A new approach to free agency: Brian Gutekunst prepared to 'pull the trigger'

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's March 2018, and the Green Bay Packers have just signed a marquee free agent to bolster their struggling defense.

Shortly thereafter, their general manager walks into the Lambeau Field media auditorium to explain why he made the move.

When Ted Thompson held that job, he rarely did either one.

In another way in which the Brian Gutekunst era could differ significantly from his predecessor's, the Packers' new general manager is expected to take a different approach to free agency -- and be more willing to discuss his moves.

"We're not going to leave any stone unturned as far as every avenue of player acquisition," Gutekunst said at his introductory news conference earlier this week.

It's no wonder Gutekunst has been compared to another general manager from the Thompson-Ron Wolf tree, Seahawks GM John Schneider. Gutekunst is expected to lean more toward Schneider's aggressive approach to roster building.

"Our foundation's going to be the draft," Gutekunst said. "But I think [free agency] is an absolute must as an accessory piece. The thing that I've already told our guys is that we're not going to sign every player. We're not going to be able to make that the foundation of our team, but we want to be in it and we want to be in the know of everything that's going on and, if it makes sense for us, not to be afraid. We have to be prepared enough to pull the trigger. That's one of the areas I'm excited to kind of see how we go here, and I know our guys are excited about that part of it."

Thompson's reluctance to use free agency as anything more than an occasional tool blew up in his face this past season.

Many were duped into thinking that just because he signed Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks, Jahri Evans, Ahmad Brooks, Davon House and Ricky Jean Francois last offseason, Thompson had all of sudden changed his approach. In reality, he and contract negotiator Russ Ball, who was more heavily involved in personnel decisions than anyone realized, were just trying to make up for the players they let leave in free agency. In many cases -- most notably Bennett's -- they failed.

The result was a depleted roster that had no chance to overcome Aaron Rodgers' broken collarbone.

"I don't think we're very far away," Gutekunst said. "There is a substantial amount of work to be done, but I think it can be done shortly. I think there was a lot of reasons for what happened this year, and there's certain areas that needed to play better. We're still in the process of dissecting some of that and moving forward. But we're really, really excited about the opportunity before us.

"I think there's a window here in the next few months where there's some new coaches coming in and there's some new things that'll be done on the personnel side where we can really come together and move this ball forward."

Even though team president Mark Murphy assumed control over the head coach under the Packers' revamped organizational chart, the roster is Gutekunst's and his alone. If there's a dispute about whether a free agent is a good value or fits into the salary cap, Ball has no veto power.

"It's a roster decision, he has final say on it," Murphy said of Gutekunst.

Murphy pulled no punches when he explained why the reclusive Thompson did not appear at what was essentially his own farewell news conference last week.

"He doesn't enjoy dealing with the media," Murphy said. "If he had his way he would never have any interaction with the media."

The last time anyone heard from Thompson was in August, when he held the last of the league-mandated GM news conferences during training camp. The only other times he made himself available to the media were at the scouting combine, owners meetings and the draft.

Instead, coach Mike McCarthy was left to answer questions for the moves Thompson made -- or didn't make.

"I think I have a responsibility not only to the team and this organization but to the Packer fans alike," Gutekunst said. "I think a lot of times when there wasn't communication; there was perception. And I think if we can communicate clearly, I think that will take care of that."