PHOENIX, Ariz. (WBAY) -- The NFL announced Monday at the NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Ariz. that the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears will play in the Thursday night season opener at Soldier Field to open up the 100th NFL season.
This will be the 12th year in a row the two teams will meet under the lights but the first time the game won’t include any combination of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews and Mike McCarthy. All four of those departures taking place within the first year of Brian Gutekunst’s tenure as Packers general manager. So how does the GM feel about the team without some of the fan favorites?
“I was fortunate to grow up around football and I understand that you have to keep your focus on winning and about the team,” Gutekunst told WBAY Sports. “You can’t really worry about that stuff. We had some really, really good players. And that happens every year, every team has good players that leave; and that’s just part of this business. But the key for me is as long as we are focused on the right things, which is our team and winning, the rest will take care of itself.”
During WBAY Sports director Chris Roth’s 10-minute conversation with Gutekunst, the chat spanned the team’s free agent signing frenzy, draft struggles and navigating a roster with a mega quarterback deal. Here are the highlights.
(On spending money on free agents)
Brian Gutekunst: “I think every year the first thing you have to do is you have to evaluate your own team and you have to be honest with yourself about where you are at and I just felt that this year was a year where we needed to do some things to compete. We needed to add something specifically on defense. Every year will be different. If there comes a time like there was this year where we feel we need to spend to improve our team, we will. We are very conscious of how it will effects year-after-year. At no point did I feel like we put ourselves in any kind of risk to that point. It’s a big puzzle. It fits together. We feel good about not only what we did this year but years to come.”
(On the hardest part of year 1 as GM)
Gutekunst: “You couldn’t predict things. I worked with Mike McCarthy for 13 years and one in Kansas City; that was an extremely difficult situation. But as far as my job is concerned, I’m a scout at heart. I had a lot of people that I trust very much that have done this job just talk to me about protecting that part of it. You get pulled a lot of different directions, protecting the scouting part is something that people that I lean on were absolutely correct. And it tested the challenges that I had in that first year.
(On working with Packers first year Head Coach Matt LaFleur)
Gutekunst: “We communicate every day. [I’m] very aware of how he wants to play the game on offense. I think as they move forward, obviously I think they are very, very flexible with the way we use our personnel in the best way they see it. So it’s a constant communication. Working together and then making sure our scouts know exactly what we are looking for.”
(On Clay Matthews’ departure to the LA Rams)
Gutekunst: “Clay has been a great player for a long time. I think he’s one of the best outside linebackers that I’ve ever been around. I think with some of the things we did in free agency, we kind of knew that we might be a struggle to make it work. We were in constant communication with his representatives and stuff like that. It’s just kind of came to that where it wasn’t going to work and obviously he’s got a great situation back in LA, where he’s from. We wish him the best.”
“I don’t want to get into the details and those things but there’s communication back-and-forth and there’s things we can and there’s things we couldn’t do and at that point, I think that’s where they pivoted and again, [he’s] a great all-time Packer. I think he will retire a Packer. Wish him the best, him and his family the best.”
(On the difficulty of managing a roster with a big QB contract)
Gutekunst: “I’ll say this. It’s much easier than navigating a team without a mega quarterback. That’s part of it. I’ll say this: I’d much rather our team go to battle with Aaron [Rodgers] back there than somebody else.”
(Will Rodgers return to form in 2019?)
Gutekunst: “I don’t think he ever left it. I think Aaron is a generational-type player and we excited about the season coming up.”