Could the future (quarterback) be now? Packers GM won’t rule it out

NFL

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Brian Gutekunst admitted early in his tenure as the Green Bay Packers’ general manager that one of his tasks will be to find Aaron Rodgers’ eventual replacement.

That was nearly two years ago.

With a team that was on the cusp of the Super Bowl last season and seemingly has only a couple of holes to fill to get over the hump, could this really be the year when Gutekunst makes a move for the long term?

“Sure,” Gutekunst said Friday. “You guys have heard me say this before: Everything I’ve been taught, that’s where you start, you start with the quarterback. So you evaluate them every year, and I think it’s always on the table. It’s a good crop this year. It’s a good group of quarterbacks. I think it’s a little deeper than it has been in the past. It will be interesting. But yeah, sure.”

The Packers have the No. 30 overall pick in the NFL draft, along with nine other picks (one each in the first five rounds plus three in the sixth and two in the seventh). Mel Kiper Jr. has four quarterbacks going in the first round in his latest mock draft, including three in the top 5. But the fourth, Washington’s Jacob Eason, was slotted all the way down at No. 23. Utah State’s Jordan Love also could end up in the first round.

Rodgers turned 36 in December — he’s a year older than Brett Favre was when the Packers drafted Rodgers in 2005.

Gutekunst, who was a Packers area scout at that time under then-GM Ted Thompson, called that move “courageous” because not everyone around Lambeau Field saw the benefits immediately.

“I do remember Mike Sherman was our head coach and there were a lot of people not real thrilled about that [pick] at the time,” Gutekunst said. “… Ted had been back for, what, three months? Something like that. Been on the job for three months. If you really look back at that, Brett Favre is your quarterback, coaching staff had been here, and Ted was [just] coming in. To have the courage at that time to do that, and what that one decision did for the organization for how many years later? That stuck with me. It could have been real easy to do something different. He thought that was the right thing to do, and he did it. That’s always stuck with me.”

Sherman wasn’t the only one unhappy with the pick. It angered Favre, too.

At that point, however, Favre already into his annual retirement contemplation. Rodgers has stated his goal to play through age 40, and perhaps beyond.

“Aaron didn’t play for three years and for three years people were probably saying well, that was a total waste,” Gutekunst said. “I just don’t think developing a young quarterback is; I don’t think that is a waste. You just don’t know when the time is going to be when you’re going to need [a young QB]. Or if you’re going to trade him to New Orleans like we did with Aaron Brooks or Matt Hasselbeck to Seattle. … I know this: If you make it a priority to develop quarterbacks, I think it’s going to be a positive for your organization.”

Rodgers said after the loss to the 49ers that he felt like their Super Bowl window is “open.”

“I really never try to look at it that way,” Gutekunst said. “I think I know where our team is at every year and what we need to do to try to help us win in the upcoming season. But, you know, I do think Aaron played at a really high level this past year, and I’m excited about Year 2 with [coach] Matt [LaFleur] and where those guys can go together. But I don’t think that that situation really affects the other as far as the quarterback stuff goes.”

Rodgers is under contract through the 2023 season, but the $134 million extension he signed in August 2018 actually allows the Packers to gain salary-cap space if they move on from him after the 2020 season.

Gutekunst also argued that picking a quarterback isn’t only about the future.

“Not every quarterback is as durable as Aaron is and gets through the season, so you have to be prepared for that,” he said. “Again, you know my experiences, Ron [Wolf] traded a first-round pick for a quarterback that nobody wanted [Favre]. Ted drafted a quarterback when he had a Hall of Fame guy sitting there who was going to play at least three more years. That’s kind of how I’ve seen it. My first 10 years in the league, it was Hasselbeck and Brooks and all those guys. Ron was able to turn those guys into picks down the line. I just think the quarterback position is so important that you can never not address it if you think you have an opportunity to take a player that can play in the league.”

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