Brian Gutekunst convinced Davante Adams would not have played for the Packers in 2022, traded or not

Ryan Wood
Packers News
Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams speaks during a news conference last week.

PALM BEACH, Fla. – Eleven days after trading the NFL’s best receiver, Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst settled in the shade behind The Breakers Palm Beach hotel, site of this week’s NFL owners meetings in southeast Florida.

Enough time had elapsed for the dust to settle on a departure that shook the Packers' foundation, though it did not come as much surprise, at least not for people in the league familiar with the situation. The trade hung as a possible conclusion for months, ever since negotiations with receiver Davante Adams halted before the 2021 season. The Packers made the mistake of letting Adams dream of writing his own future, prioritizing a reunion with former college quarterback Derek Carr.

Once the two-time All-Pro got a whiff of that freedom, he didn’t let go. By the time Gutekunst traded Aaron Rodgers’ favorite receiver for a first- and second-round pick in this year’s draft, he was sure there was no other possible outcome.

Gutekunst was convinced Adams would not play for the Packers in 2022, whether he was traded or not.

“Not at the end of the day,” Gutekunst said. “Those are really tough decisions. To lose a player of his caliber, and what he’s done for the organization, those are hard decisions and hard things to move on from. At the same time, I think once we got through the discussions with Davante after the season, this is what was best for the organization and Davante going forward.”

The decision, ultimately engineered by Adams, was not one Gutekunst expected to make as the Packers secured the NFC’s top seed last season. Before last month’s NFL scouting combine, Gutekunst made clear he hoped Adams would ultimately sign a long-term deal to stay with the team that selected him in the second round of the 2014 draft. As Adams’ departure became inevitable, Gutekunst said, he frequently consulted his quarterback.

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Rodgers, who called Adams the most talented teammate he has ever played with late last season, re-signed knowing he would have a new top target in 2022.

Gutekunst’s communication with Rodgers might have helped pave the way toward signing a four-year, $200 million extension, the richest in NFL history and one the Packers hope enables the future Hall of Famer to retire playing only for them. When Rodgers’ relationship with the Packers splintered a year ago, the quarterback cited lack of communication with Gutekunst as a primary reason. Gutekunst adjusted his relationship with Rodgers, opening himself to more dialogue on personnel matters.

That was never tested more than during Adams’ decision to move on.

“It’s very much been a partnership,” Gutekunst said, “over the last year moving forward with all these decisions. He spoke greatly of having some impact on people that affect his job, so certainly as we went through, it was important for me and us to communicate through that.”

The trade was heavily vetted on both sides. As Gutekunst held firm to his demand for a first- and second-round pick, Josh McDaniels, the recently hired Las Vegas Raiders head coach, turned on the film. McDaniels said he knew Adams was a “great player,” but he wanted to dig into the details.

McDaniels spoke with several people familiar with Adams before his boss, Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler, sent a pair of premium draft picks to the Packers. He decided Adams was the type of receiver who can win on third down and in the red zone. He saw Adams is equally productive against man and zone coverages with the versatility to line up all over the field.

Acquiring the tools that enabled Adams to set or tie Packers single-season records in catches, yards and touchdowns the past two seasons were worth effectively sitting out the early part of the draft this spring, McDaniels said.

“He deserves the credit,” McDaniels said, “as well as the people who’ve coached him in Green Bay. Certainly, they’ve done a great job with him. He’s a really, really hard worker, and getting to meet him last week and really sit down and talk with him, it’s easy to see why this guy has been successful. He’s very driven, he’s mature, he’s intelligent, and he knows what it takes to work hard and be productive at his position in this league, and we’re really thankful to have him.”

After the trade, McDaniels said he and Ziegler had a celebratory fist bump. Adams’ move across the league shifted the balance of power inside the AFC West. In what should be the NFL’s best division next season, the Raiders had no choice but to be bold. Now they’re expected to be a contender.

Nathaniel Hackett, who coached Adams as the Packers' offensive coordinator the past three seasons, will now coach against his former star receiver as the Denver Broncos' head coach. Hackett said he wasn’t surprised Adams was traded, given how negotiations stalled before the Packers placed a franchise tag on him.

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“I’ll tell you,” Hackett said, “I’m so excited to see him two times a year. I’m going to have a couple plans for him. I’ve been with him for three years. I know a couple things. … But Davante is a great man. There’s going to be a lot of talking going on in that game, because that’s my guy. We know how to get under each other’s skin too, which is going to be really fun.”

Gutekunst issued a statement after the trade calling Adams “undoubtedly one of the greatest players” in team history. It wasn’t easy to hear a player of Adams’ stature wanted to play elsewhere, even if Gutekunst understood the reasons. This was more about a personal matter off the field, moving closer to home, playing with one of his best friends, factors the Packers could not control.

The trade made business easier this offseason, even if it also gave Gutekunst more work to do. Without the $20.1 million cap charge that came with Adams’ franchise tag, the Packers re-signed cornerback Rasul Douglas and added veteran defensive lineman Jarran Reed. Both will join a defense that should be strong on all levels, especially after the Packers re-signed All-Pro inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell.

Then there is the extra pair of draft picks, giving the Packers four in the first 59 selections of next month’s draft, and plenty of flexibility as Gutekunst rebuilds the offense.

“Certainly getting something back that could help our football team was very important,” Gutekunst said. “As we went through it, to me, you never really replace a guy like Davante Adams. It’s going to be more accumulative of how the whole team steps up and plays, and what we can add to that. So getting the two picks, and having four picks in the top 59, I think gives us a little bit of ammunition to make a difference there a little bit.”