The Green Bay Packers made only one deal at the NFL trade deadline, sending Rasul Douglas to the Buffalo Bills. But GM Brian Gutekunst failed to accomplish another important goal for the team that may have a bigger, long-term impact on the team.
The Gamble Gutekunst Tried for the Packers This Offseason
Entering the 2023 season, we knew this would be a year of transition for the franchise. Gutekunst had traded Aaron Rodgers to the New York Jets and committed the team to getting younger.
Rodgers’ trade came with a huge dead cap hit which Gutekunst was determined to get off the books in 2023. The extension they signed Rodgers to prior to the 2022 season was poorly constructed and the large dead cap hit was the result.
The team also parted ways with many other veterans to get cap compliant. Allen Lazard, Adrian Amos, Marcedes Lewis, Randall Cobb, Robert Tonyan, and Mason Crosby were among the veterans the team chose not to retain in 2023.
So, the Packers went young especially at wide receiver and tight end. This meant that in Jordan Love’s first season as a starter, the Packers would not have any experienced downfield targets on the roster.
The Struggles of the Packers Offense in 2023 After the Gutekunst Gamble
The goal of the Gutekunst gamble was to have a young group of receivers and the inexperienced quarterback to grow together. There would be some mistakes early on, but the team would make progress and get better as they had more playing time.
Unfortunately, the improvement didn’t happen. Head coach Matt LaFleur and his staff have not been able to get better play from this young receiving group. Second year wideouts like Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs seem to have regressed rather than improved in 2023.
The rookie tight ends have struggled to pick up the offense and have been subpar in blocking for both the pass and the run.
The result has been many poorly run routes, too many drops, and a failure to catch contested balls.
The Fallout from the Failed Gamble
The result of the reliance on young receivers and tight ends who aren’t showing improvement is two-fold. First, Love lacks a go-to receiver. There is nobody he can count on in a pinch who he knows will be in the right spot at the right time and will make plays.
In his first year with the Packers, Brett Favre had Sterling Sharpe. Sharpe was already in his sixth NFL season and had been a Pro Bowler. Whenever Favre was under pressure or needed a key pass, he threw to Sharpe knowing he’d usually get that key first down. Sharpe finished the season with 108 catches, nearly double the total of the next highest player, tight end Jackie Harris with 55.
In Rodgers’ first year as the starter, he had a pair of proven veteran wideouts in Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. They caught 80 and 74 passes respectively while the next highest player on the team had just 39.
How the Gutekunst Gamble Hurt Jordan Love
Because he has lacked a reliable receiver, Love’s play has tailed off as the season progressed. Injuries at running back, receiver and along the offensive line haven’t helped.
In the first three games, Love completed 51-of-96 passes for 655 yards. He threw seven touchdowns and just one interception.
In the last four games, he went 84-of-138 for 837 yards with four touchdowns and seven picks.
His confidence has eroded due to the team’s lack of success and the Packers haven’t scored more than 20 points in a game in their last five contests.
The Big Problem for the Packers Going Forward
The biggest problem going forward for the Packers is the need to assess Love. Does he have the potential to be the team’s quarterback going forward or do they need to look elsewhere? It’s difficult to assess a quarterback when he doesn’t have time to throw, doesn’t have a good running game and can’t rely on his receivers to be in the right place or catch a contested ball.
The Packers could still add a reliable veteran receiver off waivers or another team’s practice squad to help Love. But finding a quality player who would fit in even over the short term is more difficult now that the trade deadline has passed.
If the most important goal of 2023 was to figure out whether Love is your next quarterback, Gutekunst’s gamble made that more difficult. His failure to address it after seven games only compounds that error.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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