Skip to main content

Dougherty: Brian Gutekunst's courageous decision takes Aaron Rodgers full circle


Pete Dougherty   | Packers News
play
Show Caption

GREEN BAY - Credit Brian Gutekunst for having the courage of his convictions.

The Green Bay Packers general manager pulled off a stunner Thursday night when he traded up from pick No. 30 to No. 26 in the NFL draft’s first round to select Aaron Rodgers’ possible successor.

That’s right, Gutekunst didn’t just sit and take Jordan Love at 30, which would have jolted the franchise as it was. He spent an extra fourth-round pick to move up four spots to get him. Wow.

The move shows Gutekunst wasn’t blowing smoke in this offseason when he declared he was open to drafting a quarterback in the first round even though the 36-year-old Rodgers has been adamant he wants to play at least four more years.

Gutekunst has worked for the Packers’ since 1999, so he’s had a front-row seat as they’ve been one of the league’s winningest franchises while going from one Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback (Brett Favre) to another future Hall of Famer (Rodgers).

He saw one of his mentors, Ted Thompson, do the exact same thing 15 years ago by picking Rodgers at No. 24 overall even though Favre was only 35 on that draft day. You can only imagine the stark impression it made on Gutekunst watching Thompson ride out that storm while Rodgers sat for three years and then enjoying the fruits of a quarterback who has won a Super Bowl, 65 percent of his starts and kept the Packers in title contention for most of the last decade.

“We know how important that position is,” Gutekunst said in a conference call a couple hours after making the pick.

Did Gutekunst make the right call? On that, nobody knows, and it probably will be a while before we find out. Love could end up sitting three years, just as Rodgers did. Then he’ll need a year to prove himself.

But you won’t find any knee-jerk criticism of the pick here. Yes, the Packers should be doing their all to win a Super Bowl now with Rodgers, and Love won’t help in that quest. But the quarterback position is just too important in this league, and Gutekunst clearly doesn’t want to get caught without one. I don’t blame him for a second for taking one if he thinks Love has a decent shot at being a winning starter in this league. The GM is looking out for the franchise long term. Mark Murphy, the team’s president, should be happy knowing that.

No doubt part of the team’s fan base is apoplectic. But they either have short memories or weren’t around when Thompson drafted Rodgers in ’05. It took five years to find out that move paid off, but is anybody going to try to argue now it wasn’t brilliant?

To be clear, that doesn’t mean the pick will end up being a good one. Love easily could bust – most quarterbacks, even first-rounders, do. But Gutekunst is paid to make hard decisions like this, and if he’s convinced Love can win a lot of games in this league, then he did what he had to do. If Gutekunst was understated in his praise of Love on Thursday, we should judge the GM by what he did, not what he said.

“We did draft him in the first round, so we like a lot about him,” Gutekunst said. “We think he has a very good upside to become a starter in the National Football League.”

The scouting community seemed very much split on Love going into this draft. Everyone acknowledged his exceptional arm talent and above-average athleticism, but his 17 interceptions last season while playing for a new coaching staff and with depleted offensive talent around him was a deal breaker for some evaluators.

“Overrated,” one high-ranking scout told me last week. “He can’t see it. He’s a big dude and he can throw the ball. I don’t think he has any understanding of the position.”

RELATED: Packers spring a surprise, draft QB Jordan Love

BIO: More about quarterback Jordan Love

DRAFT TRACKER: A look at Green Bay's 2020 picks

But we obviously can count Gutekunst in the camp of thinking there’s more there than just physical talent. The Packers GM wasn’t alone.

“To me it all comes back to how good they think Love is,” another high-ranking scout said when musing over whether the Packers should take Love if they got the chance. “… I watched Love a lot (in 2018) and really liked him. He was not as good this year, particularly early on. But he can still do everything you need. I think Green Bay would be a great place for him. He needs to sit for a couple years.”

As for Rodgers, well, I’m no Skip Bayless fan, but the talk-show pundit was on the money when he tweeted out right after the pick that Rodgers “just choked on his Scotch.” Did he ever. You can guarantee Rodgers is ticked. I would be, too. What good does it do him to draft his successor now?

But Gutekunst can’t worry about that. He also can’t worry about any coaches or veterans in the locker room grumbling about not adding immediate help. (If you don’t think there’s some of that, just go to YouTube and find the clip of former Packers executive Andrew Brandt telling of sitting exactly in the middle, with Thompson and his scouts on one side and coach Mike Sherman and his assistants on the other, when Thompson picked Rodgers).

In fact, this takes Rodgers full circle. Fifteen years ago, he was Jordan Love. Now he’s Favre – actually, he’s about 10 months older than Favre was when the Packers drafted Rodgers. He’s also only about four months younger than Tom Brady when the New England Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo.

Rodgers has said repeatedly he wants to play at least until he’s 40, so he didn’t put Gutekunst in a predicament by talking about retirement like Favre did. In that way, this wasn’t analogous to 15 years ago. But Rodgers also has had injury issues that Favre didn’t, so it’s hard to blame Gutekunst for hedging his bets there.

We already knew Rodgers was in the home stretch of his career. He has four years left on his contract, but now he might not see the end of that deal. You have to think Love won’t be ready to play for at least two years, perhaps three. But if Love shows promise, the Packers will want to eventually get him on the field, just like they thought Rodgers was ready to play in ‘08. If that’s the case, they could end up dealing Rodgers to another team. Then again, Brady outlasted Garoppolo in New England. So maybe Rodgers will do the same with Love.

But those are decisions for down the road. What we know now is Gutekunst has his franchise and fan base abuzz. He had a lot of players to pick from at positions of immediate need – inside linebackers Patrick Queen, Jordyn Brooks and Zack Baun; receivers Denzel Mims, Laviska Shenault, Michael Pittman Jr. and Tee Higgins; defensive lineman Ross Blacklock; tackles Ezra Cleveland and Josh Jones; and cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Trevon Diggs among them.

But Gutekunst went with the quarterback instead. The choice took real courage of his convictions, and if he’s right, it will be the pick that defines his tenure. But that’s a big, big if, and we probably won’t get that answer for several years.

Thanks to our subscribers for making this coverage possible. Be sure to download our app on the App Store or Google Play. Follow us on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Newsletters