GREEN BAY, Wis. -- This doesn’t seem like the time or place for the Green Bay Packers to take a quarterback in the first round of the NFL draft.
So why did they conduct a predraft visit with one of the top prospects, Missouri’s Drew Lock?
Was it part of a succession plan for Aaron Rodgers or subterfuge?
Rodgers is at the same age, 35, as Brett Favre was when the Packers drafted Rodgers at No. 24 overall in the 2005 draft. But at the time, Favre had already begun his annual retirement waffling. Rodgers has repeated his desire to play into his 40s and is less than a year removed from signing the $134 million contract extension that runs through the 2023 season.
At some point, Brian Gutekunst will have to find Rodgers’ eventual replacement. In fact, it may define his tenure as general manager. But even with two first-round picks -- Nos. 12 and 30 -- that career-defining pick might not happen in this week’s draft.
“I think the whole succession plan thing, I think is a little bit overhyped or whatever,” Gutekunst said Monday during the annual GM predraft meeting with reporters. “I go back to when I first started and certainly when Ted [Thompson] came back [as GM in 2005], we value that position extremely highly. And I think every year we spent a lot of time on quarterbacks and try to figure out what kind of players those guys are going to be in the NFL. I think it’s really, really important to us because if you don’t have one it’s really tough to win in this league. So, you know, for us it’s just about each and every year trying to decide which of the guys that could potentially be starters in this league and difference maker-type players. And then if you ever have an opportunity to take them sometime in the draft and it’s the best thing for your team, I don’t think you can hesitate with that, you know?
“Again, we’re lucky to have the best player in the NFL playing that position right now. But at the same time, just like I was talking about before, your needs can change just like that. So, I think it was just doing due diligence. There’s always questions, specifically with those guys, maybe that are a little more thorough and more in depth that you’ve got to get to the bottom of and so we were trying to do that.”
Rodgers’ reputation has taken a bit of a hit the past two years -- first with another major injury in the broken collarbone of 2017 and then with last season’s uncharacteristically inconsistent performance that in part led to the end of Mike McCarthy’s nearly 13-year tenure as head coach.
Still, Lock’s visit to Green Bay as one of the 30 allowed predraft visits came as a surprise to those around the league. The Missouri star, profiled here by ESPN’s Kevin Seifert, was the only one of the top quarterbacks on the Packers’ visit list that was highlighted by a couple of the top offensive tackles (Alabama’s Jonah Williams and Washington State’s Andre Dillard) and some players with medical histories (Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons, both of Mississippi State).
"Certainly, there's a medical part of it,” Gutekunst said. “There was a bunch of guys not at the combine that we needed medical grades on. That's part of it. A lot of it is just trying to get to know guys a little bit more. There were some unanswered questions that when we came out of the combine or pro days that we didn't feel like we had answered. And then sometimes there's just some subterfuge thrown in there as well."
There’s no denying that Gutekunst’s active approach to free agency in his second year in charge of the roster gave him flexibility when it comes to picks 12 and 30. His signing of three defensive starters -- pass-rushers Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith plus safety Adrian Amos -- filled some holes. And on offense, his signing of guard/tackle Billy Turner plus the unexpected return of guard Cole Madison, the 2018 fifth-round pick who missed all of last season while dealing with a personal issue, helped as well.
“With some of the things that we’ve done, I think where our team sits today, I’m not super concerned about, ‘Hey, we absolutely have to do this or absolutely have to do that,’” Gutekunst said. “We can sit back, see where the draft board is strong, try to get there and then take the best players available. We’ve always looked at this as a long-term type thing -- the draft, specifically. I think it’s a really good draft overall and I think we have a chance to help our team.”