The highly anticipated season-ending press conference from Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst took place Friday. After a deflating end to what was a disappointing season, Gutekunst’s presser would differ from the ones in the past three years.
Questions about the futures of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, running back Aaron Jones, and left tackle David Bakhtiari took the spotlight, with the lion’s share of those questions focused on Rodgers. Fortunately, Gutekunst’s answers pulled back the curtain just a bit.
With the wording stripped down, Gutekunst was asked in many different ways if he wanted to have Rodgers, Jones, and Bakhtiari back in the mix for 2023. The questions were asked separately. When it came to Jones, Gutekunst left no doubt.
“Certainly, we expect to have him back,” Gutekunst said regarding Jones. “He’s a dynamic player. For a guy his size to bring it every day, he rarely misses a practice, rarely misses a rep. The way he leads our football team, his consistency is amazing.”
Jones is coming off a career-best season with 1,121 yards rushing. Even with that mark, the masses would argue that the Packers didn’t give Jones the ball enough in 2022.
The questions with Jones aren’t based on his talent, which is why Gutekunst expects a return. The holdup comes from the contract.
Jones has a $20 million salary cap hit for 2023, and the Packers are already set up to be in salary cap shame. If a restructure is in the cards, with mutual interest from both sides, there’s no doubt Jones will return to Green Bay. Gutekunst sounds hellbent on making it work one way or another.
Then there’s Bakhtiari.
Bakhtiari started in 11 of the 17 games in 2022. When No. 69 was in the lineup, he looked like his old self as the season carried along. The absences caused while still recovering from a torn ACL two years ago and an appendectomy provided roadblocks, but Bakhtiari proved his worth when he was in the lineup.
Like Jones, Gutekunst provided optimism when asked about wanting the premier left tackle back in 2023.
“I would hope so. We’re hopeful that he’s kind of cleared some of those injury hurdles,” Gutekunst said when asked whether Bakhtiari will return for the 2023 season.
Bakhtiari’s contract has been heavily backloaded. As a result, he carries a cap hit of nearly $29 million for next season. A restructure would almost be a certainty if the Packers want Bakhtiari back and also want some sort of financial wiggle room for the offseason.
However wants the pie gets sliced up, one thing echoed loud and clear on Friday: Gutekunst Jones and Bakhtiari back.
Then there’s the Rodgers dilemma.
Gutekunst was asked an array of Rodgers questions that peppered in from every direction. His answers were more curious and hesitant than they’ve been in the past.
For example, here’s one question: “It’s seemed the last two offseasons that if Aaron (Rodgers) wants to come back, he’ll be here. He said multiple times this year that he doesn’t think it’ll be just his decision. Do you guys want him as your quarterback next year?”
That exact question was launched like a spitball targeted at a teacher’s forehead.
“Like I said in the bye week, I want all these guys back. He’s certainly going to take some time, and that’s fair. As we work through this, as he takes his time to make his decision on just his playing career in general, then we’ll get together and move forward that way.”
Not a “yes.” Nothing in the answer from Gutekunst directly answered the question. There was some comforting fluff at the beginning with the “I want all these guys back” line. For that savvy move, Gutekunst deserves a modest handshake.
If Gutekunst truly was set in stone on wanting Rodgers back in 2023, a “yes” would’ve been the answer. It’s as simple as that.
Later in the presser, Gutekunst offered an answer that could hint at an acceptance of having Rodgers back next year and, maybe, beyond?
“We made a really big commitment to him last offseason,” Gutekunst said. “So I think as we did that, it wasn’t certainly just for this year. So we’ll, like I said, he’s going to take his time, and the communication will be pretty consistent as we move forward.”
Here’s the kicker.
Green Bay committed Rodgers last offseason under one big premise: The championship window was still open.
Gutekunst and Co. backed up the Brinks truck for Rodgers, believing they could still compete for the Lombardi Trophy with Rodgers under center and the pieces they had around him.
Hindsight is 20/20, but that was clearly an error in judgment.
If the Packers were skating into the postseason with another NFC North crown and one of the top seeds in the NFC, Gutekunst might be singing a different tune. That’s not the reality.
A year later, that commitment made last offseason doesn’t look so glamorous, and Gutekunst knows it. They have backup quarterback Jordan Love waiting.
“I definitely think he’s ready to play. I think he feels that way. I think he’s chomping at the bit,” Gutekunst said about Love on Friday.
If Love wasn’t waiting in the wings after backing up for three years, then sure, by all means, bring Rodgers back, even though everyone knows this thing is a wrap in terms of building a championship contender in the last couple years of his career.
Love is waiting, though, and it might just be time to see what they have.
It may sound foolish, spoiled, arrogant — insert anything else you want — for Packers fans to suggest it’s time to move on from the four-time MVP of the league who brought a championship back to Titletown. It’s never easy to come to that conclusion, but it’s one worth debating at this point.
Gutekunst provided all the answers regarding Bakhtiari and Jones and his desire to have both back in 2023. It was more complicated when it came to Rodgers, though. That’s because the answers aren’t as simple this time around.
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