NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys
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The 2023 Green Bay Packers entered this season with a lack of clarity regarding their future in the first year without Aaron Rodgers

Following a run to the NFC divisional round after becoming the NFL's youngest team to win a playoff game (average age: 25 years, 214 days) since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger, the Packers enter 2024 with a clear path forward in the eyes of general manager Brian Gutekunst: build around 25-year-old quarterback Jordan Love, the team's first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft

"Jordan had a really good season toward the end, especially the second half and we are really excited to build around him," Gutekunst said at his end of season press conference on Thursday. "I think just the way he led our football team through the tough times, through the success, all the challenges that a season kind of brings you, he did a really good job leading those guys. I think for a young player in his first year that's trying to figure it all out, I think that was exceptional."      

Despite Love's two interceptions playing a role in the Packers' season-ending divisional round loss at the eventual NFC champion San Francisco 49ers, he threw 23 touchdowns to only three interceptions in his last 10 games of 2023, including the postseason. Love finished the regular season with 32 touchdown passes, the second-most in the league trailing only Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott's 36. Including the playoffs, Love totaled 37 in his first year as a full-time starter, the third-most in NFL history trailing only Patrick Mahomes' 53 passing touchdowns in 2018 and Hall of Famer Kurt Warner's 49 in 1999. Green Bay has once again found a face-of-the-franchise quarterback.

Locking Love down

The Packers quarterback is currently set to enter 2024 in the final year of his contract due $13.5 million, but for the sake of long-term planning with regards to the team's salary cap both this offseason and beyond, Gutekunst would like to extend Love for the foreseeable future in the coming months. 

"I think we will go down that road," Gutekunst said when asked about his desire to ink Love to a long-term contract this offseason. "Certainly, I think that'll be important for our football team to have some stability there. Jordan and his representation, they're really good people, so we will start working toward that sometime in the next couple months."  

Love is one of five players in league history with 30 or more passing touchdowns (32) and 4,000 or more passing yards (4,159) in his first regular season as a full-time starting quarterback, joining Brock Purdy, Justin Herbert, Mahomes and Warner.

Running it back with Aaron Jones

Despite being at an age when running backs appear to begin to show signs of decline, 29-year-old Aaron Jones ended his 2023 season as the NFL's hottest running back. He totaled five consecutive games with over 100 rushing yards with the last one being at the 49ers in the playoffs. That snapped snapped San Francisco's streak of 50 games in a row with without allowing a 100-yard rusher, which was the longest such streak in the league. The streak is also the longest run of 100-yard rushing performances in a row in Packers history. 

Jones has also been the team's offensive leader off the field as well with rookie wideout Dontayvion Wicks calling Jones Green Bay's "fire starter." Gutekunst would also like to keep Jones around in 2024, calling him "the heartbeat of the team." The running back enters the offseason with a cap hit just over $17 million, but he did take a $5 million pay cut to stick around last offseason.

"Yeah, absolutely," Gutekunst said when asked if Jones will return to the Packers for his age-30 season. "We'd love to have Aaron back. We're still putting all those things together as far as how we're going to move forward, but he was such a difference-maker when he was out there this year. The way our offense was able to move, the way he changed a lot of the way we operated when he was in there and when he was healthy. I think for us, it's finding a way to keep him out there and keep him healthy. Not only on the field but, and you guys know this, you guys have been around here, he's such an influential leader in our locker room. He's just really the heartbeat of our team. That's certainly the anticipation, that he'll be back." 

Jaire Alexander staying ... David Bakhtiari going?

Despite suspending cornerback Jaire Alexander for making himself an extra captain ahead of the team's Week 16 game at the Carolina Panthers, Gutekunst was crystal clear about his stance on making him available for trade this offseason. 

"No," Gutekunst said when asked if he will think about trading Alexander in the offseason.  

He actually felt the one-game suspension brought the team closer to Alexander going forward. He enters his second season of a four-year, $84 million contract in 2024. 

"Those things are difficult and those are tough," Gutekunst said when asked about suspending Alexander. "But at the end of the day, it allowed us all to reset. I'm really proud of the way Jaire responded to that. I really think that's going to help us moving forward."  

On the flip side, former All-Pro left tackle David Bahktiari's future in Green Bay is less clear. Despite the three-time Pro Bowl and two-time First-Team All-Pro left tackle once again only playing in one game in the 2023 season, something he also did in 2021, with complications stemming from a torn ACL in practice on New Year's Eve in 2020, the Packers offensive line did alright last season.

They allowed the third-lowest quarterback pressure rate in the NFL (30.3%) as well as the third-fewest sacks in the entire league (30) in the regular season. In the two postseason games, they didn't allow Love to be sacked, but the 37.5% pressure rate they allowed ranked 9th out of the 14 teams to complete in the playoffs so far. 

Rasheed Walker, a 2022 seventh-round pick, played at a solid level in Bakhtiari's place in 2023. He allowed 30 quarterback pressures and six quarterback sacks in the regular season. Walker played one of his best games of the season in the loss at the 49ers, allowing just three quarterback pressures and no sacks against 2022 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa and San Francisco's stout defensive line. 

"I think he did a great job," Gutekunst said when asked about Walker. "You've got to give that kid a lot of credit. First of all, his work ethic over the offseason and how tremendously he improved. He fought through some things this year, injury-wise. He was a warrior out there. He's done a great job. I'm really glad we have him. I think he can play left and right. We'll see how it all shakes out, but again, like I touched on before, I'm hoping we'll have a lot of competition in every room, including the offensive line room. But he did a lot of good things. He's got a bright future. He's only going to get better and we're excited about him."    

Bakhtiari turns 33 in September and is entering the final season of his four-year, $92 million contract in 2024. He is currently slated for a cap hit of just over $40 million. Cutting or trading him still leaves the Packers with just over $19 million in dead money for the upcoming season. Since he has played just 13 games across the last three seasons, it appears as though the Packers may not able to count on him as a regular starter going forward. 

"We are still at the very beginning stages of looking at how we are going to move forward with all of that," Gutekunst said when asked about Bakhtiari's future in Green Bay. "Obviously, David has been through a really rough stretch with the injury stuff and he's going through a very major surgery trying to get back to be able to play. We're monitoring that and I know he's working his tail off and once we get down the road and see where he's at health-wise, we will kind of make those decisions. … This is not a short one. It's going to take some time. Obviously, you guys know his work ethic and how important it is for him to get back and playing. But this was a tough one, so he's got a ways to go."  

Unwavering excitement about kicker Anders Carlson

Sixth-round rookie kicker Anders Carlson struggled in 2023. He went 27 of 33 on his field goals in the regular season for an 81.8% field goal conversion rate, the ninth-lowest in the NFL among 31 kickers to attempt 20 or more field goals this season. 

He missed either an extra point or a field goal in 10 of the Packers' final 12 games including the playoffs with one of those misses coming on a crucial 41-yard attempt that would have put Green Bay up seven, 24-17, late against San Francisco. The 49ers capitalized on the miss, driving the length of the field for the go-ahead touchdown. Love threw an interception on the Packers' final drive after the defense surrendered the lead, resulting in a 24-21 season-ending defeat. 

Despite those issues, Carlson was the only kicker on the team's active roster the entire 2023 season, and Gutekunst projected optimism about his future entering 2024.  

"We obviously work kickers out all the time, but as we went through the course of the season, we were committed to going through the ups and downs that a lot of young rookie kickers go through," Gutekunst said. "Certainly, what we went through was not anything different than what a lot of guys go through. I think as we got toward the end of the season and we were headed toward the playoffs and had an opportunity to be in the playoffs, certainly something, if there was a veteran option out there that would have been really good, then maybe we would have considered it. But there wasn't. He was the best option by far. We're really excited about where he's going."