Packers GM here to win (and win now) even without Khalil Mack

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When Brian Gutekunst maneuvered through his first draft as general manager and landed not only one of the highest-rated cornerbacks in Jaire Alexander but also walked away with another first-round pick in 2019, his boss lauded him for his savvy.

"He handled it like a seasoned veteran," Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy said after the draft.

That extra first-round pick, acquired from the New Orleans Saints, no doubt would come in handy.

But it didn't this weekend.

Gutekunst wasn't willing to part with both of his 2019 first-round picks to try to acquire stud pass rusher Khalil Mack in a trade with the Oakland Raiders. A source told ESPN.com that Gutekunst would not include both of those selections in his offer to Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, Gutekunst's former co-worker in Green Bay.

In Sunday's news conference to discuss Saturday's cuts, Gutekunst would not say why he was unwilling to part with two first-rounders.

"I would never talk about the discussions I had with another team, about anything," he said. "There's been a lot of trade discussions that have gone on over the last few days, actually the last few weeks. I'll say as you go through those, you know, a lot of discussions happen more than deals get done. A lot of times it just ends up what a certain team might be looking for you may not have and those are some of the things that happen. But, we were able to make a few trades over the last week and I thought it helped our football team."

But not the big one that could have changed their defense.

That Mack ended up with the rival Chicago Bears -- who gave up first-round picks in 2019 and 2020, a third-round pick in 2020 and a sixth-round pick in 2019 (and in return received a second-round pick in 2020 and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2020) for Mack -- and will face the Packers in Sunday night's season opener at Lambeau Field did not seem to faze Gutekunst, either.

"Really, over this week, we're more concerned about our team and really feel good about where we are right now and where we're heading," he said. "I look forward to the regular season."

Gutekunst no doubt put some more wear and tear this weekend on the carpet between his office and the Packers' draft room -- where he does most of the work with staff -- while he wrestled with the idea of mortgaging the future for the chance to win now. That's more difficult in the NFL because so few non-quarterbacks can have that kind of impact.

That the Packers wrapped up the four-year, $134 million contract extension for Aaron Rodgers last week gave Gutekunst a clear picture of where he stood from a salary-cap standpoint both this year and down the road. Rodgers' cap number for 2018 ($20.9 million) did not change significantly, meaning he still had about $11 million to play with for this season.

The six-year, $141 million contract extension that Mack almost immediately signed with the Bears left him a salary-cap figure of reportedly $13.8 million for this season. The cap charges over the rest of the deal range between $22 million and $24.55 million. Gutekunst no doubt could have asked his contract negotiator Russ Ball to rework some deals or perhaps even cut a high-priced veteran to make room for Mack.

But assuming for the sake of the Packers' situation with Mack that the figures would be similar had Gutekunst traded for and signed him, the combination of the highest-paid offensive player (Rodgers) and the highest-paid defensive player (Mack) could handcuff the Packers' ability to field a competitive roster with their remaining 51 players in future years.

That's where giving up the two first-round picks would be a problem. With those kind of cap numbers, the Packers' best chance to acquire affordable impact players would be through the draft, where Gutekunst would then be void of first-round picks. That Mack ended up on a team with a quarterback still on his rookie contract was probably not a coincidence.

"I think my thought process is always winning," Gutekunst said. "Does this help us win? And if it does, then we're going to pursue it and see if we can make it work. Again, I've talked about things being a puzzle and you have to make it fit, and you certainly don't want to put yourself in a bind going forward. But we're here. We're here to win now, you know? I think as you go through that, it's really about that. Does this certain decision, this certain player, does it help you win? And if it does, then we'll attack that and see if we can make it work, you know? Again, when you go through those things it's a two-way street. It has to work that way. That's kind of how I look at it."

It has been years since a Packers general manager addressed reporters following final cuts, so the fact that Gutekunst made himself available on Sunday gave fans an opportunity to hear at least some discussion of why he did not make the move so many wanted.

It also provided some insight into where things stand with the roster -- with its unusual configuration that featured 12 players combined between receivers (eight) and tight ends (four) yet only six among running backs (two) and outside linebackers (four).

Gutekunst indicated that there were still injury issues to work through -- perhaps there's a player who could still go on injured reserve with the chance to be one of the two IR players who could return later in the year. But more specifically, he suggested that there could be some help on the way for running backs Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery. He added two backs -- halfback Joel Bouagnon and fullback Joe Kerridge -- to the practice squad on Sunday, when he filled eight of the 10 spots.

"I think that's maybe still in the works a little bit, but the two that we kept we like," Gutekunst said of the running back position. "And then Aaron [Jones] going on [a two-week] suspension, that's not a great thing for us. But that kind of put us in that spot. But that may be a little bit of an evolving position for us, as well. That's the thing about our roster right now, nothing's set in stone. It's still fluid and it will be all season."