Four straight seasons of heartbreak for the Green Bay Packers and their fans. From two straight NFC championship losses to the San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an early exit in the divisional round to the 49ers, and losing a play-in game at home to the Detroit Lions.
So, what now? A lot of people think the Packers are done for a long, long time from having an aging roster to losing their hall-of-fame quarterback, and their current cap situation. Although some of these things may be true, there is a lot to look forward to and what looks to be a more promising future than fans around the league want to believe.
Fans around the league, especially fans of other teams around the NFC North, are taking advantage of an unfortunate season it was for the Packers to say they are done and say how bad they are/were. Which is fair besides the fact the Packers are not done. There are things that need to happen to get back to where they want to go.
It all starts with who is QB1 and what quarterback Aaron Rodgers does. Head Coach Matt LaFleur has already stated he wants Rodgers back as his quarterback because he is one of the best of all time. Then LaFleur was asked tough questions about why that is the case when Rodgers had his worst statistical season ever and will be 40 next season. LaFleur went on to mention there were a lot of things that went wrong this year and how Rodgers could have done some things better, but he also mentioned how he could have done some things better himself.
Although it’s time to move on for the better of the Packers franchise. Rodgers is a Packers legend no doubt about it, and it will be a sad day when it officially comes out that he has either retired or is not returning to the Packers, but this is what is best for the Packers organization. The Packers cannot simply let quarterback Jordan Love walk out the door to keep holding onto the past to chase Super Bowls and running it back every year. Running it back after 2020 was a good idea, 2021 it was ok but probably should not have been done, and finally 2022 well we all know how that played out.
The bottom line is, no other young quarterback is going to be able to sit behind a legend and future hall-of-fame quarterback for 3 years and learn as Love did. Love has shown flashes too. Players have been mentioning it over the season. Such as Eagles cornerback Darius Slay and Packers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. Slay stated earlier in the season, “Young buck came in and did a very very solid job. Green Bay got a bright bright future, like a bright one because buddy was slinging it and I’m not going to lie he (Love) lowkey looked like A-Rod like he’s been learning a lot. You can see the gunslinging mentality that he (Love) has just like him (Rodgers) with the quick release and picking the back leg up. He’s (Love) copying and pasting him (Rodgers) for sure.” Then Campbell said, “He’s a starting quarterback. He’s better than a lot of starting quarterbacks in this league.”
So, it seems the Packers have the quarterback situation covered it’s all about if Rodgers decides to retire and if he does not retire, they must make the right decision and move on. Next is the overall roster. It seems that the Packers’ roster is old right? Wrong. Although the Packers have been running it back, they have been adding young talented players to the roster. Especially with this last draft. If players take that 2nd-year jump this team could be back to competing for a Super Bowl if all the right moves are made. Let’s take a look at the young pieces the Packers have on rookie contracts or locked up for the future, or who are expected to be extended at some point.
Quay Walker, Devonte Wyatt, Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Zach Tom, Kingsley (JJ) Enagbare, Tariq Carpenter, and Samori Toure are all draft picks that shined or played meaningful snaps that made an impact at some point this season. Walker and Wyatt need to shore up some character issues with controlling their emotions on the field, but they continually got better over the season and started to make impact plays down the stretch. Watson, Doubs, and Toure, all made splash plays at some point with some inconsistencies but all three of these guys can take a big 2nd-year jump. Enagbare filled in for Rashan Gary after he tore his ACL and was the best rookie pass rusher in the NFL in creating pressure, Tom was the best rookie offensive lineman without even being the strongest so once he puts on some more muscle he can get to an all-pro level, and Carpenter really made a name for himself on special teams, especially down the stretch.
Now guys that have received extensions or are under contract for multiple years. Jaire Alexander, Kenny Clark, Elgton Jenkins, De’Vondre Campbell, Rasul Douglas, Eric Stokes, Josh Myers, AJ Dillon, and Josiah Deguara. A lot of these guys are some of the best in the NFL at their positions but also some have played key roles and also need to improve. Then the biggest name that really has not been mentioned. Gary’s, as he was on a tear and one of the best pass rushers in the NFL until he, unfortunately, tore his ACL. He should receive an extension soon as well. The young core is in place. Not to mention they have the 15th overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft. So, more youth is on the way.
The Packers also have some veterans that are still some of the best in the NFL at their respective positions that will more than likely have their contracts restructured to create cap room. The Packers can create cap room in a lot of ways too mainly through restructures where they can create 30-40 million in cap space with restructures of players like David Bakhtiari, Alexander, Aaron Jones, and others. The last piece of the puzzle though? What Matt LaFleur does with his coaching staff.
LaFleur said he “anticipates” no changes to his coaching staff but that could always change. The biggest name of the bunch fans will be concerned with is Joe Barry. Barry should not be back. The defense did not live up to the hype due to Barry and the defense was only good when he could have been coaching for his job. That should not be enough to earn a 3rd year. Former Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett could be on his way back to Green Bay as well. That also means Broncos offensive coordinator Justin Outten may be on his way back if Denver’s new head coach does not retain him. It has been rumored that the New York Jets will be parting ways with offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, Matt’s brother, so it would not be surprising if he ends up in Green Bay in some capacity either has Matt tried getting Mike to the Packers with him when he was hired, but 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan stopped that from happening.
Now LaFleur believes in stability and consistency which is why he “anticipates” no changes to his coaching staff. However, after an 8-9 season and the team did not live up to their expectations, there should be some changes in some capacity. Now, some fans think LaFleur should be fired as well, but this was his first bad season in four overall seasons.
It is a bit of an overreaction, but if no changes are made and depending on the team the Packers field together, LaFleur could be, but not likely, coaching for his job next year. It is going to be an interesting offseason in Green Bay, but what Brian Gutekunst should do is lead the changing of eras. From moving on from Rodgers whether he retires or not, continuing to build the young core in place, extending Gary, and retaining key free agents like Kesian Nixon, Dallin Leavitt, and Rudy Ford who substantially changed the culture and improved the Packers special teams.
What LaFleur needs to do is make some changes to his coaching staff starting with Barry and going through every little thing to figure out what went wrong this season and improve in those areas. Ultimately, it’s up to LaFleur and Gutekunst to fix this and if the right moves are made they can be back competing for a Super Bowl if not next season in two seasons but one thing is for sure, the future is not as dark as it seems.