PHOENIX – Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst spoke with the Green Bay media corps from the NFL Annual Meetings on Monday afternoon.
Here are five things we learned:
1. Conversations are ongoing between the Packers and New York Jets on a trade for Aaron Rodgers.
While there is no set timeline for a deal, Gutekunst said he's "confident" the Packers and Jets will "be able to reach a conclusion at some point."
Once it was communicated to the Packers that Rodgers desired to be in New York, Gutekunst said he began discussions with Jets general manager Joe Douglas on the parameters of a deal. Calls and communication have remained "consistent" between the two sides.
Asked whether the Jets' first-round pick (No. 13 overall) in 2023 needed to be a part of a trade, Gutekunst said that's "not a necessity," but the Packers expect to receive compensation commensurate with Rodgers' standing as a four-time NFL MVP and future Pro Football Hall of Famer.
"Hopefully, we get this thing done (before the summer) but as long as it takes," said Gutekunst when asked about a timeline. "I think it has to work for both parties and I think we're both committed to figuring that out. "It's really kind of in their court right now. We'll kind of see where it goes."
From Gutekunst's perspective, it would be great if some of the draft capital came this year, but the Packers will adapt to however negotiations play out. In the meantime, there's plenty of optimism within the building over former first-round pick Jordan Love stepping into the starting role.
"We're excited about what Jordan can do for us and our whole team will come together around that," Gutekunst said. "It's complex. It's hard. It's complicated, but at the same time, I think once we got down the road and knew what Aaron wanted, we've been trying to facilitate that."
Admittedly, there are mixed emotions in possibly trading a generational talent like Rodgers, the longest-tenured player in franchise history who set numerous NFL records during his 18 seasons with the Packers. But the Packers knew the day would eventually come that there would be a new starting QB in Green Bay.
Much like it did 15 years ago when Gutekunst's predecessor, Ted Thompson, made the difficult decision to send Brett Favre to the Jets, a seismic trade that opened the door for Rodgers' own Hall of Fame career.
"When you've got great players who've done so much for your organization, it's a little bit bittersweet," Gutekunst said. "At the same time, at some point, Aaron was not going to be our quarterback. That's life in the National Football League. So, yeah, I'm sure there will be a pause and a moment, but at the same time as a football team, I think we're excited for what the future brings and we're just going to keep moving forward."
2. Steady progression put Love in a position to start for the Packers.
The sample size might be small, but Green Bay likes everything it's seen thus far from Love.
Things accelerated the past two summers when the 2020 first-round pick took a majority of the reps with the first-team offense, while Rodgers was away from the team during the voluntary offseason program.
After seeing a full slate of preseason action this past year, Love looked poised and confident when he replaced an injured Rodgers this past November on the road in Philadelphia. He completed 6-of-9 passes for 113 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown pass to promising rookie Christian Watson.
"It's been a steady progression since he got here," Gutekunst said. "He kind of came in in the COVID year and all the different challenges that were thrown at him. He was a pretty young man at the time, as well. The work ethic I think has always been there and I think with a lot of these young players, that Year 3, you do seem to see a lot of things and we saw it from him. I've mentioned it before, but it's just time for him to play."
Love has been a model student the past three years, regardless of whether he's working with Head Coach Matt LaFleur, quarterbacks coach Tom Clements or Rodgers, himself. Obviously, Love likely will encounter some adversity as a first-year starting QB, but Gutekunst points out that it's not a bad thing to "get those scars … so he can be successful moving forward."
"Jordan's been put in some tough situations, just like Aaron was way back in his time," Gutekunst said. "I think it's really a credit to Jordan how he's handled that and how professional he's been through this, him and his representatives and we've been in kind of constant communication with them and him and I think he's got a really good outlook on this. He understands there's so much out of his control, but I know he's really preparing, and I think he's really excited for this opportunity and we are as well."
As the Packers work through their situation with Rodgers, Gutekunst said the organization hasn't made a formal decision yet on exercising Love's fifth-year option before the May 1 deadline.
3. Gutekunst wouldn't mind having a veteran QB backup on the roster if Rodgers is traded.
If Rodgers is traded, the question becomes who will back Love up in 2023?
Danny Etling could be a candidate after the former LSU quarterback spent all of last season on Green Bay's practice squad. The Packers also could use one of their 10 picks in next month's draft to select someone or sign a veteran during the second wave of free agency.
"I think it would be nice to have someone who has some experience," Gutekunst said. "We have a lot of respect for Danny and what he's done and would be very comfortable with him in the 2 spot, but I think we'll look at a lot of different options. Back when Aaron took over in 2008, it was Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn who we drafted that year and they were our backups, so I think we'll kind of see how that works itself out."
4. Decision to re-sign Keisean Nixon goes beyond his impact on special teams.
Gutekunst and Co. checked a major offseason box when they re-signed the NFL's leading kick returner earlier this month, but Nixon's extensive contributions on special teams weren't the only reason the Packers wanted him back.
Green Bay is just as excited about Nixon's potential as a nickel cornerback. The Packers began last season with Rasul Douglas serving in that role but moved Nixon to the slot after Eric Stokes suffered season-ending knee and ankle injuries against Detroit in Week 9.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound cornerback played a career-high 289 defensive snaps, while appearing in all 17 games with four starts. Nixon finished with 17 tackles (14 solo), an interception, two passes defensed and a forced fumble.
"He made such a big difference for our football team last year," Gutekunst said. "What he was able to do not only in the nickel but as a return specialist and different things on teams – he was one of the better gunners in the National Football League.
"We're really excited about not only the return stuff, but we think he's going to see a lot more time in the nickel this year, and we're all really excited about that, because when he was in there, he was really impactful."
5. The Packers' kicking situation is to be determined.
Green Bay currently has only one kicker on its offseason roster and his name is not Mason Crosby.
Two weeks into the start of the new league year, the franchise's all-time leading scorer remains an unrestricted free agent. Crosby, who turns 39 in September, converted 25 of 29 field goals (86.2%) last season but finished with 15 touchbacks on 74 kickoffs, a 20.3% rate that marked his lowest since the NFL moved kickoffs to the 35-yard line in 2010.
The only kicker on the Packers' offseason roster is former South Carolina standout Parker White, whom the Packers signed to a futures contract in January.
"We'll never close the door, we'll kind of see where that goes," said Gutekunst of Crosby. "Mason is the all-time leading scorer in this franchise's history, he had a good year this past year. Again, we're limited a little bit financially. But we'd never say never."