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Build­ing a ros­ter re­quires con­stant re­fine­ment

Green Bay — Four months have passed since the Green Bay Pack­ers picked Brian Gutekunst to be their 10th gen­eral man­ager and it's still too early to say whether he has more Ron Wolf or Ted Thomp­son in him when it comes to ros­ter build­ing.

Gutekunst dis­played some of the moxie that de­fined Wolf ’s ten­ure this off-sea­son with a ma­jor trade, some free agency risk-tak­ing and a will­ing­ness to move up and down the draft board to get what he wanted.

Those moves started the pen­du­lum swing­ing from the height of Thomp­son con­ser­vatism in the di­rec­tion of Wolf as­sertive­ness. But un­known to us all is whether Gutekunst will al­low it to ad­vance fur­ther or just set­tle right in the mid­dle.

Here’s one way to tell which di­rec­tion Gutekunst is headed: Will he con­tinue to pur­sue ros­ter im­prove­ment or just leave well enough alone?

When Thomp­son was in charge, player ac­qui­si­tion was pretty much over once the draft con­cluded. There are ex­am­ples of him adding a vet­eran here or there, but he never wanted to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where the fo­cus wasn’t on the devel­op­ment of play­ers in their first, se­cond or third years.

Any time you add a vet­eran, even a low-cost op­tion, you’re slow­ing down the clock on a younger player’s ad­vance­ment since coaches are more likely to fa­vor a more re­li­able older player. Coaches think about win­ning this week and, given their free­dom, will act ac­cord­ingly.

Thomp­son never gave coach Mike McCarthy and his staff the op­por­tu­nity to make those de­ci­sions be­cause he didn’t add vet­er­ans. Gutekunst has a chance to change that with­out re­ally di­lut­ing the im­pact his first draft class has on the team.

Let’s face it, there’s no way that the new GM’s top three picks — cor­ner­backs Jaire Alexan­der and Josh Jack­son and line­backer Oren Burks — aren’t go­ing to get ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to play this com­ing sea­son. Even when Wolf was sign­ing vet­er­ans for Mike Holm­gren, he sat in on per­son­nel meet­ings and made it known his top draft picks needed to play right away. But be re­al­is­tic with this draft. The cor­ner­backs are go­ing to play be­cause it’s a po­si­tion of ma­jor weak­ness and Burks is go­ing to play be­cause he fills a crit­i­cal spe­cialty po­si­tion. The three wide re­ceivers Gutekunst se­lected aren’t go­ing to have an im­pact be­cause rookie wide re­ceivers hardly ever do, es­pe­cially those taken in the fourth round and be­yond, which is ex­actly where J’Mon Moore (fourth), Mar­quez Valdes-Scantling (fifth) and Equanimeous St. Brown (sixth) were se­lected.

Last year, for ex­am­ple, the Los An­ge­les Rams’ Cooper Kupp led all rookie re­ceivers with 62 re­cep­tions, which ranked tied for 37th in the NFL. The next high­est was Pitts­burgh’s JuJu Smith-Schus­ter, who ranked tied for 47th with 58 catches.

Cooper was taken in the se­cond round and Smith-Schus­ter in the third.

The 13 re­ceivers taken in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds last year caught a com­bined 126 passes for six touch­downs. One of those play­ers was Pack­ers fifth-round pick DeAn­gelo Yancey, who did not make the 53-man ros­ter.

This is not to say a mid-round pick can’t have an im­pact. In 2015, Wash­ing­ton’s Jami­son Crow­der, a fourth-rounder, had 59 catches for 604 yards and two touch­downs, and Min­nesota’s Ste­fon Diggs, a fifth-rounder, had 52 catches for 720 yards and four touch­downs.

But the odds don’t fa­vor those kinds of con­tri­bu­tions and Gutekunst could have a big prob­lem if his rook­ies don’t prove ready. His only sure things at wide re­ceiver are Da­vante Adams, Ran­dall Cobb and $30 mil­lion free agent Jimmy Gra­ham, who for all in­tents and pur­poses is a re­ceiver.

An in­jury could leave McCarthy des­per­ately thin at that po­si­tion. Gutekunst can’t as­sume Geron­imo Al­li­son, Trevor Davis, Michael Clark or Yancey are go­ing to fill im­por­tant roles and so Gutekunst should be on the look­out for a vet­eran.

For­get Dez Bryant; he’s not a good fit for the Pack­ers. But there will be sev­eral vet­eran re­ceivers on the street some­time be­tween now and the end of train­ing camp who may be worth look­ing at.

Former Bal­ti­more Raven Jeremy Ma­clin is avail­able. His former team­mate, Bre­shad Per­ri­man, will be on the bub­ble this sum­mer. It’s pos­si­ble Carolina’s Rus­sell Shepard or Tor­rey Smith could be avail­able later. Same with Dal­las’ Allen Hurns or Cole Beasley. Cincin­nati’s Bran­don LaFell and Philadel­phia’s Markus Wheaton could be on the street at some point.

Gutekunst may also have a shot at a tight end who can help Lance Ken­dricks and Emanuel Byrd. He can­not stand pat with the group he has now be­cause it just isn’t good enough, given Gra­ham’s un­will­ing­ness to block.

Maybe none of those re­ceivers or any of the tight ends who come free will ap­peal to Gutekunst. But if he’s se­ri­ous about turn­ing over ev­ery rock in build­ing his ros­ter, as he claimed to be when first hired, he would be wise to con­sider all his op­tions.

Wolf proved what a mas­ter builder he was when he pulled Des­mond Howard, Don Beebe and An­dre Ri­son off the scrap heap en route to a Su­per Bowl XXXI ti­tle. He proved it mak­ing trades for Keith Jack­son, Eu­gene Robin­son, Ah­man Green and Allen Ros­sum.

Even Thomp­son was ag­gres­sive enough to trade for Ryan Grant when the New York Gi­ants found them­selves with an ex­cess of run­ning backs. He also added Ah­mad Brooks and Quin­ton Dial be­fore last sea­son, and while nei­ther had an im­pact, both moves were worth the gam­ble.

When Thomp­son’s drafts are com­pared to Wolf ’s, Thomp­son will prob­a­bly go down as the bet­ter of the two in eval­u­at­ing col­lege tal­ent, but what made Wolf a Hall of Fame in­ductee was his re­lent­less de­sire to up­grade the ros­ter.

Gutekunst, with his dice-rolling de­ci­sion to trade cor­ner­back Da­mar­i­ous Ran­dall for quar­ter­back DeShone Kizer and a swap of mid­dle-round picks and gutsy-but-risky de­ci­sion to pass on three highly rated de­fen­sive play­ers at No. 14 in ex­change for a 2019 first-round pick, proved he has some Wolf in him.

Now he must show it wasn’t just the act of a Thomp­son clone fool­ing ev­ery­one with an in­tro­duc­tory splash. Build­ing a ros­ter is a 12-month-a-year job and Gutekunst can’t sit on his hands think­ing this is the ros­ter that will re­turn the Pack­ers to the Su­per Bowl.

His sea­son is never over.


Now that Pack­ers GM Brian Gutekunst has shaped his ros­ter, will he seek ad­di­tional changes or leave well enough alone?

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