GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 26: Green Bay Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst watches warm ups during a game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field on August 26, 2023 in Green Bay, WI.
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Brian Gutekunst Deserves Some Praise From Packers Fans

After months of offseason drama and speculation, followed by months of criticism over the state of the franchise, Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst deserves at least some credit for the team's recent turnaround.

The Packers are suddenly back in the playoff hunt after a 3-1 stretch that was highlighted on a national stage with a dominant upset win over the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving. That stretch drastically changed expectations of a fan base that was ready to move on from first-year starting quarterback Jordan Love just a month ago, who are now starting to believe that their team can make a playoff push.

Head coach Matt LaFleur has done an excellent job working with an extremely young group of offensive skill players and developing them into legitimate starting-caliber weapons, and the uptick in production from the offense is a big reason for the team's recent success. However, from a long-term team building perspective, Packers fans should be sure to acknowledge the work that Gutekunst has done behind the scenes.

How Brian Gutekunst Has Set Green Bay Up For Long-Term Success

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - NOVEMBER 05: General manager Brian Gutekunst of the Green Bay Packers (L) and head coach Matt LaFleur of the Green Bay Packers talk before the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Lambeau Field on November 05, 2023 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

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Putting the record and playoff chances to the side, what the Packers now have from a roster-building standpoint is a young quarterback surrounded by even younger weapons that are starting to show flashes of long-term success. On top of that, they have a defense littered with talent and first-round picks, while possessing significant draft capital to bolster both sides of the ball in the 2024 NFL Draft.

The situation for Gutekunst could have looked much worse just a few months ago.

During the offseason, future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers was contemplating his future, with retirement very much on the table. Instead, Rodgers decided that he wanted to come back and continue playing in the NFL, but only if it was with the New York Jets. The following weeks (that felt like years) of negotiations and debates about leverage as the two teams tried to work out a deal led to constant criticism about Gutekunst's intelligence as a general manager.

Gutekunst eventually was able to agree to a trade that sent Rodgers to New York in exchange for a conditional second-round pick in 2024, along with a first-round pick swap in 2023 and third- and sixth-round picks. Those three 2023 picks resulted in the Packers selecting Lukas Van Ness, Jayden Reed, and Anders Carlson, all who are already contributing as rookies for Green Bay.

However, no amount of draft capital would have mattered if the Packers flopped by going with Jordan Love in favor of Rodgers for 2023 and beyond. Much like Rodgers, Love felt the pressure of Packers fans after patiently waiting for multiple seasons behind a Hall of Fame quarterback before finally getting his turn. That pressure started almost immediately for Love when he was taken in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, much to the frustration of Rodgers (and Packers fans).

While it hasn't always been pretty, Love is starting to turn things around over the last few weeks, putting up impressive numbers over the last four games.

At the same time, Gutekunst made sure to hedge his bets with Love this offseason, signing the young quarterback to a one-year extension through 2024. The move gave Love an incentive-based deal worth up to $22.5 million, while giving the Packers the flexibility needed in 2025 and beyond if the former first-round pick couldn't prove himself to be a viable long-term option.

Love's recent success is promising for the team's long-term outlook, but it's not the only reason fans should praise Gutekunst. The 2023 rookie class is starting to look like the best group of draft picks in Gutekunst's time as Packers general manager, with starters and contributors emerging across the board.

Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks have both emerged as legitimate weapons for Love, as have the pair of tight ends in Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft. On the other side of the ball, seventh-round cornerback Carrington Valentine has shown the movement skills and intensity of a potential long-term starter, while sixth-round defensive lineman Karl Brooks has already racked up three sacks and a pivotal forced fumble against Jared Goff and the Lions on Thanksgiving.

Packers fans are hoping that Gutekunst can round up a similar group of rookies in 2024, especially given the amount of draft capital that he's accumulated over the past few months. Following the recent trade that sent Rasul Douglas to the Buffalo Bills for a third-round selection, the Packers are projected to have five of the first 80 picks in the 2024 draft.

This isn't all to say that Gutekunst has been perfect as the Packers general manager. The Packers GM has had some rough draft classes, most notably the 2020 class outside of Love and the flashes of running back AJ Dillon. The team is also dealing with the financial ramifications of attempting to go "all in" during the Rodgers era, with the Packers projected at just $22 million in 2024 cap space prior to signing rookie contracts next offseason.

However, with Love showing flashes of why Gutekunst was willing to take a chance on him in the 2020 draft, an emerging and exciting 2023 draft class, and tons of draft capital in 2024, the Packers general manager deserves at least some praise and credit for setting up the team to continue competing in the NFC North for years to come.

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