While the organization remains draft-and-develop at its core, Gutekunst understood the importance of augmenting the current roster with outside talent in the aftermath of a disappointing 2018 season.
Scouts grinded tape on potential free agents like any other year, but the “tweaks” came in how the personnel department processed the information it gleaned, and applied it to meetings and building the free-agent board that preceded the most active offseason in more than a decade for the Packers.
In signing the Smiths, Amos and Turner, all of whom were 27 years old or younger at the time, the Packers were betting on the quartet’s best years still being in front of them as a new head coach in Matt LaFleur took over.
“It’s a tough market to be in, the history shows that, but some of the things we felt were important, the character of the guys, some of the things we looked at came to fruition during the season,” Gutekunst said. “Obviously those guys are very productive players on the field, but they really I think helped Matt establish the kind of culture he wanted in the locker room, and that was very, very important as we move forward. We’re going to be looking for guys like that again.”
As much as he credits Ted Thompson for helping develop Green Bay’s scouting department, Gutekunst has begun putting his own stamp on the front office over the past two years.
He’s promoted respected scouts Jon-Eric Sullivan, John Wojciechowski, Matt Malaspina, Sam Seale and Richmond Williams into prominent positions. Last January, Gutekunst also hired longtime Baltimore personnel exec Milt Hendrickson as the Packers’ director – football operations.
A member of the Ravens’ front office that drafted Za’Darius Smith in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Hendrickson was an important advocate for bringing the fifth-year linebacker to Green Bay.
The Smiths and Amos ushered in a culture shift on the defensive side of the ball, while Turner used his off-the-field interest in fashion to personalize coats for the entire locker room – all the way down to the practice squad.
“I don’t think you can ever bring someone in from outside of your building and know how they’re going to affect the locker room,” Gutekunst said. “We really liked all the intel on ‘Z’ and Preston and all the guys, Adrian and Billy. We knew they’d be good additions to our group, but to see the new guys and the guys who had been here come together and put the individual stuff aside for the team stuff was impressive.”
The personnel department’s job wasn’t over after the veteran contracts were finalized. In addition to a productive draft class that netted starting guard Elgton Jenkins and safety Darnell Savage, the Packers re-signed tight end Marcedes Lewis and street free agent Chandon Sullivan.
Veldheer was perhaps the trickiest acquisition of them all. While he’d started more than 100 games, the 6-foot-8, 321-pound tackle had been out of the game since New England placed Veldheer on its reserve/retired list last May.
That meant the Packers had to place a claim before getting the opportunity to work him out. Gutekunst credits Williams, Wojciechowski and pro scout Chad Brinker for doing their homework on Veldheer, who returned and made two critical late-season relief appearances at right tackle.