Green Bay Packers director of football operations Eliot Wolf interviewed for the vacant San Francisco 49ers’ GM job on Thursday. We have long considered him to be the frontrunner to eventually replace Ted Thompson.
His rapid succession of promotions suggested the Packers felt he was that guy as well. They have previously blocked him from interviewing elsewhere, most recently, last year when he was a candidate for the Detroit Lions’ open general manager job.
The year before, the Philadelphia Eagles were reportedly interested in Wolf, but he got no such opportunity to interview. The fact that he was granted permission to interview with San Francisco represents a sea change for the Packers.
Clearly, they obviously no longer care if they lose Wolf, simply don’t think they will or felt that they couldn’t block his potential rise in good conscience any longer.
So if Wolf does leave, who will the Packers turn to when Thompson finally decides to step down? The list is short and not unfamiliar.
Wolf wasn’t the only Packers’ exec to interview with the 49ers. Director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst also had an opportunity. Obviously, if the 49ers were to hire Wolf, Gutekunst would seemingly move to the top of the list in Green Bay. Like Wolf, Gutekunst was promoted to his current position last March. He’s been with the Packers full time since 1999, first as a scout and then as director of college scouting (2012-15).
Much like Gutekunst, Highsmith was brought to the Packers by Ron Wolf. He is currently the team’s senior personnel executive, a position he was promoted to in 2012. Highsmith also served as a college scout prior to that, starting his tenure with the Packers in 1999. Although he is probably not as highly-regarded as Wolf or Gutekunst throughout the league, Highsmith is respected within the organization and, unlike everyone else on this list, actually played in the league.
Russ Ball is probably the most unlikely candidate on this list until you consider who’s doing the hiring. That guy will presumably still be Mark Murphy and Russ Ball is exactly the kind of guy Murphy would hire. Ball is the Packers’ vice president of football administration and player finance, a position he’s held since 2008. In other words, he negotiates the contracts and manages the salary cap. The downside is Ball is not, nor has he ever been a personnel guy. He’s a business guy. That said, the Packers are quick to point out that Ball is “highly involved in all team decisions both on and off the playing field.” If put in the GM capacity, Ball would presumably have to rely heavily on his scouting department for personnel decisions. You still can’t ignore him as a candidate. Everyone in the Packers’ organization, especially Murphy and Thompson, loves Russ Ball.
Frankly, Seattle Seahawks GM and De Pere native John Schneider is the most appealing candidate. He’s also the least likely hire. Yes, Schneider came up in the Packers organization. Yes, he’s a local boy. Yes, he’s crafted a highly-successful team in Seattle. Just one problem. Schneider reportedly had an out clause in his contract stating he could leave for the Green Bay GM job if it became available. The Seahawks signed Schneider to a sizable contract extension last offseason and in the process reportedly eliminated that clause. Could Schneider somehow conceivably get out of his deal in Seattle? There’s a slight chance, considering he technically shares personnel decisions with coach Pete Carroll. We don’t know what the wording in his contract is, but an argument could be made that full control of personnel in Green Bay would be a promotion.