My Executive of the Year:
The job that general managers and scouting staffs have done around the NFL in these unprecedented times of our new-normal, Covid-19 world, were never more challenging than in 2021. In the process of building their teams, each team’s decision makers also faced their share of adversity and literally expected the sky to be falling every time they walked into their facility. As former Chicago Bears Head Coach Abe Gibron once said while yelling from the sideline out to his defense, “watch the screen, watch the draw, ehhh just watch everything”.
Look no further than the game on Monday night this past week. The New Orleans Saints used their eighth offensive tackle and started their fourth string QB against the Miami Dolphins. Injuries and the virus have become so prevalent that we just accept the news as common place.
Missing a game due to Covid is one thing, but both fans and media alike should stop and take notice of what is happening with the NFL product. Eight different offensive tackles! Are you kidding me? Most NFL teams, in any given regular season, have three quality OT’s on their roster if they are lucky.
GM’s are hoping to find players with one or two identifiable football traits to sign and cover their back sides with to put on the practice squad in a worst-case scenario. Now, every week is a scramble. It’s a constant fire drill, trust me. And the league has determined that BAD FOOTBALL is preferable to NO FOOTBALL so teams are forced to adjust their rosters in midstream.
This is the equivalent of having to build a team like we did during the NFLPA strike of 1987. That season, teams were flying guys in on Thursday, from their real jobs no less, and rolling them out on the field on Sunday in games that counted towards the regular season standings. These “strike games” were not pretty, but they served a purpose.
That’s exactly where we are currently. These teams are being rebuilt every week. It’s safe to say that the competitive balance has been very much compromised, but what has never been more true is that the really good GM’s have separated themselves from the others in 2021.
In addition to injuries and Covid cases, the mine field that Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst has been forced to navigate this year has been nothing short of monumental and IMO, has set him aside from the rest of the field when it comes to choosing an Executive of the Year.
From Draft Day 2021 to present, things have been chaotic as hell in Packer-land. We don’t need to review all the steps and missteps brought to light by the public drama created by Aaron Rodgers, their soon to be MVP again. Suffice it to say that the Packers dicey QB situation has provided enough content to fill a soap opera on daytime television.
I think it’s clear that QB Rodgers is very aware of his message and that he loves the attention that he is receiving. Gutekunst and other Packers decision makers have had to steer thru these unprecedented times while carefully dealing with their star QB’s ego as well.
Rodgers has consistently put his team in the crosshairs with his weekly platform of unchallenged drama and personal agenda on the Pat McAfee Show. It’s become must listen radio/video where Rodgers has painted himself as the victim. Combine that with a cap count of approximately $48M in 2022 (which accounts for just under 25% of the $208M total cap projection) and it’s likely to be his last year in the frozen tundra, unless he signs a totally restructured contract.
Gutekunst has been a consummate pro through all of this. To say it's been challenging for him is an understatement. He has managed to a large extent by staying behind the scenes, not performing in front of millions with a microphone explaining his position. He just quietly goes about his job to try and make his team better. Having sat in this seat, I can tell you that the job is part mediator, part peace maker, part psychiatrist, and a lot of managing egos and personalities.
Most of this goes unknown by the powers at be and the media. When hiring a GM, these roles get very little consideration, but might be as critical as any when forecasting whether a GM will be successful or not. There is no doubt that it’s the part of the job that is the hardest to evaluate until that person gets under the bright lights of pressure.
Notice, I have not even got to the portion of “evaluating and picking players”, which Gutekunst and his staff have done an excellent job of. Talk about multi-tasking? Ha, that’s an understatement.
Drafting power running back AJ Dillon now looks like a stroke of genius. Dillon allows the Packers to be a ball control team who live off of screens/draws and running downhill, especially in the fourth quarter. The depth the Packers have accumulated up front across what has been an often-injured offensive line is second to none in the NFL. Where would their defense be without the signing of LB De’Vondre Campbell, a free agent from Arizona, and the addition of DC Rasul Douglas during the season from the Cardinals practice squad.
There have been other moves from a team building standpoint for which Gutekunst can be credited for as well, but this is about- managing your team, especially this year and nobody has done it better.
The unique atmosphere created by their QB has to also be balanced by him being the best player in the league but, as we know, managing egos and money, no matter the business, is tough duty. Because of how well he’s done this in 2021, Brain Gutekunst gets my vote for the NFL Executive of the Year.