While the Packer faithful could see it months ago, Brian Gutekunst has finally admitted it. The Packers are in full rebuild mode. He did not use words to finally communicate the obvious. He went beyond words to actions.
You don’t trade a starting cornerback in the NFL unless you have given up in your current season and are focused entirely on next year. Gutekunst trading Rasul Douglass to essentially move a low fifth round pick to a high third round pick and six million in salary savings sends a message to fans that these 2023 Packers don’t have the solutions to their problems.
An additional third round pick immediately gets fans to point out Gutekunst’s third round draft wiffs, starting with Oren Burks and hopefully ending with Sean Rhyan. But having a high first round pick, two second round picks, and two third round picks, plus additional picks in the late rounds due to the Packers losing so many players to free agency last year, could infuse this team with much needed talent.
Another message may be aimed at Green Bay’s locker room. How it will be interpreted is another question, but clearly, everyone, including the coaching staff, are playing for their jobs in Green Bay.
It seems an eerie coincidence that the Raiders, who have one more win than the Packers, fired their head coach, offensive coordinator and general manager within hours of this trade announcement. If Packer fans look back to the last coach who was canned in the smallest NFL city, they will remember the words and actions of current Packer President, Mark Murphy.
“The 2018 season has not lived up to the expectations and standards of the Green Bay Packers. As a result, I made the difficult decision to relieve Mike McCarthy of his role as head coach, effective immediately.”
Those were the words of Mark Murphy hours after a 20-17 defeat to the Arizona Cardinals. McCarthy was a thirteen-year leader of the Packers who oversaw the development of Aaron Rodgers after deciding to move on from Brett Favre. He brought a Lombardi trophy home to the Packer faithful.
The Packers record at the time was 4-7-1. Murphy claimed to have made the firing decision quickly and without outside input, then inserted himself into the search for McCarthy’s successor. He picked LaFleur, taking most of the credit for the hiring in his initial press conference.
So, will LaFleur get more leeway than a 13-year Super Bowl winning coach? Is it just irony that McCarthy sits as the Cowboys head coach with the third best record in the NFC, looking like a formidable playoff team after a 43-20 dismantling of the Rams last week? Can any Packer fan envision this current Packer offense scoring 40+ points this season?
When you have a losing team in the NFL the grass always looks greener. When I drive my car into the garage, I have a large poster of the offensive huddle during the Packer’s last Super Bowl. In the huddle is Clifton, Colledge, Wells, second year player Josh Sitton and rookie Brian Bulaga. Tight ends are Lee and Quarless.
Receivers are Nelson and Jennings. The lone running back, rookie James Sharks. As I pulled in yesterday, I contemplated if I would take every player in that huddle over every current Packer offensive starter. Sadly, I had to answer; yes. Starks may not have the physical abilities of Aaron Jones, but he was dependable, ending the season with no fumbles.
So, in the final analysis, there may be a GM and President on the hot seat if this coaching staff can’t get the 2023 Packers to resemble a competitive NFL team. Both Gutekunst and LaFleur were hand-picked by Murphy.
Only tortuous logic will keep Murphy in charge if his choices fail on an epic scale. But 2023 is not 2018. In 2018 an MVP quarterback was squabbling with his coach’s play calls and their relationship was disintegrating.
The franchise QB won over the long tenured coach. A coach who is now successfully calling plays in Dallas. Everyone acknowledged Jordan Love would need time and Aaron Rodgers posted only six wins his first starting season.
While pros and cons can be thrown at any NFL head coach, McCarthy had a history of developing players. He also had a combination of elder players leading and teaching the young players.
This current team is missing quality player-teachers. Perhaps the biggest failure of Gutekunst this off-season was not bringing back Mercedes Lewis to nurture the young tight ends. But thanks to the huge dead money gift left by the Aaron Rodgers contract and trade, the Packers became the youngest team in the league. And then the few older players taking up salary cap, Bakhtiari, and De’Vondre Campbell, and others have lost time to injury.
Bakhtiari has been the injury that the Packers have not been able to overcome. Gutekunst drafted Lukas Van Ness in the first round in the 2023 draft. The very next pick, Pittsburgh drafted Broderick Jones, who in his first two starts at left tackle is receiving rave reviews.
Van Ness may turn into a fine player, but Gutekunst’s focus on first round defense may haunt him and the Packers. The offensive line has struggled in the run game and rookie 7th rounder Rasheed Walker was replaced last week after struggling, committing multiple penalties.
An interesting take this week came from former Packer and Hall of Fame safety and Lambeau Leap creator Leroy Butler in his weekly game review with Tom Silverstein in the Milwaukee Journal. After pointing out how the Packer defense has been repeatedly blowing coverage assignments on offensive pass “bunch sets”, Butler talked about how it was important to give players easy codes and words to simplify their assignments and changes before the snap.
He mentioned his former coaches as masters of providing tools to players to make their jobs easier. In the end coaches must be communicators AND create simple communication devices to allow players to communicate quickly to each other. This season has had depressing repetitions of poor communication and missed assignments.
Is it coaching or is it players failing to execute? Or a combination of both? Maybe a better question is to ask can LaFluer or Gutekunst or Murphy figure out how to solve the problem? It may depend on how much time this coach is given to find the answers. Detroit looked like a lost franchise two years ago and their trade for Jared Goff was criticized.
Then his offensive line issues were reduced, and his pass catchers matured and improved. This year they added a quality running back and they lead the division.
The Lions had patience and after years and years of failure, are winning. McCarthy made it through 12 games in 2018. How much time will Team Murphy get in 2023?
This writer said in the beginning of the season that the Packers were playing for next season. Now Gutekunst has officially agreed. Will Team Murphy have patience and let a young team develop or will they start over in 2024. We should have an answer in the next ten weeks.