GREEN BAY, Wis. — Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst didn’t leave much gray area when discussing the most important piece of business he’ll handle this offseason.
Speaking with reporters at his annual season-ending press conference after finishing his sixth season as Green Bay’s GM, Gutekunst all but explicitly said the team will sign quarterback Jordan Love to a long-term extension in the coming months.
Love has one year remaining on a contract extension he signed on May 3, 2023. The idea of it was to guarantee Love more money up front while protecting the Packers on the back end if Love wasn’t good by not guaranteeing the approximately $20 million on his fifth-year option. In the end, Love wasn’t good — he was great, especially in the second half of the season, a stretch during which he was among the NFL’s best quarterbacks while leading the Packers to the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
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Under league rules, the Packers can’t ink Love to another deal less than 12 months after his last one. That means a long-term extension can’t be signed until May 3, 2024, but expect one to get done, nonetheless.
“I think we will go down that road,” Gutekunst said when asked if he wants to sign Love to a long-term extension this offseason. “Certainly, I think that’ll be important for our football team to have some stability there. Jordan and his representation, they’re really good people, so we will start working towards that sometime in the next couple months.”
The last time Gutekunst spoke to reporters was the day after trading cornerback Rasul Douglas to the Bills when the Packers were 2-5. At the time, Gutekunst said of Love that the following 10 games would be important to the Packers in determining what they truly had in their first-year starting quarterback. Because of how poorly the Packers were playing, it seemed the Packers would have only those 10 games, not the 12 they had in part because of how well Love played. Both Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur noted the need for Love’s supporting cast to be better, and it was. From Week 11 through the Packers’ wild-card round win over the Cowboys, Love threw 21 touchdowns and only one interception while his pass catchers, offensive line and running back Aaron Jones delivered.
Despite throwing two interceptions in a season-ending loss to the 49ers two games shy of the Super Bowl, Love left no doubt that he’s the quarterback of the future in Green Bay.
“Jordan had a really good season toward the end, especially the second half and we are really excited to build around him,” Gutekunst said. “I think just the way he led our football team through the tough times, through the success, all the challenges that a season kind of brings you, he did a really good job leading those guys. I think for a young player in his first year that’s trying to figure it all out, I think that was exceptional.”
Brian Gutekunst on Jordan Love: “We’re really excited to build around him.” pic.twitter.com/1YxXhvnvMy
— Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) February 1, 2024
Jones’ 2024 return
Jones turned 29 in December and the veteran running back is entering the final year of his contract. He took a $5 million pay cut last offseason to stay with the Packers. Before Jones’ torrid five-game stretch to end the season, his future in Green Bay seemed squarely up in the air after a first 12 games in which he was hampered by hamstring and knee injuries. The Packers would free up about $4.7 million in cap space if they cut or trade Jones before June 1. It now seems a stone-cold lock that Jones will remain a Packer for at least one more season, even if his contract is restructured to ease a 2024 cap hit that sits at more than $17 million, according to Over The Cap.
Here were Jones’ rushing lines in the final three games of the regular season and the two playoff games:
• vs. Panthers: 21 carries, 127 yards
• vs. Vikings: 20 carries, 120 yards
• vs. Bears: 22 carries 111 yards
• vs. Cowboys: 21 carries, 118 yards, three touchdowns
• vs. 49ers: 18 carries, 108 yards
Jones carried 102 times for 584 yards over that span, good for a whopping 5.7 yards per rush in five must-win games.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Gutekunst said of his expectation that Jones will be back. “We’d love to Aaron back. We’re still putting all those things together as far as how we’re going to move forward, but he was such a difference-maker when he was out there this year. The way our offense was able to move, the way he changed a lot of the way we operated when he was in there and when he was healthy. I think for us, it’s finding a way to keep him out there and keep him healthy. Not only on the field but, and you guys know this, you guys have been around here, he’s such an influential leader in our locker room. He’s just really the heartbeat of our team. That’s certainly the anticipation, that he’ll be back.”
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Beyond his team-issued statement at the time of suspending cornerback Jaire Alexander, Gutekunst hadn’t addressed the matter since sidelining his two-time All-Pro cornerback for a must-win Week 17 game against the Vikings. Alexander, who was suspended for multiple infractions, the most public of which was electing himself captain and going out for the coin toss against the Panthers in his Charlotte hometown in Week 16, played the final three games of the season and made a crucial interception against the Cowboys in the wild-card round.
Gutekunst said unequivocally that he is not considering trading Alexander this offseason. Alexander, who turns 27 next week, is still the highest-paid cornerback in NFL history at $21 million per year and has three years remaining on the extension he signed in the 2022 offseason.
“Those things are difficult and those are tough,” Gutekunst said of suspending Alexander. “But at the end of the day, it allowed us all to reset. I’m really proud of the way Jaire responded to that. I really think that’s going to help us moving forward.”
Sticking with Carlson
Rookie kicker Anders Carlson missed a 41-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter against the 49ers that played a significant role in the Packers’ season ending. Carlson missed at least one kick in 10 of Green Bay’s final 12 games (one of those games was his blocked PAT against the Steelers, the fault of tight end/wing blocker Josiah Deguara), but the Packers kept Carlson as the only kicker on the active roster and practice squad from late May until the end of the season.
“We obviously work kickers out all the time, but as we went through the course of the season, we were committed to going through the ups and downs that a lot of young rookie kickers go through,” Gutekunst said. “Certainly, what we went through was not anything different than what a lot of guys go through. I think as we got towards the end of the season and we were headed towards the playoffs and had an opportunity to be in the playoffs, certainly something, if there was a veteran option out there that would have been really good, then maybe we would have considered it. But there wasn’t. He was the best option by far. We’re really excited about where he’s going.”
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Left tackle uncertainty
David Bakhtiari has been with the Packers for the last 11 seasons and made five All-Pro teams, but his last several seasons have been plagued by injury and he only played in one game this season before the knee injury that has given him trouble since tearing his ACL on Dec. 31, 2020 resurfaced. Cutting or trading Bakhtiari before June 1 would free up $21.5 million in cap space and that move seems like a formality. Gutekunst wasn’t nearly as committal to bringing Bakhtiari back as he was, say, Jones.
“We are still at the very beginning stages of looking at how we are going to move forward with all of that,” Gutekunst said. “Obviously, David has been through a really rough stretch with the injury stuff and he’s going through a very major surgery trying to get back to be able to play. We’re monitoring that and I know he’s working his tail off and once we get down the road and see where he’s at health-wise, we will kind of make those decisions … This is not a short one. It’s going to take some time. Obviously, you guys know his work ethic and how important it is for him to get back and playing. But this was a tough one, so he’s got a ways to go.”
In Bakhtiari’s place, 2022 seventh-round pick Rasheed Walker handled primary left tackle duties while sharing some snaps with Yosh Nijman. Walker played more than 77 percent of the offensive snaps this season and sounds like someone Gutekunst might like on Love’s blind side in the future.
“I think he did a great job,” Gutekunst said of Walker. “You’ve got to give that kid a lot of credit. First of all, his work ethic over the offseason and how tremendously he improved. He fought through some things this year, injury-wise. He was a warrior out there. He’s done a great job. I’m really glad we have him. I think he can play left and right. We’ll see how it all shakes out, but again, like I touched on before, I’m hoping we’ll have a lot of competition in every room, including the offensive line room. But he did a lot of good things. He’s got a bright future. He’s only going to get better and we’re excited about him.”
(Top photo: Ron Jenkins / Getty Images)