The Green Bay Packers currently find themselves at a crossroads following the firing of head coach Mike McCarthy Sunday evening. Green Bay was justified in moving on from the veteran coach after an embarrassing home loss to the hapless Arizona Cardinals and with the team currently a 4-7-1 on the season.
It was a rather obvious end result to McCarthy’s sometimes successful, but largely disappointing career in Green Bay. Packers president Mark Murphy opened up about the firing one day after it was announced. In the process, the front office head seemingly ignored larger-scale issues at hand in Green Bay.
As much as Murphy wants us to believe this firing wasn’t about one player — namely Aaron Rodgers — he failed to broach a lack of function when it comes to roster building.
In short, Green Bay has only been relevant on the broader NFL stage over the past decade due to the otherworldly performance of the above-mentioned Aaron Rodgers. Like other great quarterbacks of his generation and those who came before him, Rodgers has had an ability to prop up an otherwise talented-depleted roster.
It’s what has earned him a Super Bowl title and an MVP award in what will ultimately be a first ballot Hall of Fame career.
His ability to do that this season has been marred by an injury in September coupled with the reliance on unproven talent as well as veterans that have already hit their ceiling.
This is what young general manager Brian Gutekunst must recognize once the lost cause that is the 2018 season comes to an end at Lambeau. It’s also something Murphy himself needs to understand as he heads the search for a new coach. Maybe some new blood. Not the retreads that are currently left over from McCarthy’s coaching staff.
But it starts with the veterans — players that simply have no role in helping Rodgers reach the pinnacle of NFL success as he hits the twilight of his career.
This includes a linebacker in Clay Matthews, who is a shell of his former self. The six-time Pro Bowler has not recorded double-digit sacks since all the way back in 2014. He’s an unrestricted free agent after the 2018 season. And while the idea of keeping Matthews in Green Bay for his entire career has to be appealing, this is about more than just looking to the past. It’s about the future. And Matthews is no longer a linchpin on defense. It’s that simple.
The same thing can pretty much be said about fellow pending free agent Randall Cobb. A product of Rodgers more than anything else, the 28-year-old receiver has regressed a great deal recently.
This season alone, he’s caught just 29 passes in what has been an injury-plagued campaign. Green Bay has youngsters on the roster set to step up in Cobb’s stead. That includes rookies Marquez Valdez-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. There’s simply no reason to waste money and playing time on Cobb moving forward.
After that, Green Bay also must think long and hard about ridding itself of the likes of linebacker Nick Perry, tight end Jimmy Graham and offensive tackle David Bakhtiari in what would be nothing more than salary cap dumps.
Working in the Packers’ favor here is the way Gutekunst has changed Green Bay’s MO in free agency since taking over the helm from former head honcho Ted Thompson. For pretty much the first time since signing Charles Woodson back in 2006, Green Bay hit the free agent market hard this past spring. That included signing the above-mentioned Graham as well as defensive lineman Mo Wilkerson.
These moves were shocking on the surface given the Packers’ unwillingness to hit free agency under Thompson.
It could also be a harbinger of things to come. Why not move on from the veterans mentioned above, only to replace them with players who figure into Green Bay’s long-term plans? Players that are either coming off their rookie contracts or just now entering their prime.
The idea is simple. Surround Rodgers with the best possible supporting cast while he’s still playing at an elite level. Imagine that. For too long now, the Packers have wasted his prime. It’s been a dark cloud hanging over this organization over the past decade-plus.
This must also extend to Green Bay’s coaching search. Interim head coach Joe Philbin can’t realistically be looked to as a long-term replacement for McCarthy. Adding another veteran retread would only continue the cycle of bad coaching we saw plague Green Bay under McCarthy.
Think outside the box. Go with either a young college coach or an up-and-coming NFL coordinator. It’s not like there’s a lack of options out there.
Oklahoma head football coach Lincoln Riley comes to mind first. Just imagine how well Rodgers would work in his spread-them-out offense — taking advantage of a quarterback that boasts one of the most accurate arms in NFL history. It would be football porn that Tumblr might be forced to ban.
If not a college coach, maybe follow in the line of the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers in hiring an innovative offensive mind from the professional ranks. Coordinators Josh McDaniels (Patriots), John DeFilippo (Vikings) and Pete Carmichael Jr. (Saints) come to mind first.
It’s one thing to fire a head coach who should have been bounced from his job. It’s a completely different thing to look in the mirror and recognize that the status quo isn’t working.
Should the Packers fail to do this, they’ll continue to be mired in mediocrity. If they actually recognize the larger-scale issues in Green Bay, Rodgers’ twilight could be filled with Lombardi Trophies — ushering in an era of Packers football that’s representative of this team’s heralded history.