5 things learned from Packers GM Brian Gutekunst heading into the 2021 NFL Draft

Comments on Aaron Rodgers, David Bakhtiari, free agency and possibly trading up

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General Manager Brian Gutekunst

GREEN BAY – Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst addressed the media Monday for his annual pre-draft news conference.

Here are five things learned prior to Thursday's first round of selections.

1. Gutekunst views the salary-cap crunch as a two-year process, so just because the Packers haven't addressed QB Aaron Rodgers' contract yet doesn't mean they won't.

It was widely assumed the Packers would restructure Rodgers' contract this spring to create cap relief, and the absence of that action has driven speculation as to what the future holds.

Gutekunst indicated Monday he sees Rodgers as the Packers' quarterback beyond 2021 and his contract will be dealt with at some point. Contract decisions are being made with upcoming cap limitations in 2022 in mind as well.

"Aaron's our guy. He's going to be our quarterback for the foreseeable future," Gutekunst said. "We're excited about kind of the things we're going to try to accomplish here over the next couple years.

"We had to do a lot of things (with contracts) to bring guys back this year and we'll have to do that again. So we're not done by any means yet, and we are working through that with a number of our players, including Aaron."

2. Gutekunst's primary goals in free agency have been to keep the Packers' best players in Green Bay to see if the NFC's runner-up two years running can take the next step.

The Packers have brought in only one outside free agent this offseason, long snapper Joe Fortunato to compete with incumbent Hunter Bradley.

That's primarily because Gutekunst wanted to direct as many resources as he could to giving contract extensions to Kenny Clark and David Bakhtiari last year, and re-signing Aaron Jones this spring before he hit the open market.

Those moves, plus the re-signing of Kevin King and various contract restructures to fit other veteran players under the cap and keep them in Green Bay, were the priorities over bringing in outside players and revamping the roster.

"The way I look at is we were able to sign the No. 1 running back on the market, the No. 1 left tackle on the market and the No. 1 defensive tackle on the market. So, they just happened to all play for us, which is great. Kudos to Ted Thompson there," Gutekunst said, referring to Jones, Bakhtiari and Clark all being drafted by his predecessor.

"We certainly did a lot, maybe a little bit outside of what we normally do as far as pushing money forward to continue to keep this team together so we can make another run.

"We realize the opportunity that is before us. We're a really good football team. We've been knocking on the door for two years and we'd like to finish that."

3. All signs are positive on Bakhtiari's recovery from ACL surgery.

Gutekunst didn't put a timeline on the veteran left tackle's return in 2021 from his late December injury, but when Bakhtiari left Green Bay 3-4 weeks ago he was "way ahead of schedule." Regarding the possibility of Bakhtiari being ready for Week 1 in September, "Nothing would shock me," Gutekunst noted.

That said, the team will be very careful with the five-time All-Pro as he works his way back.

"We have a lot of confidence in David and the way he takes care of his body, the way he works, how important it is to him, what a professional he is, that he's going to be on target with all that stuff," Gutekunst said.

"We're going to make sure we do the right thing as we go through his rehab and protect him a little bit from himself, because he's a grinder and he's going to push himself as hard as he can to get back."

4. As he's done in the first round of all three of his drafts as GM, Gutekunst is always looking to trade up if the right player is there, but he takes a disciplined approach so as not to overpay to make the move.

With the Packers owning the 29th pick in the first round, Gutekunst said it's "always tempting" to trade up as really good players go flying off the board.

"You gotta be careful not to fall in love with any one individual player," he said. "If it makes sense, we certainly won't be afraid to do that."

Keeping the core of the team together through his offseason moves has left no glaring hole in the starting lineup if the Packers had to play a game this weekend, and Gutekunst likes having that flexibility as he works the draft board.

"We have a very good football team coming back, which gives me a little more freedom, I think, as we attack the board, to go with the best player," he said. "But if we have a chance to move up to take a specific player that we feel is special, I think you have to always consider that."

5. The board is built, but the unusual circumstances over the past year have put players on it Gutekunst has never seen in person.

Between visiting campuses in the fall and going to the combine in Indianapolis in February, Gutekunst normally gets a first-hand look at every player the Packers are considering drafting.

But traveling restrictions and campus limitations during the college season, combined with the lack of a combine this past winter, have changed that for 2021.

"This will be the first year I can remember going into a draft where I didn't feel like I saw pretty much every player on our board to some extent," he said, adding that he did get to about a dozen campus pro days in recent months, more than he would normally attend in person, to try to see more players.

"There's guys we will draft that I haven't actually seen live."

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