Packers Embark on Transformational Roster Strategy Balancing Youth and Potential for Future Success

If you won't be part of the team in 2024 and 2025, it doesn't make sense to keep you now

The semantics don't matter much. You might say the Green Bay Packers are rebuilding, retooling, experimenting. But the fact is that the Packers will have an evaluation year in 2023, and this concept applies to the entire roster. The movement is more prevalent on the offense, for sure, where they have the second youngest receiving group (combining wide receivers and tight ends) in the last three decades in the entire NFL, just behind the 2017 Cleveland Browns. But that's also a factor for other areas of the team. On Monday, the Packers cut veteran punter Pat O'Donnell to keep Daniel Whelan.

"The goal here is to win a championship. And, sometimes, you have to create room to get better," highlighted general manager Brian Gutekunst about his plan. "You can't get better without playing. It's not easy, growing pains are never easy, but if we're going to win a championship, we have to get better. We weren't good enough last year, we have to get better. And sometimes you have to create opportunities for that to happen."

And this philosophy has solid merits. There is an old saying around the NFL that you're either getting better or worse. And the Packers, for the last few years of the Aaron Rodgers' era, tried to stay the same to compete for championships. That's why the team gradually became worse from 2020 to 2021 and to 2022. Part of the calculation to trade Rodgers was that the team needed a reset. They needed to get better at some point, even if it meant getting worse right away.

On offense, the plan is more extreme. Besides David Bakhtiari and Aaron Jones, everyone is on their rookie deals or equivalent. All of the seven wide receivers with realistic chances of making the roster were drafted (or undrafted, in the case of Malik Heath) in 2022 or 2023. They also added two rookie tight ends in Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft, and only Josiah Deguara has significant NFL experience — well, and even he hasn't had much playing time in his career.

Even so, the Packers didn't feel the need to add veterans. First, because they needed to adjust their salary cap reality and pay some of the debts they were delaying. But also because players like Sammy Watkins, whom they signed last year, were more likely to restrict the development of the young guys than to produce. That's also why they let Randall Cobb, Robert Tonyan, and Marcedes Lewis walk. Allen Lazard was more expensive, and the production wasn't worth it for the moment either.

"That's a little bit of the idea, right?" said Gutekunst after the draft. "I mean, I think that's important for those guys to grow together."

The plan is not as extreme on defense, because the unit seems more ready to compete right now — and defensive coordinator Joe Barry needs a positive season to keep his job beyond 2023. However, the Packers only signed veteran pieces to the safety room, where there hasn't been any significant draft investments since they took Darnell Savage with a first-round pick in 2019. Jonathan Owens and Tarvarius Moore were signed to compete for roster spots, but they aren't precluding any young piece from developing — Anthony Johnson Jr. is a seventh-round pick, so it's a different perspective.

On the front, they let Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed walk away, keeping only Preston Smith under a restructured deal. This creates space for players like Lukas Van Ness, Devonte Wyatt, Colby Wooden, and Karl Brooks — each of them drafted over the last two years.

On special teams, coordinator Rich Bisaccia incentivized the Packers to keep some veterans — Keisean Nixon, Dallin Leavitt, and Eric Wilson. They also signed veteran long snapper Matthew Orzech — he won't make the initial 53-man roster, but according to Bill Huber, from Sports Illustrated, it's a procedural move and he will be re-signed later this week. But even there, the team let Mason Crosby walk and released O'Donnell, moving on with rookies at kicker (Anders Carlson) and punter (Whelan).

It's still yet to be known if the Packers will be good or bad in 2023. But that's not necessarily the priority. Brian Gutekunst needs to find building blocks, and if you won't be part of the team in 2024 and 2025, it doesn't make sense to keep you now.

Photo: Sarah Kloepping/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK

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Wendell Ferreira covers the Green Bay Packers for Zone Coverage and Cheesehead TV. He is a Brazilian journalist with over a decade of experience covering the NFL, soccer, NBA, and MMA. Follow him on twitter at @wendellfp  

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12 points
 

Comments (42)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Leatherhead's picture

August 29, 2023 at 11:33 am

So we should cut Jones, Dillon, DeGuara, Nijman, Bakthiari, and Runyan? Or we should resign/extend them? Because all of those guys are on the team this year, but every one of them could be gone by next year. That's six out of the 21 offensive players we dress. Almost 30%.

The Packers have a young team that might do pretty well, and we've already secured extra premium draft picks for next season, and we might do more. We're in a very enviable position. But there are guys who are going to help us this year that aren't necessarily part of any long term plan.

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Bitternotsour's picture

August 29, 2023 at 11:44 am

There is no advantage (save money) in having a team with 100% rookie contracts, but there has to be churn. Especially now, since the ill-fated "all-in" 2022 mistake. The cap needs rebuilding for a healthy bottom line. That process is clearly happening. The front office is back to having a 5 year plan (thanks Ted!)

But yes, all the players you listed above need sensible decisions made on their futures with the club. Bakhtiari in the forefront.

Not withstanding the churn, I'm happy to have Jones and Dillon right now, and possibly Nijman into the future.

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Leatherhead's picture

August 29, 2023 at 01:27 pm

You dress out 45 guys. I'd estimate that changes by about 10-15 guys every year.

Last year: Amos, Lowry, Reed, Garvin, Gaines, Watkins, Lazard, Lewis, Cobb, Rodgers, Rodgers, Tonyan, Hill. I believe every one of those guys dressed for the opener last year.

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Gman1976's picture

August 29, 2023 at 02:16 pm

A lot of the above names didn't gave a great year last nor a good one. It was good to let them go.

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WestCoastPackerBacker's picture

August 29, 2023 at 06:21 pm

There is a difference between "could be gone" and will for sure not be around next year. They need to see how every one of those guys plays this year before deciding that. Apparently the cuts were of guys they KNEW they wouldn't keep beyond this year. That's the whole point of the article.

2 points
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1962Packer's picture

August 29, 2023 at 11:35 am

Go for the Super Bowl every year; but if you don't make it, have a horrible year for the draft position.

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Bitternotsour's picture

August 29, 2023 at 11:47 am

at a minimum, beat the Bears and the Vikings. That's all I'm really looking for...(this year)

2 points
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mnbadger's picture

August 29, 2023 at 12:15 pm

and the Lions at Lambeau!
GPG!

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Leatherhead's picture

August 29, 2023 at 12:55 pm

Win the division. Every season is about winning the division. Yes, balance your books and plan for the future, but win the division. That's the reason you play the season.

5 points
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WestCoastPackerBacker's picture

August 29, 2023 at 06:22 pm

Exactly when do you decide that? And how do you turn around a losing culture once you have taught them to lose for the draft position?

3 points
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Johnblood27's picture

August 29, 2023 at 11:41 am

I will be a part of the team in 2024, 2025 and for the foreseeable future beyond those years...

just sayin'...

5 points
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mnbadger's picture

August 29, 2023 at 12:16 pm

. . . me too, mostly because I enjoy watching special teams and I have a VERY low cap hit.
GPG!

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WD's picture

August 29, 2023 at 12:01 pm

Aside from all the armchair online general managers like myself; no one has a better understanding of the big picture than Gute. Therefor, In Gute we trust.

9 points
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beerandbrats's picture

August 29, 2023 at 02:55 pm

Ignorance is bliss!

-2 points
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mnbadger's picture

August 29, 2023 at 12:17 pm

Nice pre-cutdown review Wendell. I'm in full agreeement with all of your points.
Looking forward to the details that come out of the next 48 hours.
Go Gutey Go!
GPG!

4 points
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Since'61's picture

August 29, 2023 at 01:17 pm

The Packers offense, except for Jones, Dillon, Bak and Jenkins, is essentially at an expansion team level experience wise. Same is true for our STs, especially our Kicker, LS and Punter. The Packers defense has a better mix of vets and youth. However they still have Barry as their DC so that mitigates their potential as a unit. 2023 could be a crazy season of ups and downs. Thanks, Since '61

2 points
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GregC's picture

August 29, 2023 at 04:53 pm

You may be technically correct when you say that most of the players on offense have an expansion team level of experience, but this roster was put together in a much more organized way than an expansion team. It is not a collection of players taken from other teams.

And at least one of the specialists has some experience. Long snapper Matt Orzech is beginning his fifth year in the league and has a Super Bowl ring.

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crayzpackfan's picture

August 29, 2023 at 01:21 pm

"But the fact is that the Packers will have an evaluation year in 2023, and this concept applies to the entire roster"
As long as we have someone evaluating the evaluators of our roster too.

4 points
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jont's picture

August 29, 2023 at 01:21 pm

"On offense, the plan is more extreme. Besides David Bakhtiari and Aaron Jones, everyone is on their rookie deals or equivalent."

Is there any other team in the league like this? I have no idea, but I found it a bit jarring when I read this. It tells you how young this year's team really is.

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Leatherhead's picture

August 29, 2023 at 02:39 pm

I think if you check, most of the players on most of the teams are rookie contracts or minimums wage guys. I heard a GM say one that you can only pay about a dozen guys and everyone else is just a guy.

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Coldworld's picture

August 29, 2023 at 01:32 pm

We moved on at punter. That’s it as far as I can see. In a competition between a vet who somewhat underperformed last year in the cold and a young guy who wasn’t outperformed noticeably in camp. That’s it.

We haven’t traded Bakh, P Smith, Jones, Clark or even Nijman to go young at the cost of obviously starter level talent. At S we seem happy to keep older FAs and just add one rookie who hasn’t been noticeably worse anyway.

There was no general shift to youth today.

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Minniman's picture

August 29, 2023 at 03:20 pm

Sensibly, Gute seems to realize that line play (offense and defense) is the cornerstone of a successful team, and as such, he's invested his "vet-cap" there.

On that note, I'll be taking an interest in the Jets this year - less so for Rodgers-watch\fail voyeurism (come on 65% playing time!!!!!!) - but to see how things go behind one of the weaker O-line groups in the league.

....... Maybe their O-line play this year will be so porous that we could ship Bakh there too for another high draft pick (assuming that he plays well this year and the GB depth at T is solid)???

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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

August 29, 2023 at 07:05 pm

We want to deal away our best lineman, who costs us nothing this year, and give him to the team that will then give us a lower pick because they win more games?

2 points
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Leatherhead's picture

August 29, 2023 at 07:51 pm

Yeah, I think that's the plan. It certainly makes more sense than keeping as many good linemen as you can .

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Minniman's picture

August 29, 2023 at 09:25 pm

I wasn't talking about this year - and my comment is contingent on one of the prospects stepping up.

It's also evident that Bakh's injury was worse than expected - so he's now got a reduced effective life expectancy in the NFL.

0 points
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marpag1's picture

August 29, 2023 at 10:42 pm

“We moved on at punter. That’s it as far as I can see… There was no general shift to youth today.”

Other than the punter you can’t see a general shift to youth?? Unless you really want to nitpick that the shift didn’t happen “today” – as in the last 24 hours – this is really a laughable take.

I seem to remember that the Packers are moving on from 39-year-old Aaron Rodgers and going with 24-year-old Jordan Love. Would that qualify as a “shift to youth?"

How about moving on from 17-year vet Marcedes Lewis and 5-year vet Robert Tonyan and replacing them with two rookies… 22 years of experience replaced by zero?

True or False: Ex-Packer Randall Cobb has more years of experience than all 6 Packers receivers combined. [True – four times more. 12 years for Cobb, 3 years for the Packers receivers.]

And never mind Lazard and Watkins. No sense beating the dead horse.

Jarran Reed and Dean Lowry are both 7-year vets. TJ Slaton has 2 years, Wyatt has 1 and Wooden and Brooks have none.

Mason Crosby has grey hair. Anders Carlson has acne.

You’re not seeing a general shift to youth? Really?

1 points
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splitpea1's picture

August 29, 2023 at 01:33 pm

Right now most of the team is comprised of promising building blocks, which is good. This was the correct approach to take after the team had plateaued for a couple of seasons. Actually the first block was put in place last season with the hiring of Bisaccia and his subsequent input with personnel decisions; the deflating 2021 playoff loss finally caught everyone's attention that a major organizational attitude adjustment was needed here.

I'm optimistic about the team's ability to win in the upcoming season. Still, more building blocks will be needed. At the top of the list is an elite safety prospect(s) with great range, and just as importantly, sure tackling ability that's already been demonstrated in college. And even though we have versatility on the OL, at least one brute force type of building block for the interior would be desirable. Also, we'll have to see how the RB situation shakes out as it may be an area of attention in the off-season.

6 points
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Minniman's picture

August 29, 2023 at 03:27 pm

"Right now most of the team is comprised of promising building blocks, which is good. "

In reality, it's all going to hinge on how well Jordan Love pans out.

If he doesn't show progress to even a "game manager" standard, then GB will be sent to that "QB Carousel" purgatory that many teams are in....... blowing high draft picks and $$$ on speculative college QB's.

1 points
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Leatherhead's picture

August 29, 2023 at 07:57 pm

I think it's all going to hinge on how well the offensive line plays. If they do their job, Love and Jones and Watson etc are going to move the ball and score points and win games.

How well Jordan Loves pans out ??? Well, so far, he's played well enough that a half billion/year $$$ corporation felt comfortable trading away HOFer, 4timeMVP Rodgers. So that obviously suggests that as far as the people who see him everyday think he's "panning out".

No, it'll be the line. If the holes are there, and the time is there, then we're going to do just fine.

0 points
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Minniman's picture

August 29, 2023 at 09:28 pm

Well per my comment above - I agree, and Gute's given Love a decent line to work behind. He still needs to prove week in and week out that he's progressing to at least Game Manager level.

1 points
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Ima Payne's picture

August 29, 2023 at 02:05 pm

Dont see what is new here. This team has always developed players until their contract is up then let walk for nothing to save a buck. No suprise here.

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T7Steve's picture

August 29, 2023 at 02:20 pm

Draft, develop, then ship them off to the Vikings, Bears or Lion.

1 points
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WestCoastPackerBacker's picture

August 29, 2023 at 06:26 pm

Not just to save a buck. To save that buck to spend on the guys that truly deserve to be extended. It's not about being cheap. They've never been cheap. They have often had players at the top of the pay scale at some positions. To do that you have to let some guys go at the end of their rookie deal and get a comp pick to rebuild cheaper talent to afford to keep the really good players. I think they've done fairly well at this.

3 points
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T7Steve's picture

August 29, 2023 at 02:25 pm

If the Packers go completely young (1st and 2nd years), won't they end up with the same cap problem in 3 or 4 years when it's time for new contracts? They need the guys like Dillon, Nijman and Runyan under contract now, so it overlaps and falls in different years from them, don't they? Can't resign a whole team every 3 or 4 years.

3 points
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

August 29, 2023 at 07:20 pm

Next year will pose some challenges for the salary cap. I don't think the team can keep everybody they'd like to, nor do I think it's worth mortgaging the future to do so. They did hire a specialist to juggle these numbers.

0 points
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beerandbrats's picture

August 29, 2023 at 03:30 pm

The Packers seem to making significant changes and it's kinda scary because I like something I can depend on! I support going young but the veterans keep us grounded! hate to say it but we are starting to resemble a college all-star team. I'm OK with that as long as we can win consistently!

Winning is all that matters!

-2 points
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

August 29, 2023 at 07:21 pm

I doubt there will be consistent wins this year, but maybe?

1 points
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greengold's picture

August 29, 2023 at 08:35 pm

The Packers aren’t going to get worse. Gutekunst & his staff looked very closely at this roster to see where they could improve. Not to stay the same as yesterday, and not to get worse.

They constantly work to improve the Packers roster. It’s what they do, and I think they’ve been doing well at it, if not improving these last few years.

My guess is we’ll see more size, speed, potential for growth and maybe some added experience at key positions via waiver claims/trades throughout the next few days.

Wouldn’t surprise me to see 4, 5 or more on the current 53 replaced by week’s end.

-1 points
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stockholder's picture

August 29, 2023 at 06:09 pm

You can't get better without playing!
Never fit Samori Toure better.
When they moved Nelson to the slot.
He didn't have the speed for it anymore.
Yet- we still ended up putting Cobb there.
And expected better than Amari Rodgers.
Then we turn around and Draft Reed.
Because he's the next Cobb or Rodgers.
Most good Wrs play the Slot.
But what are they trying to do here.
Either Toure has to be Montgomery, Cobb, or Reed.
The idea is separation. Do We want RBs?
I just don't see how Toure can improve as expected.

-3 points
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WestCoastPackerBacker's picture

August 29, 2023 at 06:32 pm

Maybe wait and see?

5 points
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Ferrari-Driver's picture

August 30, 2023 at 04:04 pm

We have a young team, but it is a young team with some talented players.

At the most important position on the team we have Jordan Love who is going to be our starting quarterback and many of us are anxious about how he will perform. I found this link in which a former Hall of Fame quarterback, Kurt Warner, breaks down Jordan's play during the preseason. What I really enjoyed about the video is how Warner emphasizes how Love is going through progressions and his decision making. Warner makes is easy to understand as well.

Here is the link for those who are interested (the video is about halfway down): https://packerswire.usatoday.com/2023/08/30/kurt-warner-breaks-down-jord...

0 points
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theonebeverly's picture

September 27, 2023 at 12:43 pm

This team seems to me a special one. Idk why, but I think somebody of them will have an incredible success in a short time. Additionally, I am glad that there are tutors who care about the youth's future and career. For example, I have a college professor who suggested me https://essays.edubirdie.com/buy-essay to get more valuable knowledge and to buy essay for understanding the most complexed details when writing papers. So these academic experts really help me get better at writing and, moreover, getting an essay online is so accessible.

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