Green Bay Packers Drama: Who is to Blame?by Mason Thompson July 24, 2021 2 comments
The Green Bay Packers are in the smallest market in the NFL. In fact, Green Bay is the smallest market of any NFL, MLB, or NBA team. The Packers have made up for their lack of a market with their illustrious NFL success. With 13 NFL championships, they are arguably the top NFL franchise. Lambeau Field is one of the most storied stadiums in sports, despite what Adam Thielen may tell you.
The Packers have had a lot of success. That includes a great transition from one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history to yet another for about 30 years of success. Unfortunately, only two Super Bowls in 1996 and 2010 have come from those two great quarterbacks. Since these two greats have been in Green and Gold since 1992, the Packers have suffered only four losing seasons. Yes, in 29 seasons, the Packers have only endured four losing seasons. The lack of championships is frustrating, but Green Bay has consistently been in a position for the Super Bowl.
Despite being one of the top teams in the NFL during this timespan, the Packers have mainly stayed out of the eyes of the media. There were only two times they haven’t. Those two times were when the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 draft, with Brett Favre still one of the best quarterbacks in the league. With Favre at the helm, why would the Packers draft a quarterback in the first round that wouldn’t play?
The Right Move
Ted Thompson caught a lot of flack for selecting Rodgers in the 2005 draft. Through it all, he said it was the right decision. Following the 2007 season, Favre retired. Then, all of a sudden, Favre wanted to come back. The Packers, meanwhile, had already moved on to someone else. That was Rodgers. After riding the bench for three years, the California product was ready to start. While the 2008 season was a bumpy one, the Packers were back in the playoffs in 2009. In the playoffs, they lost a tight game to the Cardinals in the Wild Card, albeit with a controversial ending. In 2010, the Packers were on top of the NFL world, with Rodgers hoisting the Lombardi trophy in only his third season as the starter.
Rodgers and Mike McCarthy seemed like a dynamic duo for most of their time in Green Bay together. The Packers made the playoffs eight consecutive times under the two. That streak came to an end in 2017, with Green Bay finishing the season 7-9 thanks to a Rodgers injury that saw Brett Hundley take the majority of the starting snaps and not doing much to put the team over the top.
Following the 2017 season, the Packers went in a different direction at the general manager position. Thompson didn’t seem to have the same impact he did when he was younger, and his draft classes in the years leading up to his 2017 departure were lackluster. Years after he was blasted for drafting Rodgers, Thompson had brought Green Bay another title and plenty of playoff appearances. Without him, Rodgers wouldn’t even be a Green Bay Packer. The GM search ended in-house, with Brian Gutekunst being hired as the new man in charge. After spending 19 years and working his way through the ranks, Gutekunst was at the top of the mountain of an NFL front office.
In the 2018 draft, Gutekunst did the unthinkable. He moved up and down the draft board. With the Packers scheduled to pick 14th in the draft, the New Orleans saints dangled a future first-round pick in front of the new GM’s face, and Gutekunst was wise to take it. After falling to 27, the Packers then moved back up with the Seahawks to secure the 18th pick to select a Louisville cornerback by the name of Jaire Alexander. You may have heard of him. Unfortunately, the rest of the 2018 draft was lackluster besides a late-round selection on Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Even with an exciting offseason before the 2018 season, things went from bad to worse. Even with Rodgers healthy, the Packers slumped to a 6-9-1 record with McCarthy and Rodgers not meeting eye to eye for most of the season. The story is well documented of the two’s struggles that include Rodgers calling his plays instead of the ones McCarthy sent in. Ultimately, McCarthy was let go after a horrid performance that resulted in a 20-17 loss against the one-win Cardinals just hours after the loss.
Coming into the 2019 season, the biggest thing for the Packers was finding a new man to coach a team coming off of two consecutive losing seasons. Green Bay’s search ended by hiring Matt Lafleur, who had served as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator. With Gutekunst and LaFleur at the helm, the future looked bright for Green Bay.
Gutekunst shocked the sports world in his first year in free agency by going on a spending spree and bringing in four key pieces. Adrian Amos, Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Billy Turner were all acquired during that free agency period. Green Bay had added four new pieces via the free-agent pool and was armed with two first-round choices in the draft.
Gutekunst puzzled Packer fans by selecting pass-rusher Rashan Gary with the 12th selection after signing the Smiths in free agency. After a redshirt year in 2019, Gary burst onto the scene in 2020 and appears to likely be the starter opposite of Za’Darius Smith with Preston Smith taking a pay-cut during the 2021 offseason. Gutekunst once again traded up with the Seahawks to select Maryland’s, Darnell Savage. Following this move, some laughed at the Packers, even one specific person asking, ‘you signed Amos for what?’ You know who you are. So, what have Amos and Savage done? They’re only one of the best safety tandems in the entire NFL.
On day two, the Packers had the pick of the entire draft by snagging Elgton Jenkins. Jenkins has been nothing short of phenomenal in his two seasons with the Packers. He is one of the most valuable players, not only on the Packers but maybe the entire NFL, with his ability to play any spot on the offensive line. While Jace Sternberger hasn’t lived up to his expectations, the Packers expect a big jump from him in year three, and his former teammate at Texas A&M, Kinglsey Keke, is slated to be a starter this season after an impressive 2020 season.
Many expected the Packers to endure growing pains under LaFleur. To the league’s surprise, Green Bay finished the season with a 13-3 record. While things seemed clear and pretty in Green Bay, Lafleur and Rodgers didn’t see eye to eye a lot during their first year together. The two seemed to put their issues aside. The Packers leaned on the rushing attack of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, as well as an energy-infused defense to lead them to the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, where they got slammed due to Green Bay’s horrid run defense.
Although they didn’t reach the Super Bowl, the Packers exceeded expectations during the 2019 season. Overall, Rodgers seemed to struggle with the new system, having one of his worst statistical seasons in recent memory, albeit a good one by most standards. He finished the season with a touch over 4,000 passing yards while completing 62 percent of his passes for 26 touchdowns and four interceptions.
The Packers didn’t make a big splash in the 2020 free agent pool besides not retaining Blake Martinez and Bryan Bulaga and replacing them with Christian Kirksey and Ricky Wagner. With glaring needs at receiver, tackle, and off-ball linebacker, the Packers had a wide variety of directions to choose from in the draft. With the draft ongoing, the receivers came flying off the board in the teens. When the Dolphins went on the clock with the 26th pick, the ticker went yellow across the bottom of the screen with the Packers trading up, seemingly for Tee Higgins or Patrick Queen.
When the words Jordan Love left commissioner Goodell’s mouth, the most common words that left Green Bay’s fan’s mouths were what the hell. Since then, media outlets that had Love pegged as even the second-highest quarterback on their draft boards have completely flipped the script. They started hating on the former Utah State quarterback as if he isn’t even a starting-caliber quarterback in the league, which is far from the case. Many fans were left confused and frustrated and hoped day two would be better, only for the Packers to select a running back, seemingly the position on the roster they didn’t need thanks to Jones and Williams already on the roster, and a fullback. To make matters worse, Green Bay didn’t draft a single receiver in the whole draft, leaving many fans and analysts furious.
What Happened Next?
Rodgers wasn’t the happiest. He hadn’t muttered a word about retirement and had mentioned playing into his 40’s in Green Bay, only for the team to draft his replacement instead of helping the team out for the very next season. Nevertheless, Rodgers put his head down and went out guns blazing on his way to another MVP trophy and led the Packers to the NFC Championship again following a 13-3 season, but again fell short, this time to the Buccaneers.
The Packers were strapped for cap space heading into the most recent offseason. Green Bay had a massive decision to make with both Corey Linsley and Jones as free agents. While many expected them to retain Linsley after drafting AJ Dillon in the second round, that was not the case. Jones signed a four-year contract to remain in Green Bay, while Linsley, who was a first-team all-pro center on perhaps the best offensive line in all of football, left to go to the Chargers. Williams went to the Lions on a very cheap deal. Many Packer fans were upset about keeping Jones instead of Linsley, especially at the cost it would’ve taken to keep Williams to pair with Dillon.
With the Packers strapped for cap, many expected Green Bay to restructure the reigning MVP’s contract. There were a few problems though. First, by restructuring the Rodgers contract, it would hurt the Packers financially further down the road. The Packers have expiring deals with Amos, Alexander, Adams, and many others. Second, restructuring Rodgers’ contract signals to Love and his agent that he won’t be the starter in 2022 either when many pegged that to be the year the Packers moved on from Rodgers. A restructure never came. Both Kirksey and Wagner were released. Devin Funchess, Amos, Mason Crosby, and Preston Smith had their contracts restructured. Dean Lowry‘s contract was one the Packers could’ve moved on from but ultimately didn’t.
Schefter’s Draft Day Experiment
Everyone knows Rodgers hasn’t been happy with the drafting of Love. Adam Schefter took that one step further on Draft Day, saying that Rodgers wanted out of Green Bay and had grown frustrated with the franchise. The best part was that he seemingly had no evidence to back it up and was spouting any information to keep his point from being as false as possible. During draft night, it seemed as though a trade could even send Rodgers to the Denver Broncos. Ultimately, that didn’t happen. Since then, Schefter has continued to back up his draft day report with even more spouts on live TV. Despite that, the front office kept their heads down and went into the draft weekend and even gave Rodgers a new toy in Amari Rodgers.
Adams is the best receiver in the league right now. He has backed up 12 from the start. Many trade packages that include Rodgers also include Adams due to their friendship and bond with one another. With Adams in a contract year, if the Rodgers situation has stained the relationship between him and the organization, the Packers could get the most out of the two players as possible in a potential trade.
Things got ugly once again on Friday when Ian Rapoport reported that the Packers and Adams had come to a screeching halt in their contract talks.
Pause. Before you panic, this is what the Packers have always done. They break off contract talks before training camp and come back in the early to middle of the season and give contracts to their players that way. It was done to David Bakhtiari and has been done with several other players on the team. Don’t let the media fool you.
So, Who’s to Blame for the Drama?
Rodgers could very well surprise the world by showing up to training camp and running it back with Green Bay. Let’s be real. That probably won’t happen. So, Love has already gotten all of the starting snaps and has shown promise. Media outlets think that the Packers will crumble without Rodgers when in reality, they are still a playoff team.
Mark Murphy serves as the team’s president and has said some controversial things about their star quarterback. He deserves some of the blame for this ongoing situation as he oversees the whole operation. There is an argument to be had if the Packers not having an owner is a cause for concern right now as well.
Gutekunst deserves a good bit of the blame. He handed Jones a large chunk of money, knowing he had to pay Adams and has to pay Alexander, Amos, Savage, Gary, and many others over the next few years. He also had to sign off on the Love pick. While many think Gutekunst is the main answer to this question, there are a few factors that have been overlooked.
The Answer: Matt LaFleur
Before LaFleur was hired, Gutekunst had already drafted debatably the top cornerback in the NFL with Alexander. In his second year as GM, Gutekunst had a phenomenal draft by adding three stars to the team in Gary, Savage, and Jenkins while also diving into the free-agent pool for seemingly the first time in ages. Following the 2019 season, which was LaFleur’s first as head coach, some conversations had to be had. During those conversations, he had to have said something that even started the idea of drafting a quarterback in the first round. He is around Rodgers every day, and when the two didn’t see eye to eye for the majority of the 2019 season, it lit a fire under the young head coach to go and find HIS guy.
The whole 2020 draft was centered around LaFleur, his scheme, and getting HIS guys. The drafting of Dillon gave the Packers their Derrick Henry, who LaFleur had coached during his time in Tennessee. Josiah Deguara was likened to Kyle Juszczyk. LaFleur went to the front office and said that the personnel on the team wasn’t good enough for the system he wanted to run. That’s how this started. He saw Rodgers struggle in his first year in a new system. He then wanted a young quarterback that wouldn’t butt heads with him.
Moving On Up
If you look at it now, all of the Kyle Shanahan tree has done this now. Shanahan traded up for Trey Lance in the 2021 draft because Jimmy Garoppolo struggled and was injured in recent seasons. Sean McVay has taken the Rams to the Super Bowl but wanted to get a better quarterback and shipped two first-round choices and Jared Goff to the Lions for Matthew Stafford.
What is Next for the Packers?
Training camp starts in less than a week for Green Bay. Rodgers likely won’t be there after declining a two-year extension a few months ago that would’ve made him the highest-paid player in the league. It is unknown where Adams stands in this situation and whether he will be at camp or not. Whether the two are or not, it doesn’t matter. Green Bay drafted Love and now either have to stick to their guns and believe in the young quarterback or ship him elsewhere and admit they screwed up. Maybe Rodgers comes back for one last rodeo and leads the Packers to the Super Bowl before being traded elsewhere and giving the reigns to Love for the 2022 season. Nobody knows, but what we do know is that the media will overblow anything until an answer is finally out.
It will be a rough month or so of uncertainty Packer fans, buckle up. It isn’t over yet.