GREEN BAY – Brian Gutekunst admitted he didn’t have it “mapped out.”
Yet it worked out in a satisfying way.
The Packers’ new general manager made multiple big decisions on his opening night in the big chair, first trading back 13 spots before trading up nine and picking up an extra first-round pick next year from New Orleans along the way.
After Thursday night’s first round of the NFL Draft concluded, Gutekunst sounded awfully happy just to have added Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander to the Packers’ secondary. Alexander was the second pure corner taken in the draft and one of the fastest overall players with a 4.38 40 time.
But Gutekunst got a lot more, even if what he got won’t help the 2018 Packers. Getting an extra 2019 first-round pick from the Saints was simply a rare opportunity, knowing he could move back up and still get a player of equivalent rank on his board.
“It was too good to pass up,” Gutekunst said. “Those first-round picks don’t come around too often.”
At his original 14th position, Gutekunst could have taken Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds or Florida State safety Derwin James, two players many experts had going earlier. The Packers had both in for pre-draft visits, so the interest was definitely there.
By making the moves he did, Gutekunst essentially declared Alexander their equal but believed he could get him a few spots later, recouping more value in the process. There was no guarantee he’d be able to find a trade partner to move back up, but he was willing to take his chances.
“I felt confident we could,” he said, which is something a GM can say when he enters a draft with a league-high 12 selections. He found that trading partner in former Green Bay colleague John Schneider, Seattle’s GM, and gave up this year’s third-rounder to climb back up the board. “The draft is one of those things you can’t predict, but I felt confident we could.”
Take a look inside Green Bay's Draft Room as Brian Gutekunst prepared for his first draft as the Packers' general manager. Photos by Evan Siegle, packers.com.
Gutekunst was in trade discussions all night, first to possibly move up from 14 until certain players went off the board. Then it became a question of sit and pick, or move back.
While a call offering a future first-rounder is going to give any GM pause, Gutekunst was ready to pounce on the offer.
“You go through all these scenarios,” he said. “I felt really prepared as the draft fell. There was no hesitation in it.”
The fruits of any first round are never known right away, and the additional first-rounder acquired for next year delays the evaluation of Gutekunst’s inaugural draft night even longer.
Fitting, though, given his two mentors ended up in sort of the same boat. Ron Wolf traded a first-round pick in 1992 for Brett Favre, who didn’t begin that season as a starting quarterback, and Ted Thompson with his first pick chose Aaron Rodgers, who didn’t take over the reins for three years.
Be that as it may, expectations will be high for Alexander, who joins last year’s first pick, Kevin King, to form a cornerback tandem of the future, with veterans Tramon Williams and Davon House around as the group’s seasoned leaders.
A bunch of other young guys such as Quinten Rollins, Josh Hawkins and Lenzy Pipkins are in the mix, too, and Gutekunst may not be done adding to the competition at a premier position.
“I don’t know if we ever feel like we’re set anywhere,” Gutekunst said. “Getting our defense to a championship level is something that’s still very much in progress.”
So is this draft, which has seen the Packers shuffle a handful of their Friday and Saturday picks as part of the two trades.
At this point, Gutekunst has one pick on Day 2, in the second round, and 10 on Day 3, with two in the fourth, four in the fifth, one in the sixth and three in the seventh.
Just a hunch – with that large a pile of picks, he’s not done shifting positions as he looks for pass rushers, receivers, tight ends and offensive linemen, to name a few.
“The way our board looks right now, I would assume we would move around a little bit,” he said. “We have a lot of picks.
“It was a fun day. We helped the Packers, and we’re excited for tomorrow and Saturday.
“We have a lot more to do.”