GREEN BAY – General Manager Brian Gutekunst addressed the media for roughly a half hour Thursday to wrap up the Packers' 2023 season.
Here are five things we learned:
- A new contract for QB Jordan Love is on the horizon.
Gutekunst indicated negotiations will probably begin within the next couple of months, and he couldn't be happier with where the Packers are at the game's most important position.
"We are really excited to build around him," he said of Love. "Just the way he led our football team through the tough times, through the success, all the challenges that a season kind of brings you … for a young player in his first year that's trying to figure it all out, that was exceptional."
Love isn't done growing and improving in Gutekunst's eyes, either, not with how dramatically he raised the level of his game and the offense's production over the second half of the season and into the playoffs.
The concurrent progress of the young playmakers around him, for which Gutekunst gave "a ton of credit" to Head Coach Matt LaFleur and his offensive staff, ultimately made the offense "very dangerous."
The way Love took even greater command at the line of scrimmage down the stretch was another aspect that stood out
"He's got so much more in front of him," Gutekunst said of Love. "As good as he played at times this year, there's a very, very high upside.
"I've always talked about how there's usually a progression there where you go from playing, to playing well, to winning. He did that in pretty short order in Season 1. Very excited where he can go."
- He plans to learn more about how new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley wants to build the defense.
Gutekunst's doesn't see Hafley's arrival and any system he wants to implement spurring a jettisoning of players or a revamping of the scouting process for new acquisitions.
But there will be a level of communication and collaboration with how the personnel and approach will mesh once Hafley gets going.
"He's very, very well respected in the league and someone that I know has been highly respected for a long time," Gutekunst said. "I love the fact that he has some head coaching background, I think that'll help us and help Matt as we go forward, and I'm just really looking forward to working with him and getting him to know more.
"Our initial conversations, and obviously Matt had a lot more than I did, but just really excited about some of his thoughts and where he could take our roster."
Jones' contract might have to be adjusted again, but Gutekunst has no plans to move on from him despite Jones entering that red-flag age-30 season in '24. Five straight 100-yard rushing games from him in December and January, plus the leadership he brought to the locker room, feel irreplaceable right now.
"He was such a difference-maker when he was out there this year, the way our offense was able to move," Gutekunst said. "He changed a lot of the way we operated when he was in there and when he was healthy.
"He's just really the heartbeat of our team."
Gutekunst also offered a quick and direct "no" when asked whether he'd consider trading Alexander following an injury-filled season and the one-game suspension handed down late in the year.
"Those things are difficult and those are tough," he said. "But at the end of the day it allowed us all to reset. I'm really proud of the way Jaire responded to that. I really think that's going to help us moving forward."
- The key word pertaining to the upcoming free-agency period and draft is flexibility.
Back in the 2020-21 seasons, the Packers restructured a lot of veteran contracts to keep their championship-contending team together despite significant salary-cap constraints. Pushing those cap charges into the future had limited the team's options in free agency of late.
With the cap in better shape now, the Packers hope they've put the worst of those constraints behind them, giving them more current financial flexibility. Creating room is once again an option in free agency if the right opportunity comes along.
"It just depends on the player, right?" Gutekunst said. "It depends on who that is and how he can impact our football team.
"I don't think we'll shy away from adding impact players if we have to push things down the road. We'd prefer not to do that, but at the same time, this is about winning and trying to win a championship, so if that's something that makes sense, we'll do it."
Gutekunst also owns five selections in the first three rounds of April's draft, and the team expects to have 11 picks in all after compensatory selections are awarded. Those picks, at the top of the draft in particular, could be used to stockpile more young talent and/or move around the draft board for certain targets.
"Along with just being in a little better cap situation and having a little more flexibility there, it just gives us an ability to help the football team more," he said.
- He reiterated LaFleur's message that nothing is guaranteed, no matter how bright the future looks.
The promising stretch run and obvious growth and improvement of the young players has infused tremendous excitement and anticipation into 2024.
But, as LaFleur noted when he wrapped up the season with the media last week, nothing's a given, and it's up to everyone involved to look at the next season as a new opportunity with new challenges ahead.
"Every year is a different year," Gutekunst said. "The big thing for (the rookies) going into Year 2 is understanding just because they had some success in Year 1 doesn't mean that their spots are safe, and that they better be working and be ready to compete once we get rolling.
"Again, their future is bright, but it's really kind of what they do from here on out."