By: Mark Prott
If you are a die hard Green Bay Packers fan like me, it was probably difficult for you to get out of bed Monday morning following the 44-21 drubbing handed down to the Packers by the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game. You might have even woke up in the the middle of the night thinking what’s bothering me? And then reality sets in and you remember. Oh yeah, at this point you are getting very familiar with that sick to your stomach feeling after your team gets bounced from the Playoffs. It’s becoming a yearly tradition in Green Bay.
Look I already know what the common narrative will be regarding the Packers’ 2016-2017 season. Boy, that team really came together after being 4-6, went through another injury riddled season and somehow made it within 60 minutes of reaching the Super Bowl. What grit and fight they possessed. And that’s all fine and dandy. I admit it was a blast following the Packers on their eight game winning streak following Aaron’s famous “run the table” phrase. Any Packers fan also knows how pleasurable it was to knock out the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys from the NFL Playoffs. Call me pessimistic or half glass empty guy, but I’m gonna remember this season in another way. Another blown opportunity to achieve greatness in what seems like a never ending cycle for the Packers in the playoffs. So who or what is to blame and how can this team get over the final hump?
Too Much Reliance on Youth
What has stood out to me most as I have followed the Packers in the playoffs over the last few years is that they simply are too enamored with the draft and develop philosophy and as a result count to much on young inexperienced players to deliver in big time moments. Just off the top of my head I think about a rookie Micah Hyde dropping a sure fire Colin Kaepernick interception that likely would have won a playoff game in 2014. Or rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix looking helpless as Russell Wilson completed a Hail Mary 2 point conversion over his head in the NFC Championship collapse of 2015. Just last year rookie Damarious Randall blew coverage on Larry Fitzgerald which led to another playoff loss in overtime.
Notice a theme here? Rookies and in general young, inexperienced players laying eggs in crunch time. There was plenty of inexperience showing in these playoffs as well, particularly in the secondary. The Packers took a big gamble back in March 2016 when they let Casey Hayward depart to the San Diego Chargers on a very reasonable 3 year $15.3 million dollar contract. While Hayward was not a great player by any means he was a proven starter. Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins had their moments as rookies but both took a step back in their sophomore campaign.
The point is that a team that prides itself in winning championships cannot afford to take the amount of risks on youth like the Packers do. Randall, Rollins, and Gunter had no chance against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons passing attack. It would have been nice to have a veteran presence like Hayward in a big time game like that. I do not want to suggest that Rollins and Randall are busts and hopeless to get better. I think there’s a good probability that at least one of them proves to be a good player. However, as we found out this year, you just cannot afford to count on substantial improvement from within as a given.
More Talent Needed In Addition to NFL Draft
Maybe it was the fact that we just played the New York Giants in the playoffs but I just could not help myself ponder what a difference a signing of a big name free agent such as cornerback Janoris Jenkins would have made for this team this year as I watched the secondary of the Packers fall apart against the Falcons. Sure he received a huge contract from the Giants but guess what it worked. The Giants statistically now possess one of the best defenses and all it took was adding a few key free agent pieces. We once did the same thing signing Charles Woodson back in 2006 and it transformed the defense into a Super Bowl caliber unit.
Those type of players are out there every year but the lack of free agency activity by Packers General Manager Ted Thompson makes it almost a certainty that no major additions will be made. What makes his inactivity most years even more puzzling is that when he does make a signing it generally works out. No way do the Packers knock out the Dallas Cowboys without the services of free agent acquisition Jared Cook at tight end.
Shakeup Needed in Front Office
While the draft is and should always be the prime source of talent acquisition, the Packers are missing out on Super Bowl opportunities because of the lack of activity acquiring talent from other sources such as free agency and trades. Aaron Rodgers will likely go down as one of the top quarterbacks ever to play in the NFL but at 33 he only has one Super Bowl appearance and title to show for his career. And he has taken notice. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re going all-in every year to win. And I think we can take a big step this offseason,” said Rodgers following the loss to the Falcons.
Was this a subtle message from Rodgers to Ted Thompson that he needs more help? Likely so, and now that Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst, the Packers’ top two personnel executives under Ted Thompson, signed new deals to stay in Green Bay and pass on a GM opportunity with the 49ers, there is a slight glimmer of hope. While current Chiefs GM John Dorsey would be ideal to replace Ted Thompson, sources indicated to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer Bob McGinn that Dorsey is under contract through 2018.
That is too much time for Thompson’s current lackadaisical approach to drain away two more years of a prime Aaron Rodgers. Perhaps President Mike Murphy will wise up and make the necessary decision that needs to be made sooner rather than later. Time for an ultimatum. Either it’s time for Ted Thompson to step down into a lesser role with the organization or finish out your current contract while giving more control and responsibility to the likes of either a Wolf or Gutenkunst to make independent decisions regarding personnel including the free agency avenue. Both men are wanted commodities in the NFL and it’s only a matter of time before they leave the organization for a better opportunity. Give one or both an opportunity to see if they are the future top decision maker and in the process hopefully end the continuous cycle of Moday morning playoff hangovers currently haunting the organization.