On January 2nd, 2018, the Packers were officially without their general manager of 13 years. Ted Thompson had been a part of leading the Packers to a Super Bowl victory, 7 straight playoff appearances, and 4 total NFC Championship games. Almost all of those accomplishments came with Thompson’s first ever pick, Aaron Rodgers, leading the way at quarterback.
However, Rodgers’ absence was required in order to shine a light on the gaping holes covered in the shadow of his dominance. After a 7-9 season with Brett Hundley taking over in week 6, Mark Murphy made a change. The team had been good enough with Rodgers to cover up how terrible the defense was. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers produced 2 top 10 defenses in his 8 years with Green Bay-and they were his first 2 years. Capers was fired as well for obvious reasons, granting Packer fans their wish despite McCarthy’s irritating loyalty to Capers.
The team also moved on from offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett, though McCarthy ran point on offensive operations for the most part.
The move from our GM and defensive coordinator was necessary to take the next step-soon to be followed by the move from our head coach. Since the firing of Thompson, the roster turnover has been tremendous. New general manager Brian Gutenkunst has made changes to the starting lineup to a large majority of the team. This is an in depth look at each position‘s turnover from 2017-2020 (Thompson’s last season to next year).
It’s important to note that, with new head coach Matt Lafleur and new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, it’s often necessary to change personnel to fit the style of play. This will only cover the starting lineups for the 2017 season compared to my projected 2020 season starters.
2017 starter:Aaron Rodgers
2020 projected starter: Aaron Rodgers
No surprise here as Gutekunst has stuck with the hall of fame quarterback. Although, with the selection of Jordan Love, Gutekunst has put a timetable on Rodgers’ remaining years and furthermore made a move to redesign his team of the future.
2017 starter: Jamaal Williams
Projected 2020 starter: Aaron Jones
I made an exception at quarterback with listing Rodgers as the starter despite Brett Hundley being the guy most of that year due to injury, but at running back I’ll stick with Williams. The two split time for much of the year but Jones missed 4 games(2 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and another 2 due to an MCL sprain). Jones has been a quality starter when healthy and Williams has been a sufficient number 2. The pick of AJ Dillon could mean bad news for one of these guys next year. Either the Pack stick with their top 2 guys to form an elite 1-2 punch with Dillon and Jones, or they feel confident enough in Dillon to be the starter while Williams keeps his role as the number 2.
2017 starters: Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb
2020 projected starters: Davante Adams, Devin Funchess
Since 2017, Adams has developed into an elite receiver, so no surprise there. Gutekunst made the difficult move from Jordy Nelson as one of his first transactions. Some fans were shocked a rookie GM would have the audacity to cut such an important part of the franchise, but Nelson was not worth his contract anymore. Cobb underperformed in his contract year and the team let him walk. Funchess was signed just this past offseason on a low risk, high reward 1 year deal after only playing one game for Indianapolis last season. The Packers will be running a lot more 2 receiver sets as they convert to a power run team. The starting lineup will likely only have 2 receivers but add another tight end.
2017 starter: Martellus Bennett
2020 projected starter: Jace Sternberger, Mercedes Lewis
Martellus Bennett was far from the player he once was by the time he got to Green Bay-and didn’t get along too well with team doctors either-so it wasn’t difficult finding an upgrade over him. Or so we thought. Jimmy Graham was definitely a failed experiment, but the biggest thing here I see is that Gutekunst is at least making an effort to improve the tight end position. While historically undervalued under Ted Thompson, Gutekunst has made moves to improve at tight end like drafting Jace Sternberger, who seems potentially promising, and Josiah Deguara while signing guys like Mercedes Lewis and Jimmy Graham. The former has found a nice role under a reasonable contract while the latter was extremely overpaid and didn’t fit our scheme. Another tight end is added here to fit the expected power run scheme Lafleur is trying to shift to. Mercedes Lewis will probably start the season at the blocking tight end position with a gradual shift to rookie Josiah Deguara.
2017 starter: David Bakhtiari
2020 projected starter: David Bakhtiari
One of Ted Thompson’s best picks, Bakhtiari is one of, if not, the best left tackle in the game. Bakhtiari fell to the Packers in the 4th round due to his short arms and less than ideal frame. After a torn ACL to Bryan Bulaga his rookie season, he was put in to start immediately and ran with job starting every game his rookie season. He’s had the job ever since and hopefully will remain with the team if the Packers can extend his contract this season.
2017 starter: Lane Taylor
2020 projected starter: Elgton Jenkins
After a week 3 injury that held out Lane Taylor for the rest of the season, Elgton Jenkins stepped up and stood out. He was a vital part of our NFC Championship Game appearance. It is unlikely Taylor will make the team this year. We have too many free agents next season to pay a backup guard $5 million. With the three offensive lineman taken in this past year’s draft, it’s clear Gutekunst has an exit plan for Taylor. Jenkins has the potential to be a 15 year lock starter at the guard position with flexibility to move to any position on the line.
2017 starter: Corey Linsley
2020 projected starter: Corey Linsley
Linsley had a career year in 2016 earning an elite contract for a center. Since then he has continued to be a consistent and top tier center. However, with that contract coming up after this year and the Packers’ surplus of interior lineman on the team, it’s hard to imagine he sticks around beyond this year. That is, of course, unless he would take a very team-friendly deal to stick in Green Bay.
2017 starter: Jahri Evans
2020 projected starter: Billy Turner
Jahri Evans was a one year fill and a serviceable temporary fix. After his departure, the team scrambled around a few UDFA’s until signing Turner before the 2019 season. Turner wasn’t terrible, but he did not play to the contract he signed at around 7 million dollars a year. Another player who may not be in a Packer uniform in 2021 even though his contract goes through 2022. The team just has so many FA’s to resign that everyone has to be playing to their contract or they’re not worth keeping around. Gutekunst has sent a message to the interior O-line by drafting 3 more this past draft. Guys will need to step up because it’s going to be a battle for those backup spots and they’ll all be playing at their best. Not only do the starters have to outplay the backups, but outplay their contract differences as well. There has been some speculation that Jon Runyan Jr. could unseat Turner as the starter at right guard, but that remains to be seen.
2017 starter: Bryan Bulaga
2020 projected starter: Rick Wagner
(Bulaga tore his ACL in week 9 and was replaced by Justin McCray)
Bulaga is another fan favorite Gutekunst did not shy away from letting walk when he felt his time was up. Bulaga had one of his best seasons this past year but when looking at a repetitive injury history and the 10 million dollars it would require to bring him back, the team went a different direction. The addition of Rick Wagner is not flashy by any means, but he should be a consistent starter that-ideally-would play this year and then be replaced by a rookie drafted a few weeks ago. The Packers clearly did not see that as a priority passing on many in the draft. So for the time being, the team will be heavily dependent upon Rick Wagner staying healthy and productive.
2017 starters: Dean Lowry, Mike Daniels
2020 projected starters: Dean Lowry, Chandon Sullivan*
No, Chandon Sullivan will not be lining up at defensive end-at least I hope not-but Mike Pettine plays a lot more nickel defenses eliminating a second defensive end and inserting a third cornerback. Daniels was a long time fan favorite but with the extension of Dean Lowry and the scheme switch, he was not worth the money he was supposed to earn in 2019. Not to mention questions surrounding his durability. He was cut and landed in Detroit with a hefty contract 2 days later. Lowry had his best season in 2018, earning a three year extension just above 20 million dollars total. He took a step back in 2019 but remained a decent NFL starter. At his best one would be happy with him playing a majority of the snaps, but it is crucial that guys behind him such as Kingsley Keke and Montravius Adams take big steps this year.
2017 starter: Kenny Clark
2020 projected starter: Kenny Clark
Clark has locked down the center of the defense since being drafted in 2016. As Thompson’s last first round pick, Clark has proven to be one of his best. Clark is a perfect example to how little the general public knows about a players draft stock in the eyes of the ones who really make the decisions. A head scratcher at the time, Clark is now an elite defensive tackle due for a mega contract next offseason.
2017 starters: Clay Matthews, Nick Perry
2020 projected starters: Za’darius Smith, Preston Smith
One of the more aggressive days in Packers history, Gutekunst recognized the inability to get to the quarterback on defense, and did something about it. The “Smith Brothers” combined for 25.5 sacks in their first year together. At the end of his time here, Clay Matthews was best associated with running himself straight up the field and leaving gaping holes for quarterbacks and running backs to attack. Nick Perry was a liability when it came to health and was way overpaid. Despite that, it is a surprise that he has not found another home in the NFL. At their best, Perry and Matthews would have made an elite pass-rushing duo. Unfortunately they were never at their best at the same time and when they were playing at their best, an injury was sure to come around to set them back. Major improvements have been made at this position since Thompson’s last year.
2017 starters: Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez
2020 Projected starters: Christian Kirksey, Kamal Martin/Oren Burks
Blake Martinez’s stats were deceiving of the player he really was. While he consistently lead the team in tackles, those tackles mostly came at least at the second level. He rarely ever made a true impact play and was consistently average. He packed up and headed to New York to play for the Giants. Kamal Martin is who I would assume starts at the other ILB spot considering the disappointment Oren Burks has been up to this point and Ty Summers not getting a single defensive snap last year. I believe Martin could end up being the steal of this draft in the 5th round with his draft stock falling because of a knee surgery last year. Kirksey also came at a cheaper price ($8 million a year) because of his injury history. Yes, it is concerning that both of those guys have a history of recent injuries, but if they can both reach their potential barring any future severe injuries, ILB could be a position of strength as it never was before.
2017 starters: Davon House, Damarious Randall
2020 projected starters: Jaire Alexander, Kevin King
This was a tough group. After a strong rookie season, Randall took a major step back in year 2 and didn’t do too much better in year 3. In the process, he put a target on his back as a locker room problem and was shipped to Cleveland early in Gutekunst’s tenure. House was brought back on a veteran minimum deal and was average at best. He was slower than he had ever been and unimpressive for a number 1 corner. King was a good pick by Thompson. He’s an impressive blend of length and speed when he’s healthy, but he’ll have to prove he can stay healthy for a whole year if he wants to get starter money next offseason. Alexander was a surprise pick at the time, but looking back, we are definitely grateful it happened. As Gutekunst’s first ever pick, he quickly became a fan-favorite and top corner. Although we didn’t know it at the time, that would be just the first of many out-of-nowhere moves our new GM tends to make, and we all hope they work out as well as Alexander has.
2017 starters: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett
2020 projected starters: Darnell Savage, Adrian Amos
Moving on from these guys was necessary. An inconsistent tackler who always seemed to be taking the worst angles in Ha Ha paired with a career average starter in Morgan Burnett. The value we got back for Ha Ha was incredible considering he was on the back half of the final season of his contract. The Packers gladly shipped him to D.C. where the Redskins gave up a 4th round pick for half a season with an average player. I don’t think anyone ever had a bad thing to say about Morgan Burnett. He was a great teammate, leader, and general on the defense, but he was never a great athlete. Amos was signed the same day as the two Smith’s and brought a direct upgrade over Ha Ha. With Savage’s speed in the back of the defense, Amos was allowed to step up and make tackles all over the field. Savage was a product of picks we received from the Redskins and Saints and one more of our own. A gutsy move by Gutekunst, he knew Savage was his guy and went out to get him, trading up 9 spots in the first round.
All of this is purely to make the point that Gutekunst is not scared to make changes. As high as the highs were for Thompson, he had some terrible drafts in his last couple of years and lost his touch. Building through the draft sounds great, but the second you start missing on picks, the whole operation fails.
To my count, 6 players in the starting lineup in 2017 season are starters in my projected 2020 list. Of 22 offensive and defensive players, Gutekunst has not been afraid to make changes where he feels is necessary. It makes a fan wonder even more about the future. Will Rodgers play out the final years of his contract? Or will Gutekunst continue the streak of moving on from longtime veterans for younger options? One thing you can count on is that no emotion will be involved in that decision-or any decision for that matter. The second he is confident that Jordan Love will provide more for our football team, you can say your goodbyes to Rodgers.
For the time being though, the team will make a run for a Super Bowl with what they have. Even with a very tough first half schedule, fans will expect Aaron Rodgers and co. back in contention.
Make no mistake, this is Brian Gutekunst’s team.