Green Bay are one of the most storied franchises in the league. They’re unique in terms of their ownership which is fan based and where the wait for a season ticket to Lambeau Field is close to a lifetime long. The smallest town in the league with a franchise their supporters are some of the most passionate in the world, braving the icy cold conditions of Wisconsin to see their team play.
The 2017 post season will be the first without the Packers in eight seasons. I read a tweet a few days back (and apologies I can’t remember who wrote it) saying that in thirty years’ time, NFL Films will release a programme about how this most recent version of the franchise with Aaron Rodgers at QB was the dynasty that never was. Aaron Rodgers has been badly let down over the past few seasons with the level of talent around him not being good enough. For most of those eight seasons he’s single handily dragged the Packers into the post season and then into a few championship games.
So, what’s next for the Green Bay Packers?
Ted Thompson has held the post of General Manager in Green Bay since 2005. Any other GM with a Lombardi to their name and the string of playoff appearances would be held in high regard. But increasingly there are calls for his head. If Green Bay had a more traditional ownership I’m pretty sure he would have gone a couple of seasons ago. I admire his ‘draft and develop’ policy but it only works when you’re drafting well and have a team of coaches’ adept at coaching and mentoring young talent to get better. As far as I can tell that’s not happening.
In 2017 Thompson used his first four picks on defence. In 2016 four of the first five picks were on defence. The first two picks of 2015 were on defence. In 2014, 2013 and 2012, the Packers used their first round pick to select a defensive player. And yet one the biggest issues the Packers have is on defence where they’re in the bottom half of the league (22nd) in terms of yards given up. If you look through the defensive roster there’s a distinct lack of stand out talent. Clay Matthews is the obvious one though he’s now the wrong side of 30. Mike Daniels, Nick Perry and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are the only other names that stand out which given the amount of top draft picks have been spent on the unit is not enough.
On the offensive side of the ball it doesn’t fair much better. Aaron Rodgers has for years now made a mediocre unit look better than it really is. He’s also done that without much of a run game to lean on. Eddie Lacey was the obvious big (literally) hope, and though his troubles were well documented questions must be asked as to how the Green Bay front office were not able to manage them. Ty Montgomery took over last year and whilst he’s done well, he is originally a wide receiver. In 2017 though progress may have been made with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams but it may be too little too late. At wide receiver it looks a little better with Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. In fact Adams now looks better than an aging Nelson and will likely take over the WR1 spot next year with Nelson possibly out of the door.
As for the O-Line, well the only reason that Green Bay haven’t suffered more sacks than they should is because of Rodgers ability to scramble out of the pocket and make miraculous plays. However he’s getting older now and the likelihood is that that scrambling ability will lessen at which point the O-Line needs to improve.
I think this will be the season that Thompson goes. With the Rodgers injury I think the Green Bay natives got a proper view of how good their team is. Or isn’t. So if Thompson goes then where do Green Bay look to? I think they could possibly look within and promote Eliot Wolf. Wolf’s is a name that is constantly touted alongside any open GM position in the league – including that of the New York Giants recently. Should he be promoted he’ll need to ensure that he demonstrates he’s learnt from Thompson’s mistakes. Another inhouse promotion could also come in the form of the current Director of Personnel, Brian Gutekunst. Gutekunst interviewed for the 49ers GM role last year but pulled himself out of the running, even though there were apparently a lot of positive noises coming from San Francisco about him.
Outside of Green Bay itself then they could look to another franchise with a dominant QB, the current Patriots VP of Player Personnel, Nick Caserio. Like Wolf, Caserio seems to get linked with most open roles though the thinking is he’ll step up as and when Belichick retires though with that note on the immediate outlook he may look to jump ship. The Packers could also look within the division and speak to Vikings Assistant GM, George Paton. This would get my vote based on what he’s been able to help build in Minnesota where they have strength and depth at most positions. He also knows the NFC North well.
As previously stated, the defence has had a tonne of investment poured into it through draft picks and yet it’s still not that good. Certainly not championship calibre. They’ve recorded 35 sacks which puts them 17th in the league. For INTs they’re 18th with a total of 11. It’s all very mediocre.
First things first, this has been going on a long time now and the same man has been at the forefront; Dom Capers. I think it’s been a bit of a mystery to most how he’s not been relieved of the role before now but, like Thompson, now is the time for him to go.
Next up they need to address the pass rush. Clay Matthews is getting on now and his pace isn’t what it once was. He can still do a job but he’s on his own. He needs help. In terms of free agents there’s not really many players coming to the end of their contract that would make the pulse quicken at all. One option would be to put in a trade offer for Muhammad Wilkerson who is supposedly fed up with life in New York. It’s an option but I don’t see it happening.
That leaves the draft. And based on their poor performance this year then for the first time in a long time they’ve got a fairly high draft pick – 14th. Chances are that the premier pass rusher of the draft will be gone by the time their pick comes along but if either Bradley Chubb from N.C State or Arden Key from LSU then they should run up to the podium as fast as they can and hand their card in to get which ever is available! Failing that happen Christian Wilkins from Clemson could be available. He’s a big guy standing at 6’4” and weighing around 300lbs but he’s had a great year in a dominant defensive line for Clemson. Sticking to Clemson, Clelin Ferrell could be an option to add speed at the defensive end spot. With Matthews playing alongside Ferrell on one side of the line it could create headaches for even the best offensive protection units.
This is a must next season. We’ve seen what happens when Rodgers go down this year – the Packers need to keep him upright and protected throughout the year to stand any chance of getting into the playoffs – especially with having to play the Vikings twice each year.
As above, I would still be using the first pick on the pass rush. That means having to look a little deeper in the draft. If they’re upgrading the tackle position, then either Orlando Brown from Oklahoma or Kolton Miller from UCLA. If they opt for Brown then there is a chance they actually move him to guard as he can be a bit suspect against a speedy pass rush. Miller also has issues against a speed rush however a move from left to right tackle will probably suffice enough to hold that slight deficiency in check. Both players though will need coaching up to become quality starters.
At guard it’s unlikely that Billy Price from Ohio State will be available when Green Bay take their second pick so Will Hernandez from UTEP could be an option. Whilst he is shorter than most guards at the NFL level he’s likely to make up for it in his strength. At 330lbs this is a big guy in all other ways!
So, what next?
Both Ted Thompson and Dom Capers have to go, their time has come and the organisation needs some fresh blood. I’ve not mentioned Mike McCarthy here as I think he’s done a decent job with what he’s had to work with. It was also evident last year when he took back the play calling that he’s good at directing the offence. He needs to bring in a strong defensive coordinator who can really fire up the defensive unit and get them playing at a higher level. Maybe then, the promise of a potential dynasty may come closer.