GREEN BAY, Wis. – Two things could have occurred Tuesday that would have revealed exactly what the Green Bay Packers think about the rest of their season: a trade to acquire a player (or players) or a trade to send a player (or players) away for draft picks.
That general manager Brian Gutekunst couldn’t consummate a deal before the NFL trade deadline left the outlook for the next 10 weeks (and perhaps beyond if there’s a playoff berth) more up to chance.
It was easier to explain in 2019, 2020 and 2021 why Gutekunst stood pat at the trade deadline. The Packers were 7-1, 5-2 and 7-1 in those respective seasons when NFL trading ceased for the year. Gutekunst clearly thought he had enough to make a Super Bowl run in those years.
At 3-5 and currently one game out of what would be the last playoff spot in a muddled NFC, this season could go either way. Which helps explain why Gutekunst worked the trade market but wasn’t willing to go beyond his limits.
The fifth-year GM zeroed in not just on the receiver market but also tight ends. In the end, however, players he coveted either did not get traded or went to other teams. One example of the latter was receiver Chase Claypool, who was their top receiver target, according to a source with direct knowledge of Tuesday's trade negotiations.
The Packers were believed to be in on Claypool late until the Bears offered a second-round pick to the Steelers. Even if the Packers’ offer was in the same round, the Steelers almost certainly believed the Bears’ pick would be higher in the round. For Gutekunst, parting with a first-round pick was a non-starter.
“I have had conversations with Brian the past few weeks, I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on "The Pat McAfee Show" a few hours before the 4 p.m. ET trade deadline. “But I’m not surprised to learn that maybe we were in on the Claypool [talks]."
As for tight ends, there was one who got traded -- the Lions sent T.J. Hockenson (plus two draft picks) to the Vikings for second- and third-round picks. It’s unclear whether Gutekunst had interest in Hockenson, but it was a position he explored and likely believed could have helped the Packers’ offense even more than a receiver.
In any case, the Packers were not looking for a rent-a-player, i.e., someone in the final year of his contract. But taking on a player such as Houston Texans receiver Brandin Cooks would have been nearly impossible because of future salary-cap considerations. And just because players were available, doesn’t mean Gutekunst or LaFleur liked them.
At the end of the day, Gutekunst was back to the team he assembled for 2022. When he reupped with Rodgers in March and gave him a $40.8 million signing bonus, he was locked into trying to win now. Even if he could not have foreseen receiver Davante Adams’ trade demand coming, he had plenty of time to account for it in free agency and the draft.
When the Packers started 3-1 despite some uneven play, there was reason to believe it was an ideal start for a team that would improve as the season progressed.
Perhaps Gutekunst still thinks that way now, even though his team has a four-game losing streak heading into Sunday’s game at the 1-6 Lions (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
There’s still a chance for a waiver-wire addition or a free-agent signing like Odell Beckham Jr. They were interested in Beckham last season before he went to the Rams, but he is not ready to return from last season’s knee injury.
At this point, the team he handed coach Matt LaFleur in September looks a lot like the team LaFleur and his staff will coach the rest of the way, assuming they get some key injured players back soon.
"I think that as a whole, as a team, we have to play better complementary football and then we might not be having this conversation," LaFleur said. "It hasn't been consistent at all. It's one side is doing it, the other side isn't. You've got to play complementary football and understand that there's going to be some moments where one side of the ball may be struggling. That's where the other side of the ball has to kind of pick it up."