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Gutekunst Turns Attention to Free-Agent Futures of Bulaga, Crosby, Martinez

“I got a lot of Ted Thompson in me,” Gutekunst said of his predecessor. “I’d like to keep them all.”

GREEN BAY, Wis. – As general manager of the Green Bay Packers, Brian Gutekunst’s job is to have one eye on today and one eye on the future.

That reality was the story of his last week.

Keyed by a prolific offseason, Gutekunst built a team that went from six wins to 13, from out of the playoffs the past two seasons to the NFC Championship Game. However, for the second time in eight weeks, his team was clobbered by the 49ers. With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line on Sunday, the Packers were crushed 37-20.

As the team limped home to Green Bay, Gutekunst departed to Mobile, Ala., for this week’s Senior Bowl, the annual showcase of the top senior prospects for the upcoming draft. He was back in Green Bay on Friday to meet with reporters and start contemplating the future of his team.

“I think it was evident in the two games we played that we have a lot of work to do if we want to be on that level,” he said. “At the same time, they were No. 1 and we were No. 2 in the NFC.”

At the forefront of his itinerary will be deciding the future of the team’s free agents. Four starters will be unrestricted free agents: right tackle Bryan Bulaga, kicker Mason Crosby, linebacker Blake Martinez and defensive back Tramon Williams.

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“I got a lot of Ted Thompson in me. I’d like to keep them all,” Gutekunst said as part of the video associated with this story when asked about 30-something veterans Williams, Bulaga and Crosby.

Bulaga might be the most intriguing of his free agents due to the obvious strengths and concerns. He had an excellent season against a demanding slate of pass rushers but also has battled injuries throughout his 10 NFL seasons.

“Bryan is a really good player,” Gutekunst said. “He obviously had a really good year. He was able to be out there pretty much the entire season, which was important. Of course, we’d love to have a guy like Bryan Bulaga back, but we’re still getting through all that and seeing how these things are going to work.”

Crosby is coming off the best season of his career in terms of accuracy and would like to return. However, he’ll be 36 at the start of next season and might be the best kicker in free agency, meaning the price could high.

“Mason had a fantastic year this year, one of his best,” Gutekunst said. “From my scout’s eye, his leg strength, his power, his accuracy, it’s all there. Mason is going to kick for quite a while longer if he wants to, and we’d certainly love to have him back. Obviously, he’s done it at a high level for a long time, but he’s also become a pretty big leader in our locker room, as well. He obviously had some personal challenges that he met this year, and his laser focus and ability to get through that and perform at a high level was pretty impressive.”

Gutekunst offered a much more tepid response about Martinez. For the third consecutive season, he finished first or second in the NFL in tackles. However, his athletic limitations have showed him in the passing game throughout his career and were a factor in the 49ers’ prolific running game on Sunday. Gutekunst said the team needs to “take a long look at the inside linebacker thing,” and speed at that spot “no doubt” is a necessity in today’s NFL.

“I think facing today’s offenses can be really difficult from that position because there’s so many things you have to do, not only athletically but mentally, as well,” Gutekunst said. “And there’s so much on those guys plates, setting the fronts, communication on the back end and then making the right decisions and then having the athleticism to cover backs and tight ends and carry seams. It’s a difficult skill-set to find, but when you have those guys it does free up your defense to do a lot of things.”