Brian Gutekunst was named general manager of the Green Bay Packers on January 8, 2018. He’s made over 100 personnel moves since that time – some good and some not so good. I listed his 12 best moves earlier this month, and now I’ll spend the next couple of weeks counting down his worst moves. Here’s No. 8:
Former GM Ted Thompson rarely participated in free agency; instead, he made it a priority to keep as many of his own quality players as possible. This often meant identifying core players and extending them well before they could hit the open market. He did this with, among others, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receiver Jordy Nelson, left tackle David Bakhtiari, guard T.J. Lang, and linebacker Clay Matthews. Gutekunst’s first attempt at employing the same strategy came last summer with defensive end Dean Lowry. The early returns aren’t encouraging.
Lowry signed a 3-year extension worth $20 million last August – seven months before he was scheduled to become a free agent. Gutekunst made the move after the former fifth-round pick played better than expected as a replacement for Muhammad Wilkerson in 2018. Unfortunately, Lowry failed to improve last season. In fact, he regressed. His sacks and hurries dropped from 4 and 24 to 0 and 18, respectively. Even worse, his run defense – which had been a strength since his days at Northwestern – was mediocre at best.
Perhaps Lowry will bounce back this season, but even if he doesn’t, this won’t go down as a terrible mistake. A $20 million contract isn’t going to cripple any team’s salary cap, and to be honest, the going rate for average defensive linemen is approximately $5 million a year. What makes this problematic is that Gutekunst appears to have missed in his first attempt at identifying and locking up a core player. He’ll get plenty more chances in the future, and how he does will likely play a big part in determining his fate in Green Bay.