GREEN BAY, Wis. — Trading a former Pro Bowl safety, along with a contributor at multiple positions, without getting any immediate return could look to some like the Green Bay Packers are playing for the future and giving up on this season.
General manager Brian Gutekunst disagrees.
A day after he sent safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to Washington for a 2019 fourth-round pick and running back/kick returner Ty Montgomery to Baltimore for a conditional 2020 seventh-rounder, Gutekunst explained his thinking and the impact it might have in his own locker room.
“I don’t necessarily think there’s a message it sends to the locker room,” the first-year GM said Wednesday. “I think the decisions that we make are always in the best interest of our team, not only in the short term, but the long term, as well. But I think our locker room knows where we’re headed and, like I said, I think we’re humming at the right time and I think there’s a lot of positive things going forward.”
The moves came on the NFL’s trade deadline day and within 48 hours of the Packers’ 29-27 loss to the undefeated Los Angeles Rams. The loss dropped the Packers to 3-3-1 heading into Sunday’s Aaron Rodgers–Tom Brady showdown in New England.
Rodgers never got the ball back with a chance to beat the Rams after Montgomery brought a kickoff out of the end zone — he was supposed to take a knee, per coaches’ instructions — and then fumbled.
Players criticized Montgomery’s decision. He then responded by wondering who in the locker room he could trust.
That came a few weeks after Clinton-Dix said he expected to be playing elsewhere next season.
“I think you take everything into consideration when you make these kind of decisions, but performance comes first,” Gutekunst said. “That’s always the major factor in these decisions. Everything’s taken into account, but it’s never usually just one thing.”
Though they have options, the Packers have not said how they will replace Clinton-Dix, a former first-round pick who made the Pro Bowl in 2016.
They could use cornerback Tramon Williams at safety; he moved inside to a slot position Sunday against the Rams. It also might force the Packers to finally play 2017 second-round pick Josh Jones, who had a standout special-teams game in Los Angeles but surprisingly has played only four defensive snaps all season while sitting behind former undrafted free agents Kentrell Brice and Jermaine Whitehead.
There’s also the possibility that cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who was signed last month but has yet to play in a game, could move to safety.
At running back, Montgomery’s departure could help dynamic Aaron Jones get more touches. He leads the Packers in rushing yards (274) and average (6.2 yards per carry) but has only 44 attempts.
“We’ve got to trust what Brian is doing and he’s making moves that are in the best interest of the team,” Rodgers said. “In this situation, we need guys to step up in those spots. Obviously Aaron and Jamaal [Williams] have been playing really well, so more opportunities for those guys, and the defense will take care of what they need to with the safety spot.”
Rodgers said he isn’t worried about the locker room.
“I think we’ve got good leadership,” Rodgers said. “I think nobody has been hanging their head. We’re obviously disappointed about the result on Sunday. I wouldn’t say anybody is discouraged, though. I think we’re a tight-knit group. … We hang out together, we enjoy each other’s company and you’ve got to stick together.
“You’ve got to stick together through losses, through decisions that are made that are out of our control and keep moving forward with the same vision.”
This Sunday’s game is just the second time that Rodgers and Brady will start against one another. Rodgers won the first meeting in 2014 at Lambeau Field.
“I let you guys worry about those types of conversations,” Rodgers said of any debate about which player is better. “I think that’s end-of-career conversations. … I’m just worried about winning right now. He’s got five championships, so that ends most discussions, I think.”
Rodgers was listed as a limited participant in practice Wednesday. It was the first time he has done anything on the field during a Wednesday practice since his Week 1 knee injury. He had been using that day for rest and treatment on his knee.