on their college campuses. For coaches, it's an introduction.
So a new segment of informal interviews is being added that is for only players from a specific position and corresponding position coaches.
"It's an extra opportunity for our guys to sit down again with those players," Gutekunst said. "It seems like it'll be a little bit more organized, not as chaotic."
He wants LaFleur's coaching staff to take advantage of this new arrangement, so the Packers are not holding back any coaches or coordinators from going to the combine, which a couple of teams are reportedly doing.
"I think that's a really valuable process for me to get their (thoughts)," Gutekunst said. "This is our coaches' first time to really sit across from them and test their football knowledge and get a feel for the player. So it's important to me."