“Every decision we make is in the best interest of improving all aspects of our program.” That’s what Green Bay Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy said in trying to justify releasing veteran guard Josh Sitton over the weekend.
Okay, coach, emotions have cooled somewhat in the last five days, so let’s consider how this scandal — let’s call it what it is — will affect the team’s program.
McCarthy has just broken up one of the finest offensive lines in football — and the best unit in recent memory for the Packers. This almost certainly includes the loss of T.J. Lang at the end of the year. The organization informed him and Sitton on the same day during training camp they were not priorities for contract extensions.
Josh Sitton was the senior member and unquestioned leader of the offensive line. Not only is that group dispirited by the stab in the back, the entire team is in disbelief. Defensive lineman Mike Daniels took a risk when he bemoaned Sitton’s departure: “That guy made me better. I think he made all of us up front better. I’m going to miss him, but it’s just the league.”
But the league didn’t do this. One guy with one big ego did it. And he did it to a guy who gave his all to the team. Remember 2014, when Sitton couldn’t even practice for much of the year due to a torn ligament in his big toe? But there he was every Sunday, performing at an All-Pro level.
Sitton’s departure puts Aaron Rodgers at greater risk of injury. I believe Sitton allowed 2.5 sacks over the last THREE years. I doubt anyone else in the league can match that performance, and Lane Taylor sure isn’t about to. The passing game as a whole can’t help but suffer with the loss of this superb pass protector. How does this help the program?
McCarthy did all he could to humiliate Sitton. A trade could obviously have brought a valuable return, but instead the coach and general manager cast Sitton off with the 20 or so mostly undrafted wannabes on the roster cutdown date. The other obvious option was to let Sitton play out his contract and leave as a free agent next year. How does it help the Packers to not get a high compensatory draft pick next year as part of the league’s free agency formula?
What about team morale? In the short term, we know the whole locker room was stunned, upset, and just plain pissed off. In the longer term, however, teammates now know loyalty is a one-way street in Green Bay. I even believe some players will think twice before considering any move to join this team, and serve under this coach.
Everyone talks about how the NFL is a “business,” but this wasn’t a business decision — it was vengeance by a wrathful ego that can’t cope with the mere suggestion that he could be wrong.
We have all witnessed what’s happened at team press conferences in the last few years. They are no longer amiable affairs when the head coach is at the podium. They have become tense and edgy, with reporters likely to be ridiculed or bullied if they ask a question that ruffles the coach’s feathers.
Coach McCarthy has very intentionally conveyed a clear message to all team members and team employees: you are laborers, pure and simple, who serve at my pleasure. You are all expendable, you dare not criticize or question anything I do. And forget that crap about team unity, team bonding and team loyalty — you had best be loyal to us, but we owe no loyalty to you.
The slogan “it’s my way or the highway” is painfully accurate at Lambeau Field. For Josh Sitton, the highway was U.S. 41, which took him straight south to the Chicago Bears. How sad and undeserved for this great teammate, Pro Bowler, and future Packers Hall of Famer — though that might have to wait until Mike McCarthy hits the highway.