No matter what Brian Gutekunst does in the short term, his legacy as Green Bay Packers general manager will come down to one thing: Whether he can find the next franchise quarterback without interruption.
It doesn’t have to be this year or next or even the one after that, but at some point Gutekunst will have to find Aaron Rodgers’ successor just like Ted Thompson found Brett Favre’s.
“I don’t think I’m thinking out that far right now,” Gutekunst said last week, less than two months into his tenure as GM. “But yeah, I know what you’re saying.”
Rodgers practically fell into Thompson’s lap in the 2005 draft, but all credit goes to him for taking the quarterback — unlike the slew of GMs who let Rodgers pass all the way to No. 24 — even though Favre was still productive.
Ron Wolf made the Pro Football Hall of Fame in part because one of his first acts as Packers GM was trading a first-round pick for Favre in 1992. Thompson made Rodgers his first draft pick as a GM, and it will go down as his greatest move. Mike Sherman, the former coach who doubled as the Packers’ GM during the time between Wolf and Thompson, never had to worry about finding the next franchise quarterback.
It was practically a given that whoever followed Thompson would have that unenviable task.
Rodgers turned 34 on Dec. 2, and given that he has been vocal about wanting to play until he’s at least 40, the urgency factor isn’t there like it was for Wolf when he was hired in 1991.
Favre was 35 when the Packers drafted Rodgers, but by then he already had been contemplating retirement. It turned out Thompson could have waited to draft a first-round quarterback because Favre played three more years for the Packers and another three after they traded him. Rodgers’ presence likely accelerated the end of Favre’s time in Green Bay.
The Packers and Rodgers have begun negotiations on a contract extension, and Gutekunst would like it done this offseason even though Rodgers is signed through 2019.
However, given that Gutekunst signed a five-year deal when he was hired in January, at some point bringing in the next quarterback will likely be his call.
“I’ll say this: It’s nice seeing the experience of going from one [quarterback] to the next, seeing that happen and the way it was handled,” said Gutekunst, who was a Packers scout when they drafted Rodgers. “It’s nice being part of that.”
Next month’s draft is quarterback-heavy at the top. ESPN’s Todd McShay projected three quarterbacks will be selected in the top 11, and four in the top 15, in his latest mock draft. He has a fifth, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, also going in the first round.
What if a scenario played out like it did in 2005, when the 49ers picked Alex Smith over Rodgers at No. 1 and Rodgers fell? Sam Darnold is expected to go to the Browns (who hold the first and fourth picks), but what if Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield or Josh Rosen is there when the Packers pick at No. 14?
It was at the combine last week when Gutekunst was asked about drafting the Packers’ next quarterback. In the middle of his answer, coach Mike McCarthy entered the room.
“They’re talking about the next long-term franchise quarterback,” Gutekunst told McCarthy. “Like we’re worried about this franchise quarterback, right?”
McCarthy joked that, by then, he’ll be sitting on a recliner somewhere.
“I think what develops the next franchise quarterback is your quarterback room,” McCarthy said. “It’s your quarterback structure. Aaron Rodgers, I think he’s exceptional with what he passes forward. Because it’s all about passing forward. I can sit there — now, my five-step drop is sweet because it’s technically correct — but I guarantee you if Aaron does a five-step drop, they’re going to watch him and listen to his words as opposed to mine. That’s where development comes.
“Then obviously Brian and those guys will add to it with the individuals, but that’s probably more of a question of at what point do you jump up and take somebody.”
Aaron Rodgers could soon claim the mantle of highest paid-quarterback in the NFL from Jimmy Garoppolo’s grasp.
Earlier this month, the latter signed a five-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers worth an eye-watering $137.5 million, which made him the highest-paid player in the league.
However, the Green Bay Packers are reportedly working on a deal for Rodgers that would trump Garoppolo’s.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Packers President Mark Murphy said the 13-time league winners were making “progress” over a new contract for the 34-year-old, with General Manager Brian Gutekunst and Executive Vice President/Director of Football Operations Russ Ball both involved in negotiations with Rodgers’s agent.
“We’ve had discussions with his representative,” Murphy said at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, as reported by ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. “I have a lot of confidence in Brian and Russ and Aaron as well. We want to create a win-win.”
In 2013, Rodgers became the league’s biggest earner after penning a five-year extension worth a combined $110 million. He has since slipped down the rankings and is now sixth in the list of best-paid players in the NFL.
Last year, Rodgers was instrumental in the Packers’ excellent start to the season, throwing 13 touchdowns and three interceptions as his team raced to a 4-1 start, before he broke his collarbone in a loss against the Minnesota Vikings on October 15.
The two-time league MVP was initially ruled out for the remainder of the campaign, but managed to return against the Carolina Panthers on 17 December and finished with 290 passing yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in a 24–31 defeat.
The Packers, meanwhile, finished the regular season with a 7-9 record and missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
The California native, who has spent his whole NFL career with the Packers since he was drafted in the first round in 2005, will turn 35 in December but has previously indicated his intention to play until he is at least 40. The deal he is expected to sign would keep him under contract through to his 41st birthday.
Rodgers is set to pocket $20.9 million this season and $21.1 million in 2019, while the Packers are expected to have approximately $16 million worth of salary cap space ahead of the free agent season, which opens next month.
Although players can’t officially sign deals until March 14, teams will be allowed to speak to free agents and their representatives from two days earlier.