While Gutekunst was a popular name in the past week, he wasn’t the early favorite, that title belonged to Russ Ball with folks inside the organization, and Eliot Wolf with fans. Ball had been the Vice President of Football Administration and Player Finance, handling contract negotiations for the team the past 10 years. While popular with agents around the league, it’s unclear how experienced he was as a talent evaluator. Despite no public comments being made, Ball was reportedly an unpopular candidate with coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Wolf, on the other hand, was popular largely for his namesake. The son of former Packers’ general manager Ron Wolf, Wolf is the Packers’ Director of Football Operations and has been with the team since 2004. The 35 year old Wolf may take a job with another team now that he’s been rejected as GM. But enough about who wasn’t hired, who is Brian Gutenkunst?
Hired as a scout in 1999, Gutenkunst served as a scout for his first 13 years with the organization before being promoted to Director of College Scouting in 2012. He held that position until 2016, when he was promoted to Director of Player Personnel. He was interviewed by the 49ers for their GM job a year ago, ultimately being offered the job and rejecting the offer, likely because he was not going to have the freedom to hire his own head coach The Texans asked to interview him for their current vacant GM job but that offer will certainly be rejected now that he’s being offered the Green Bay gig.
Now officially the man in Green Bay, Gutenkunst has complete control over the player makeup for the Packers. It’s unclear exactly how he’ll operate, but it would be a surprise if he deviated greatly from the draft first model implemented by Ted Thompson. That being said, don’t be surprised if Gutekunst does seek to take a more active role in free agency than the Packers have in the past. An interesting situation to keep an eye on will be how he handles the contracts of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Clay Matthews. The three players have a combined cap hit of roughly $36 million in 2018, and the team can save around $30 million by cutting all three. To put that in perspective, $30 million would more than double the available salary cap space the Packers have available. Gutekunst could look to restructure those contracts or cut those three outright as he tries to retool a Packers team coming off their worst season in almost a decade.
Another question to keep an eye on will be the status of Mike McCarthy. He has a reportedly strong relationship with the new GM, which could lead to a longer extension for him beyond 2019 in the near future. However, Gutekunst clearly values having a coach that’s on the same page as him, as demonstrated by his refusal to take the job in San Francisco a year ago. Even if he likes McCarthy, he’ll likely bring in his own coach in the next year or two if he thinks another person fits his vision best.
Ultimately, no one knows what will happen with Brian calling the shots. His hiring is a continuation with the tradition of scouts as shot callers in Green Bay ever since Ron Wolf was brought in in the early 90s. Early indications are that Gutekunst is a highly respected man in NFL circles who is relatively young, as far as GM’s go, at just 44 years old. The team and fans alike will be hoping that the fresh face can help take the Packers to the next level after they dropped two NFC Championships in the past 4 seasons and laid an egg after Aaron Rodgers got hurt in 2017.