Gutekunst: No decision on Jimmy Graham’s future, Packers could draft a QB early

At the end of the season, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Jimmy Graham would not be back for a third year with the Green Bay Packers. Certainly not with a salary cap number of $11.7 million for 2020. But it appears general manager Brian Gutekunst isn’t necessarily ready to decide one way or another.

According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, Gutekunst told a group of beat writers Friday that no decisions had been made when it came to the veteran tight end.

“After we get through free-agency meetings, after we get through draft meetings and then we get back from the combine, the picture starts to get a little clearer,” Gutekunst said. “And certainly with the CBA thing in flux, that’ll help, too. So I’m going to be patient there and get to the other side of the combine before we start making any decisions.”

Graham was fourth on the team in catches in 2019 with 38. He turned that into 447 yards and three touchdowns. Those aren’t huge numbers, but working in his favor is the fact that quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a big fan of his. He also finished the year strong with seven catches for 108 yards in two playoff games.

If the Packers do move on from Graham, it would save them $8 million in cap space in 2020.

Taking a quarterback early in the draft?

Brett Favre was set to turn 36 the season after the Packers took Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. It was a pick few saw coming. With Rodgers having turned 36 last December, could Gutekunst go the way of former GB Ted Thompson and grab a quarterback with the 30th pick in April? Based on his responses to the beat writers on Friday, it’s possible.

According to the Green Bay Press Gazette’s Ryan Wood, the third-year GM wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a guy he loved.

The 2020 quarterback draft class is a strong one. In his latest mock draft, ESPN’s Mel Kiper has four going in the first round. Several more could see their names called in the second and third round. Green Bay has not taken a quarterback earlier than the fifth round since 2008.

Plenty of swings at the plate

Gutekunst will have plenty of chances to help his roster during the draft.

In the meeting with beat writers, he said they currently have 10 picks. Seven of those are their own, including one in all seven rounds. They also have an extra sixth-round pick as a result of their trade with Tennessee last August for outside linebacker Reggie Gilbert, another sixth-round pick as compensation for the trade with Oakland last September for wide receiver Trevor Davis and an extra seventh-round pick for its trade of running back Ty Montgomery to Baltimore in 2018.

The complete draft order will be released in the next few weeks.

Former Packers safety Willie Wood has died

Another great of the Vince Lombardi-era Green Bay Packers has passed away.

The team announced Monday night that safety Willie Wood had died in Washington D.C. at the age of 83. Wood had been suffering from advanced dementia for nearly a decade or more.

Undrafted in a day and age when the NFL Draft lasted 20 rounds, Wood played for the Packers from 1960 to 1971. A five-time All-Pro, the Southern California product finished with 48 interceptions — the second-most in team history.

Wood never missed a game in his career and was a part of all five of Lombardi’s NFL Championship teams. That included the 1966 unit that played in the first Super Bowl against Kansas City. Wood had a game-changing interception that he returned 50 yards, setting up a Green Bay touchdown. The Packers went on to a 35-14 win over the Chiefs.

Eighteen years after his playing career with the Packers came to an end, Wood was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one of 12 Lombardi-era players to make it. With his death, only five are still alive.

Packers reportedly set to hire Jerry Gray as new secondary coach

Green Bay has reportedly found its new defensive backs coach.

According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Packers will hire Jerry Gray as the replacement for Jason Simmons, who left last week for a job with the Carolina Panthers.

Gray spent the last six years coaching the DBs in Minnesota. He also had two years as the defensive coordinator in Tennessee, along with previous stops with Buffalo, Washington and Seattle.

Under Gray, Minnesota finished 18th in the league against the pass in 2019, one spot ahead of the Packers. It was a dramatic improvement over the previous three seasons in which the Vikings finished 30th or lower.

The 57-year-old Gray was first-round pick of the Los Angeles Rams in 1985 out of Texas. A four-time Pro Bowl selection, Gray spent seven years with the Rams before spending a season each with Houston and Tampa Bay.

DC Mike Pettine will reportedly be back for a third season with the Packers

When Matt LaFleur met with reporters Wednesday morning he would not commit to keeping defensive coordinator Mike Pettine on for the 2020 season.

“We’re still working through everything right now, just trying to evaluate everything,” LaFleur said when asked about Pettine. “I think our defense did a lot of great things (this season). Obviously, the last game was really disappointing in terms of our performance. It just wasn’t good enough, especially when you get to a championship game and know what’s at stake.”

Three hours later, though, a report from ESPN said Pettine is expected back.

Pettine was one of several defensive assistants that LaFleur kept around from former coach Mike McCarthy’s staff. Players appeared more comfortable in the second year of his scheme and made strides statistically, including going from 25.0 points allowed per game (22nd in NFL) to 19.6 (9th).

But the unit looked lost against San Francisco in the NFC title game, allowing 285 yards rushing and 37 points. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff seemed to know exactly what was coming on nearly every play and were a step ahead of the Packers at every turn.

After the game, several players were asked what went wrong, especially against the run. At least one, outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, took issue with a lack of adjustments to what the 49ers were doing.

“Perimeter plays, man. That’s something we couldn’t stop,” Smith said. “We should have fixed that on the sideline but we didn’t.”

He was asked a follow up question about whether the inability to stop the run impacted their chances to get after the quarterback.

“No, I’m not going to say that,” Smith said. “We just need to make adjustments. That was probably something we didn’t do but now we know. As we go on to next year, we’ll be able to fix these situations when we’re in them.”

LaFleur said he and President/CEO Mark Murphy will have a conversation soon and then they’ll start making decisions.

49ers 37, Packers 20: 2-minute drill

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The calendar read January instead of November and it was slightly colder at kickoff. But those were about the only differences when it mattered on Sunday than when Green Bay came to the Bay Area two months ago and lost 37-8. This time, though, the beatdown the 49ers put on the Packers — a 37-20 victory — ended their season and sent the home team to Super Bowl LIV to face the Kansas City Chiefs.

Game Balls

Offense: Raheem Mostert

The Packers had no answer for the undrafted free agent playing on his seventh team. Using a variety of outside runs, Mostert ran for a 49ers playoff record 220 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 7.6 yards every time he touched it as San Francisco jammed it down Green Bay’s throat to the tune of 285 yards on the ground.

“Just the perimeter plays, man. That’s something we couldn’t stop,” outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith said. “We should have fixed that on the sideline but we didn’t.”

Defense: 49ers front seven

As they did in the first game between the two teams, the 49ers front seven largely owned the line of scrimmage. Outside of a five play sequence where the Packers gained 50 yards, including 27 by Aaron Jones, the offense couldn’t run the ball or keep quarterback Aaron Rodgers upright. That included a pair of sacks and three tackles for loss.

Best tweets

Best quotes

QB Aaron Rodgers when asked if the gap between the two sides is as big as it appears:

“Well, it looks pretty big. They got us a couple times. But I don’t think it’s that big. I think we’re really close. I think we’re just a little more consistent performance away from consistently playing with these guys.”

Rodgers on the season

“This one will always be special because (playing football) became fun again.”

Za’Darius Smith when asked about coach Matt LaFleur’s first season:

“Great head coach. I say it every time I talk to you guys. He’s all about his players. What a great year for him but we came up short. But I told him, ‘Man, most definitely we’ll be back in this situation and we’ll finish next time.’”

In Case You Missed It

— A late addition to the injury report with an illness, punter JK Scott did end up playing. Outside of one horrendous punt — a shank that setup a 37-yard touchdown drive — Scott performed well enough.

— The Packers activated safety Raven Greene from injured reserve this week and most expected him to play. That ended up not happening, as the former undrafted free agent was among seven players listed as inactive. That also included fullback Danny Vitale. He’s been dealing with a knee injury suffered against Minnesota in Week 16 and missed his third-straight game.

— Jordy Nelson was among a number of former Packers in attendance. The former wide receiver also took part in the team’s pep rally Saturday.

— 49ers running back Tevin Coleman suffered an elbow injury in the second quarter that led to him being carted off the field.

— Packers safety Adrian Amos suffered a pectoral injury in the second quarter. He initially stayed in the game but did not return after halftime.

— Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander injured his thumb in the third quarter. He did not return and told reporters afterwards that he broke it.

— Rookie tight end Jace Sternberger caught his first career touchdown in the fourth quarter.

— Several Packers may have been playing in their final games. Tackle Bryan Bulaga, kicker Mason Crosby, cornerback Tramon Williams and linebacker Blake Martinez are all slated to become unrestricted free agents.

Inside the Numbers

160 — That’s how many yards rushing Raheem Mostert had rushing in the first half. It was the most rushing yards in a first half in playoff game since 1964.

24:05 — That’s the amount of game time between pass attempts by Jimmy Garoppolo. He threw a pass with 2:10 left in the first half and then not again until there was 8:05 left in the fourth quarter.

1 — That’s how many targets and catches Davante Adams had in the first half. He finished with 11 targets and nine catches for 138 yards.

40 — That’s how many postseason touchdowns Aaron Rodgers has in his career. That’s tied for the most in Packers history with Brett Favre.

What’s Next

The offseason

Final injury report for Packers-49ers released

Both teams will be as healthy as either could hope in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers released their final injury reports Friday and there was only one injury designation — Packers fullback Danny Vitale. He’s dealing with a nagging knee injury that’s played a part in him missing the last two games. Vitale is listed as questionable for the matchup.

Meanwhile, every other player listed on the injury report — for both sides — does not have an injury designation and should be available to play. That includes Green Bay wide receivers Allen Lazard (ankle) and Geronimo Allison (illness), as well as 49ers tight end George Kittle (ankle).

“It definitely helps,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said when asked the impact of all 52 players on the active roster practicing Friday. “You’re able to get the reps out on the practice field that you’re going to get in the game. I think our guys have done a great job of taking care of their bodies and they’re dialed in and ready to go.”

The two teams will meet on Sunday in Santa Clara with a trip to Super Bowl LIV on the line. Kick is at 5:40 p.m. CT.

Former Packers safety elected to Pro Football HOF

Add another former member of the Green Bay Packers to the list of players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The NFL announced its special Centennial Class of 2020 on Wednesday and former Packers safety Bobby Dillon was among the 15 players announced.

Dillon played for Green Bay from 1952 to 1959 and is the franchise’s all-time leader in interceptions with 52. A six-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowl selection, Dillion also holds the Packers’ record for return yardage on interceptions.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Dillon’s career is he did everything despite playing the whole thing with only one eye. He lost his left eye when he was 10 years old. A third-round pick in the 1952 NFL Draft, Dillon played on only one winning team his entire career.

Dillion passed away at the age of 89 last August. He’ll be the 26th member of the Packers to enshrined in Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Packers 28, Seahawks 23: 2-minute drill

GREEN BAY — For the fourth time since 2010, the Green Bay Packers will play in the NFC Championship Game. That’s after running back Aaron Jones and wide receiver Davante Adams scored twice and the defense held off quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks for a 28-23 win in the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs at Lambeau Field.

Game Balls

Offense: Davante Adams

The Packers targeted Adams early and often Sunday night and he delivered. The veteran, long thought of as one of the best route runners in the NFL, showed that on his first touchdown of the night. He took cornerback Tre Flowers inside on what was a fake rub route before breaking back out and Aaron Rodgers found him for an easy 20-yard score. Then, in the third quarter, the two hooked up again for a 40-yard touchdown on another beautiful route from Adams. And then, with Green Bay facing a third-and-8 with 2:19 left and clinging to a 5-point lead, Rodgers dropped a dime on Adams for a 32-yard gain.

Adams ended up with a Packers’ playoff record 160 yards on eight catches and two scores. He also got all the praise in the world from Rodgers afterwards.

“He was on one tonight,” Rodgers said. “He was really crisp with his route running. Just one of those special nights.

Defense: The Smiths

The two free agent additions once again played a big role in helping the Packers get a win. Za’Darius Smith had a pair of sacks and spent much of the first half in the Seahawks backfield. Then, in the second half, it was Preston Smith’s turn. He came up with two sacks, including a huge one on the final Seattle possession that forced a Seattle punt.

The duo combined for the four sacks, eight quarterback hits and two tackles for loss.

Best tweets

Best quotes

Rodgers on his connection with Adams:

“Tonight reminds me of the connection Jordy Nelson and I had for so many years where there were some unspoken things we could do without even communicating anything about it. Davante made three or four plays like that tonight. It was pretty fun.”

Rodgers on the two replay reviews

“We kind of got hosed on that first quarter one, so I was hoping we didn’t get hosed again.”

In Case You Missed It

— The game drew several big names to it, including Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis and rapper Lil Wayne. The latter lead the Lambeau Field crowd in a rousing rendition of “Roll Out the Barrel.”

https://twitter.com/packers/status/1216543936858091522

— It appeared the Packers had recovered a fumble at the Seahawks 36-yard line on their first drive of the game, but the officials determined there was no clear recovery by Green Bay. The league sent out a tweet explaining the decision.

But a TV replay suggested there was a clear recovery.

https://twitter.com/jasonjwilde/status/1216512034399051777

— That was not the only controversial call in the game. The other came on third-and-9 late in the fourth quarter and the Seahawks needing a stop for one more chance to win the game. Instead, Rodgers found Jimmy Graham for what was called a 9-yard gain and the game-clinching first down. The play went to review and officials upheld the call.

— Wide receiver Allen Lazard suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter and did not return.

— Cornerback Chandon Sullivan (back), cornerback Kevin King (head/neck), defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster (arm/shoulder) and outside linebacker Preston Smith suffered injuries but did return.

— Six players were listed as questionable coming into the game due to an illness going around the team. Three of them were inactive — Danny Vitale, Dexter Williams and Josh Jackson. One was active and played — Tyler Lancaster. Two others were active and did not play — Bryan Bulaga and Alex Light.

— Jared Veldheer started in place of Bulaga at right tackle. It was his first start of the season and it came after he unretired midway through the season. Aaron Rodgers joked with Veldheer during the game about him being retired and now starting a playoff game. Veldheer informed him he was actually in the stands for the Packers opener against the Bears in Chicago.

Inside the Numbers

6 — That’s how many postseason touchdown receptions Adams has in his career. It’s tied for the second-most in Packers history

4 — That’s the number of NFC title game Rodgers has led the Packers to. All of them have been on the road.

0-4 — That’s Russell Wilson’s record in Wisconsin since coming into the NFL in 2012. His last win in the state came as the Badgers starting QB on Nov. 26, 2011 against Penn State.

155.8 — That was Rodgers’ quarterback rating on third down against Seattle.

64.3 — That was Green Bay’s third-down conversion rate on Sunday. Coming into the game, the Packers were converting just 36-percent of their third downs.

3 — That’s how many catches Jimmy Graham had. All of them came on third down and went for first downs, including the game-clinching one just after the two-minute warning.

What’s Next

Green Bay will travel to San Francisco next Sunday to play for a trip to Super Bowl LIV. Kick is at 5:40 p.m.

Packers: DL Kenny Clark, three others listed as questionable for Seattle game

Green Bay has been largely healthy throughout the entire season and that’s pretty much the case heading into its playoff game with Seattle.

The Packers issued their final injury report prior to Sunday’s game and four players are listed as questionable. Those are defensive tackle Kenny Clark (back), fullback Danny Vitale (knee/illness), defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster (illness) and running back Dexter Williams (illness).

Clark missed practice on Wednesday but was a limited participant on Thursday and Friday. Coach Matt LaFleur sounded optimistic that he would be ready to go come Sunday.

The other three are dealing with an illness that has been going around the team. Vitale practiced on a limited basis Wednesday because of the knee injury before missing the last two days. Lancaster also missed the last two days, while Williams missed all week.

Green Bay would obviously love to have Vitale back after he missed the Detroit game and Lancaster has been active all season as an extra body along the defensive line. Williams was likely to be inactive even if healthy as Jamaal Williams is expected to return after missing the Detroit game with a shoulder injury.

As for Seattle, it has listed five players as questionable: defensive end Ziggy Ansah (neck), safety Marquise Blair (ankle), tackle Duane Brown (knee), tackle George Fant (groin) and defensive end Quinton Jefferson (ankle). The Seahawks have also listed starting guard Mike Iupati (neck) as doubtful.

Kick on Sunday at Lambeau Field is set for 5:40 p.m.

Former Packers coach Mike McCarthy reportedly has a new job

Former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has a new job.

As first reported by Fox Sports, McCarthy has been tabbed by the Dallas Cowboys to replace Jason Garrett.

McCarthy sat out this season after being fired by Green Bay last December. He did interview for several jobs last offseason and then was reportedly a candidate for multiple openings in the last few weeks, including in Cleveland, New York and Carolina. The 56-year-old is the first person in NFL history to coach both the Packers and Cowboys.

Over his nearly 13 years with Green Bay, McCarthy helped the Packers to 125 wins and a victory in Super Bowl XLV.