What will Brian Gutekunst do for an encore in 2024?

Gutekunst had his best draft class in 2023. What's in store for 2024? 

Roughly one year ago, the Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst had his back against a proverbial wall. The Packers were coming off a disappointing 9-8 campaign, which ended with a loss at home in the last game of the regular season that kept the team from qualifying for the playoffs. After going all-in with Aaron Rodgers, the team’s salary cap for the 2023 offseason was in poor shape, to put it lightly. And worst of all, one of the best quarterbacks in franchise history and a four-time MVP, Rodgers wanted out. 

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

How Gutekunst and his fellow front office members responded should go a long way toward showing everyone the true talent they have. Green Bay had the youngest roster in the NFL. They spent next to nothing in free agency. And yet, those two pieces did not stop the Packers from making the playoffs after a 3-6 start and winning a playoff game, on the road no less. While the maturation of quarterback Jordan Love and the work of head coach Matt LaFleur are the two main reasons why the team accomplished what they did, the performance of the 2023 draft class deserves flowers, too. There should be no doubt that the class was the best of Gutekunst’s tenure, and it is not too far fetched to proclaim the class was the best in the entire league for 2023. Two trades in particular showed just how much of a masterclass performance Gutekunst put on. He traded the 45th selection to the Detroit Lions in exchange for No. 48 and No. 159 and traded the 48th selection to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for No. 50 and No. 170. As pointed out by Acme Packing Co.'s Justis Mosqueda, both trades turned into a massive haul for the Green and Gold: wide receiver Jayden Reed (No. 50), wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks (No. 159), and defensive lineman Karl Books (No. 170). 

The question then becomes: what will Gutekunst & Co. do for an encore performance in 2024? 

As it stands today, the Packers have plenty of draft ammunition. They have 11 total draft selections, including five within the first 100 picks (25, 41, 58, 88, and 91). They have the second-most top-100 picks in the league. According to Tankathon's Draft Power Rankings, which "assigns a value to every pick in the draft and ranks teams based on the sum of their pick values," Green Bay is currently fifth in the NFL with a value of 975.0. All of the teams in front of them missed the playoffs and are picking in the top ten of the first round. Of note, he made 13 total selections in 2023 and 11 in 2022. It would not surprise me if the Packers, with their bevy of picks, are aggressive and trade up for a player, or two, that they highly covet.

In my post last week, Gutekunst has enough money in the salary cap piggy bank to add more value during the free agency period than they did during last year’s free agency period. (A low bar, I know.) Moreover, he specifically mentioned during his end-of-the-year press conference that he will not shy away from adding an impact player if the fit is right. That was before the final 2024 salary cap number became public. 

The NFL announced last week that the 2024 salary cap will be $255.4 million, up from $224.8 million. The roughly $30-million increase “is the result of the full repayment of all amounts advanced by the clubs and deferred by the players during the Covid pandemic as well as an extraordinary increase in media revenue for the 2024 season,” according to a league release. 

The $255.4 million salary cap currently leaves the Packers with $2.4 million of cap space but once you take into account salary cap figures for Exclusive Rights Free Agents (ERFAs) and 2024 draft picks, they will be effectively $15 million over the salary cap, according to Ken Ingalls, who religiously tracks the team’s salary cap. That figure does not take into account any restructures, cuts, trades, or extensions. Suffice to say, the Packers are in better shape than they were before. 

Yet, how much does the 2024 salary cap number, which exceeded initial projections, change the calculus for Russ Ball and Gutekunst? Will they become ultra aggressive and push their chips in the middle, or will they play it relatively safe by still adding free agents, but not taking massive swings, and aim to take advantage of the surplus by positioning themselves to take those massive swings in 2025? 

One NFC executive told Yahoo! Sports’ Jori Epstein that many teams will be faced with a similar conundrum. 

“The analogy I've made is if you're maxing out your credit cards every year and then all of a sudden you get a big bonus at work, are you paying off your debt or are you going to accrue more? Just as we see in reality, there's going to be some teams that will continue to spend and continue to be out there. But I do think that there'll be several clubs that will say, ‘This is gonna be our time period to get healthy.’” 

After too many lackluster draft classes, it was difficult to give Gutekunst the benefit of the doubt. That has now changed in my eyes after his 2020 selection of Love turned out to be a smashing success as was his entire 2023 draft class. All told, the Packers have plenty at their disposal to drastically improve their roster and position themselves to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2024, a preposterous thought given the state of the team roughly one year ago. 

– – – 

One more salary cap housekeeping note: On the same day the NFL released the 2024 salary cap number, they released the fifth-year option salary cap figures for the Class of 2021 first round picks. Fifth-year options are fully guaranteed and must be picked up or declined by the player’s current team by May 2. Over The Cap projects that the fifth-year option for Eric Stokes, the 29th overall selection in 2021, will be $12,472,000. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that the Packers will not pick up Stokes’ fifth-year option. 

 

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Rex is a lifelong Packers fan but was sick of the cold, so he moved to the heart of Cowboys country. Follow him on Twitter (@Sheild92) and Instagram (@rex.sheild). 

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Comments (23)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
splitpea1's picture

February 26, 2024 at 02:19 pm

Notes: The disappointing campaign of 2022 was an 8-9 lemon....The Rams had the best draft class of 2023 (at least based on the performance of one year), all without the benefit of a first-round pick. But Gute also did very well, and it could turn out to be the best over the long term--we'll see.

For an encore, I'd like to see Gute have just as much success retooling the defense as he did the offense last season. Regardless of whether or not he chooses to spend in free agency, I would like to see him concentrate on acquiring more physical, hard-hitting players that bring a certain new aura to this defense for once. This may take a bit of a different mindset, I don't know. I would also like to see him focus more on quality than quantity (both on defense and the OL), and if that means using or swapping one of our third-rounders to do it, that would be fine--we already have depth that can step in at most positions if needed. In the later rounds, we should be looking for a ST player with gunner potential and an exclusive KR/PR so we don't have to put Reed out there. Oh yes, and the long snapper, too.

If Gute can be just as successful with the defense and STs this time around, maybe it's time for me to get aboard the "In Gute We Trust" train; not there yet, but I'm trying.

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T7Steve's picture

February 26, 2024 at 02:37 pm

Yes. We want to get back to having depth on the O-line that would be starters on any other team. That's beside getting upgrades at the starting positions as needed.

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GregC's picture

February 26, 2024 at 03:23 pm

I agree with your point about quality over quantity. This could be a year to trade up if Gute feels strongly about a player.

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dblbogey's picture

February 26, 2024 at 05:39 pm

Agree. Maybe they covet the safety from Iowa Cooper DeJean or the guard from Duke - barton or whoever they love and move up 4-5 picks to ensure they get their man. 12 total picks I believe, I expect a lot of trading of picks, up and down by Gute. Just come home with a safety, CB, DL. Guard, LB & RB. Oh, and somebody who can make extra points would be dandy.

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Cheezehead72's picture

February 26, 2024 at 03:04 pm

Rex that limb you went out on is about a foot in diameter. It will not break. Yes no 5th year option for Stokes. The bad thing is I thought he was a good draft pick. Too bad he could not stay healthy.

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jvole's picture

February 26, 2024 at 03:14 pm

There was an article sometime last spring in CHTV that suggested Gute was a slightly above average drafter (of course with the caveat that Jordan Love's performance would put him over the top and into elite status). Last year's draft return was so remarkable across the board that it makes me think that something either changed in staff or analytics that gave them another boost. Anyone have information?

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golfpacker1's picture

February 26, 2024 at 03:20 pm

I wish we had 15 picks, but I thinks it's actually 11. Right? You had me drooling there a little bit.

In my mocks I can get us to 15 pretty easy. It would be nice if Gute can squeeze us out 2-3 more between 91 and 204 as we are a little light there.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 26, 2024 at 03:35 pm

Yeah,there was a couple errors in this article. 8-9 not 9-8. They don't have their 5th rounder so the most picks they can get to is 12.

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GregC's picture

February 26, 2024 at 04:18 pm

Thanks. I looked it up, and you are right, they have 11 picks including three (not four) compensatory picks. Rex should not have added the compensatory picks to the total. Probably the confusion was due to those picks not being officially announced yet, but they have already been figured into the total. I did read that the Packers have a chance at getting a 6th for Lowry instead of a 7th.

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golfpacker1's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:49 pm

Hey I like 15 better anyway. Then I get to pick everyone I want.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 26, 2024 at 11:23 pm

Not sure about that with Lowry. Playing time/performance is part of the equation and he got hurt pretty early in the season.

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rex.sheild's picture

February 27, 2024 at 11:47 am

It's 11, you're correct. My apologies for the error.

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CoachJV's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:02 pm

They just announced a saving of $4M+ with a restructure on Gary's contract... so that's helpful. I'm sure there will be more in the next day or so. When we release Bak, we'll have some spending cash.

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Tundraboy's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:16 pm

"All told, the Packers have plenty at their disposal to drastically improve their roster and position themselves to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2024, a preposterous thought given the state of the team roughly one year "

Exactly why we as fans should be absolutely thrilled and anybody who questions Gute going forward really has to question their own abilities.

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TKWorldWide's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:36 pm

Oh, I question my abilities quite a bit! Just not in regards to Packer fandom. 😉

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

February 27, 2024 at 06:13 am

Amen!

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golfpacker1's picture

February 26, 2024 at 08:53 pm

One of my favorite mock trades to propose is trading #91 to the Jets and getting back #112 and #114. Or I can trade #128 for the Broncos # 144 & #146.

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Starrbrite's picture

February 27, 2024 at 01:11 am

I very much like the idea of signing a FA safety—Baker is my favorite, but there are a few other options as well. IMO, it allows flexibility in the 1st round to double-down and draft another safety and/or take the best O-lineman available.
Go Packers!!!

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golfpacker1's picture

February 27, 2024 at 09:51 am

I just don't see us spending that much money on one player Starr. Baker will get like $15 mill per year. That would be blowing the whole wad on one player, when realistically we could land a FA Safety and LB for that.

The FA Safety group is pretty strong this year. GB could go very reasonable and sign Jeremy Chinn-Panthers and Jordan Whitehead-Jets this year. Chinn is projected to get $4mill per year contract and Whitehead $6mill per year. 2 for $10 million and a huge upgrade for GB. Way better than what we had in 2023.

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Starrbrite's picture

February 27, 2024 at 10:02 am

I’m not opposed to that.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

February 27, 2024 at 06:57 am

The draft is my favorite time of the football season!

Just when you think you know what position and player Gutey should draft he 'almost always' surprises you. There are so many needs on this team and the way the draft falls with runs at different positions can quickly change a GM's focus/intent. Even with the dire need for Safety talent I simply cannot stop thinking Gutey has to draft a big old ugly at OT in round 1 because they are such a premium pick. Presently, I am hard-pressed to think anything but an OT at #25 with a Safety with pick #41. Will just have to wait and see how the first round unfolds as OTs are 'always' such a premium pick in round 1. My hope is another few QBs sneak into round 1 just ahead of #25.

Those compensatory picks gotta love them whether the Packers end up with 14 or 15 selections. My usual sentiment about trading up is akin to a squirrel hoarding nuts for the potential for a very long winter. The more you have the better off you usually will be. What made the 2023 draft so successful was getting some extra picks to select talents like Wicks and Brooks. Think about how a guy like Carrington Valentine was available late in the draft and what he meant to the Packers in 2023. A stud like Aaron Jones was a 5th-round pick, or Rasheed Wallace a 7th-round selection, and Jon Runyan a 6th-rounder. Keep your draft choices and take more swings! Build more depth at every position!

Gutey will do what Gutey does but my draft thoughts for offense is going to be based on whether David Bakhtiari is let go. My assumption is he is gone but if he stays it will significantly impact what I lay out below. I wish I knew the answer to whether we have a starting caliber player in either Luke Tenuta or Caleb Jones at OT. Does one of them make Nijman expendable? The upcoming season is a make-or-break season for both. If the Packers believe one of these players at minimum has starting ability it changes everything I lay out in my dream draft below.

My ideal would be to resign Jon Runyan if possible as he is both young and experienced, and he doubles as a valuable backup center. Cut ties with both Royce Newman, Yosh Nijman, and if Runyan and Baktiari are not resigned I'd like to see Gutey draft 4 (yes, four) offensive linemen with an OT in round 1. If Runyan is resigned the Packers could get away with 3 offensive linemen being drafted. I know there has been some hope that Tenuta has some ability at OT. With Tyler Davis returning at TE the only other real need besides at OL is the need for a talented RB preferably around that #88 selection. My opinion is the Packers need someone to back up and eventually replace Aaron Jones. Possibly even draft this running back one selection earlier depending on how the draft falls.

Starting with the #41 selection I usually see a Safety taken at that selection. My biggest questions on defense are (1) what will they do with Campbell? (2) how healthy is Eric Stokes? (3) what do the Packers have in these LB/Edge players like Brenton Cox, Keshawn Banks, Aaron Mosby, and Kenneth Odumegwu? The rest of the draft in my opinion should be focused on taking repeated swings at Safety, CB, LB/Edge, and even taking one NT until Gutey hits on quality starting players. Keep the draft choices and keep swinging over and over! The odds will be in your favor Gutey!

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golfpacker1's picture

February 27, 2024 at 10:02 am

Don't forget the need @ RB. I could see Gutey trading back from #58 or #91 this year to score 2 or 3 extra picks in rounds 4 & 5. Both of those are late round picks and are prime for a team picking early in the next round to trade up.

I agree that #41 is probably crucial to have a chance at either Kinchen or Nubin. If we miss on them both I could see a move back from #58 and then grabbing one of Bullock, Hicks, Bishop, or Oladapo in the 3rd round. I would sure love Kinchen in Green and Gold. He is a playmaker and could equal the 2023 interception total by himself in 2024.

I am not worried about any D-back tackling issues with Hafley onboard. That is one of his super powers.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

February 27, 2024 at 04:06 pm

GP1,
I do mention an RB as being very important at #88 or even #58. They need a talented RB along the lines of an AJ to make sure the offense keeps humming along.

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