Ted Thompson had a philosophy about drafting: “If you have more swings you have a better chance at getting a hit.”
He believed that the more attempts you had in the draft, the better odds you had of finding a good player. This worked pretty well and he had quite a bit of success in finding good players.
In free agency, Ted picked his spots carefully and it’s hard to find a free agent Ted signed from another team that underperformed his contract.
All in all, it was a conservative approach to building a team.
Brian Gutekunst’s Philosophy
Brian Gutekunst has a completely different philosophy, which I can only sum up with a My Cousin Vinny quote:
Brian Gutekunst’s Draft Moves
Let’s look at Brian Gutekunst’s first draft:
After trading back in the 1st round for value that was too good to pass up, Gutekunst wasn’t content to wait and see who would be available at his new spot, he wanted Jaire Alexander and moved up, trading a 1st and a 3rd – while also dropping a 6th to a 7th (that was eventually used on Kendall Donnerson) – to get him.
Then, the 3rd round came by, but he didn’t have a pick, since he’d already used it to move up. He wanted Oren Burks, though, so he traded a 4th and a 5th to go get him.
In his second draft, he had an extra 1st round pick. Instead of waiting to select someone like Delaware safety (and Packer legacy) Nasir Adderely or any cornerback in the class (since none went before 30), he traded up, using the extra 1st and two 4th round picks to make Maryland safety Darnell Savage the first defensive back selected.
So that’s two 1sts, a 3rd, three 4ths, a 5th, and a 6th – way more value than an entire draft class – to get Jaire, Burks, Savage, and Donnerson.
So the question becomes are those 4 guys worth those 8 picks? They better all be good because you cut your attempts in half.
With the 12th overall pick in this year’s April draft – the highest the Packers have picked in a decade – there was tons of talent on the board and Gutekunst went with his guy, who he had been “locked in” on since February: Rashan Gary.
Gary was a controversial prospect and the pick received below average grades, but Gutekunst had his mind made up months before knowing how the draft would fall.
Decisiveness in Free Agency
Many teams (the Packers used to be one of them), play a conservative game in free agency to manage their cap and earn compensatory picks. The Packers have used compensatory picks in the past to pick up starters such as Mike Daniels, Josh Sitton, Blake Martinez, Dean Lowry, Richard Rodgers, and Davon House.
Last year (much to my chagrin), they signed 31 year-old Jimmy Graham to a large free agency deal on the first day. The salary implications led to the release of both Jordy Nelson and Mike Daniels.
Gutekunst wanted Graham, so he went out and got him right away, regardless of cost. In exchange, the Packers could have had another year of each Jordy Nelson and Mike Daniels, plus $10M in cap space next year (and we won’t mention that Nelson and Daniels could have also garnered compensatory picks in future years).
This year, Adrian Amos, Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, and Billy Turner were clearly targeted as the guys Gutekunst wanted. He signed them all in the opening hours of free agency after winning multiple bidding wars.
Gutekunst didn’t wait to see what value emerged in free agency, he just went out and signed the players he targeted, regardless of cost, and left the team with a tight (though manageable) cap.
An aggressive approach in and of itself isn’t right or wrong. What really matters is how things play out.
Gutekunst is aggressively pursuing specific guys to improve a 6 win team instead of accumulating value, building out the core of the roster, and looking for home runs by taking multiple swings.
It’s fun to look back at past drafts and see who a team could have taken, but we don’t have a crystal ball, we don’t know how these guys will pan out.
When you move up in the draft and max out your cap in free agency, you absolutely have to hit on every one, because you don’t have any room for second chances.
Ted Thompson built a strong, competitive roster with a savvy, conservative approach to player acquisition.
Brian Gutekunst has taken a very aggressive approach to roster building, moving about as far away from Ted’s method as possible.
Only time will tell if Gutey’s Packers have the same success Ted’s Packers (or even Ted’s Seahawks) had, but it’s certainly feeling like a boom or bust tenure is brewing.