Packers hit 'home run' with Brian Gutekunst as GM, but questions linger

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Here’s how one highly placed source at Lambeau Field handicapped the Green Bay Packers' general manager race: “John Schneider would be a grand slam, but Brian Gutekunst would be a home run.”

Short of luring Schneider out of Seattle, the hiring of Gutekunst, the team's director of player personnel since 2016, might have been the best-case scenario to both keep continuity and rebuild the Packers after a drop-off in the talent level that was exposed this season when Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone.

The Packers are expected to introduce the 44-year-old Gutekunst as their new GM on Monday. The Packers announced Tuesday that Ted Thompson would no longer be in charge of the team's personnel department but would remain senior adviser to football operations.

Among internal candidates, Gutekunst offered the best combination of scouting experience -- both on the pro and college side -- and people skills. This should offer coach Mike McCarthy the kind of pairing he’s looking for: a partner in roster building and the front-facing parts of the job.

Both Eliot Wolf and Russ Ball -- the other two in-house candidates considered by team president Mark Murphy -- came with plenty of upside as well. At age 35, Wolf is viewed as a dynamo in the area of pro scouting. The 58-year-old Ball, meanwhile, is masterful contract negotiator and salary-cap manager. When have the Packers entered into a bad contract or been in salary-cap hell since Ball took over in 2008?

The Packers risk losing Wolf, most likely to Cleveland, where former Green Bay scout John Dorsey already hired Alonzo Highsmith away from the Packers and would love the chance to bring on Wolf.

But if Ball can work under Gutekunst, the Packers want him to continue to manage their player-finance area. A raise and a promotion in title might do the trick because unlike Wolf, Ball probably wouldn’t have as many options to become a GM down the road.

The internal reluctance to hire Ball was rooted in the idea that he would be a continuation of the Ted Thompson way, i.e., largely ignoring free agency and relying heavily on the draft. In fact, Ball has had a large role in the Packers’ roster-building efforts the past two seasons as Thompson, 64, aged and cut back his schedule. It's believed that Ball actually made the call on whether to re-sign free agents Julius Peppers and Micah Hyde last offseason.

Murphy said last week that the new general manager will be free to build the roster any way he sees fit, and that includes a more aggressive approach to free agency. Yes, Gutekunst worked under Thompson, so he’s likely to share some of the same views, but he’s expected to be more aggressive with veteran players.

Gutekunst also should be a more forward-facing leader of the personnel department. As Murphy joked last week, it would be hard to imagine the next GM being less visible and less accessible than Thompson, who left McCarthy to always have to answer in-season questions about roster moves.

For example, it was McCarthy who in 2008 had to be the main spokesman during the Brett Favre saga. In more recent times, it was McCarthy who had to answer for why the Packers surprisingly cut Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton right before the 2016 season opener or the Martellus Bennett situation this past season.

Issues remain after Gutekunst’s promotion. For one, where does it leave the Packers’ relationship with the Wolfs? Yes, Eliot is young enough and has plenty of time to find a GM job, although unless he’s willing to wait years, it won’t be with the Packers. And although former GM Ron Wolf hired Gutekunst, he hoped his son would someday hold his old job.