By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Gutekunst’s restraint protects future as season of great expectations kicks off
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Brian Gutekunst has mastered one of the most important aspects of being an NFL general manager: Discipline in the face of a “win at all costs” mentality.
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It’s easy for Packers fans to say, “Trade two first-round picks and whatever else Oakland wants in return for Khalil Mack.” Fans see a possible Super Bowl berth with little concern for the team’s future in terms of fiscal viability and the draft.
Fans have to live with the short-term consequences, of course, but they don’t have to justify the move if it fails miserably. They merely blame the GM and demand that he be fired.
The fact is Packers fans wouldn’t have two first-round picks to trade if it weren’t for Gutekunst’s draft-day brilliance. Instead of selecting a pass rusher with the 14th pick, Gutekunst held firm to his board and drafted the best available player – a cornerback.
Further, he didn’t reach in the second round for a pass rusher, either. He selected the best available player on their board – another cornerback.
Those decisions forge trust within the coaches and scouting department. That can’t be overstated.
Trust me on this.
No one knows better than Gutekunst the need for a top-flight pass rusher. I suspect he would agree with fans on the point that Mack likely would give their Packers an improved defense.
Perhaps even a championship-caliber defense.
But at what cost to the Packers?
This isn’t fantasy football.
This is about the Packers’ ability to field a championship-caliber team this season and beyond.
The Chicago Bears traded their first-round picks in 2019 and 2020, plus a third-round pick in 2020 and a sixth-rounder in ’19.
They also agreed to pay Mack an average of $23.5 million per year during the next six seasons.
The move raised the Bears’ odds to win the Super Bowl from a 100-to-1 long-shot to a 40-to-1 long-shot. Nevertheless, I don’t recall hearing Bears fans predicting any championships.
If anything happens to prevent Mack from being the player he’s been in Oakland, the Bears’ present AND future are hamstrung.
Meantime, the Packers maintained 14-to-1 odds to get to the Super Bowl this season. That’s without Mack.
Now, instead of going on about the correctness of Gutekunst’s decision to pass on Mack, I’d like to talk about the moves the Packers’ new GM has made in the past week:
** The Packers signed Aaron Rodgers to a four-year, $134 million contract extension. It makes him the highest-paid player in league history. It also keeps him in Green Bay for the balance of his NFL career.
The Packers could have done so and still traded for and signed Mack, but just being able to do something doesn’t make it wise. In fact, I have changed my opinion on a Mack trade. When the possibility was pitched I thought it would be worth it even if the price was two first-round picks and a veteran player.
I was wrong.
The Packers have a terrific chance to win the Super Bowl this season. And that’s without mortgaging the future.
They have a revamped defense with a new coordinator. They also have added Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Mo Wilkerson, Tramon Williams and others in free agency.
** Gutekunst traded backup quarterback Brett Hundley to Seattle in exchange for a sixth-round pick next year. It’s a good return on the investment of a fifth-round pick three years ago. It also paved the way for DeShone Kizer – another player acquired via trade – to become the full-fledged backup quarterback.
It is a considerable upgrade at a position of potentially great significance.
** Gutekunst, in concert with head coach Mike McCarthy, continues to alter and improve the roster going into Week 1.
They traded for Colts linebacker Antonio Morrison and continue to scour the waiver wire for potential help.
In fact, the mere notion that the Packers were involved in trade talks with the Raiders indicates Gutekunst’s willingness to explore all options to improve the team. That doesn’t mean he has to give away the farm to make a deal.
Ultimately, the question is this: How prepared are the Packers to make a title run in this 100th anniversary season? I’d have to say exceedingly prepared given where they were a year ago.
It begins with the Bears-Packers game Sunday night at Lambeau Field. Interestingly, Packers fans most likely will see Rodgers and the offense try to neutralize the Bears’ newest acquisition.
Whatever impact Mack may have is debatable. There is talk that Mack may play on a limited basis. That’s in a new defense without the benefit of training camp or preseason games to get acclimated.
Meantime, the Packers’ mission remains the same: Protect Rodgers from elite pass rushers, light up the scoreboard and allow Mike Pettine’s defense to wreak havoc.
I’d take Jimmy Graham over Khalil Mack in a heartbeat.
Given the way rookie cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson have played, I’d take them over any pass rusher that was available when they were selected.
The decision not to trade for Mack isn’t going to define the season. The Packers’ chances for success don’t hinge on one player, unless that player is Aaron Rodgers.
Last time I checked he’ll be playing quarterback for the Packers for a long, long time.
There’s a reason the Bears have struggled for so long. It’s because of weak GMs, mediocre coaches and a penchant for mortgaging the future in hopes of hitting the jackpot.
As for Mack, history will decide if Oakland head coach Jon Gruden’s decision to trade his best defensive player was wise. It also remains to be seen if the Bears were smart to pin their hopes on a pass rusher that cost a ton. The last time the Bears traded two first-round picks it was for Jay Cutler. That didn’t work out so well in Chicago.
The Packers were wise to pass on Mack.
Now they can look forward to passing on the Bears’ defense. If Mack singlehandedly beats the Packers, it won’t be because Green Bay didn’t trade for him. It will be because tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga weren’t up to the task.
No more, no less.
Prediction: Packers 31, Bears 17 in a game that shows it’s more difficult to defend a tight end such as Graham than to slow down a pass rusher such as Mack.