Ch-Ch-Ch Changes...

Posted January 2nd, 2018 @ 02:01am

We've just witnessed the most tumultuous twenty-fours in Titletown since that time Gilbert Brown discovered the Burger King drive thru was closed. Dom Capers and Ted Thompson have both been relieved of their duties following the crushingly disappointing 2017 season.

Let's start with Thompson since this one comes as more of a surprise. Yes, he'll turn 65 next month and was the second oldest GM behind Belichick, but most believed he would continue in his role at least through free agency and the 2018 draft, a draft that will have the Pack picking 14th in the first round.

Like most of you, I'm excited about the change. Thompson's 13-year tenure will likely earn him a spot in the Packers Hall of Fame, for having the guts to draft Aaron Rodgers in 2005 and building a perennially strong roster that reached the playoffs in all but two of his 13 years as GM.

But there have been some significant misses in recent drafts, especially on the first two days and his conservative nature in free agency has become maddening as we look to take full advantage of the final act of Rodgers' career, hopefully the next 5-6 years. Thompson's rosters have always been among the youngest in the league. It's a solid strategy, but as the salary cap kitties have swelled with all of the TV money, it's become less risky to take some free agency shots: shots in the first week of free agency, not just sniffing for bargains at the flea market.

So who gets the golden ticket? Mark Murphy has said he will look inside and outside the organization--which he has to say. There are four legitimate candidates in-house: Eliot Wolf, Brian Gutekunst, Alonzo Highsmith and Russ Ball. Wolf and Gutekunst have interviewed for GM jobs in recent years and they always seem to come back to the Pack with fancy new titles. Makes you think they've both been told they will be strongly considered as Thompson's successor.

Highsmith's been with the team for 19 years, but he's always seemed a little lower on the personnel pecking order than the other two--since they're the ones that garner interest from other teams. Ball has been the master of the salary cap, but don't underestimate his chances here. He's widely respected within the organization and could shoot to the top of Murphy's list.

As for outside candidates, I would think only guys with ties to the organization would be considered. John Dorsey would have been an obvious candidate but he cast his lot in NFL purgatory. That leaves Reggie McKenzie and John Schneider. With Jon Gruden's imminent arrival in Oakland, McKenzie's job is tenuous. Gruden would be wise to keep him: he's done a very good job remaking the Raiders roster. Schneider used to have an out in his Seattle contract to allow him to return to Green Bay but my understanding is he pulled that out when he signed his latest deal. I would be happy with either of these guys, but I'd be shocked if either got the job.

I've seen a report that says all of the Pack's top personnel guys could get new titles and it could become a committee approach. Give me a break; there's no way the Packers will go this route. You have to have one voice: remember when the Vikings tried the Triangle of Authority? Yeah, that's not happening in Titletown.

To me, it feels like Eliot Wolf has been groomed for this moment. I mean, the dude's dad's name is in the Packers Ring of Honor and you would have to think old Ron would be available to whisper in his ear, when asked. We've seen a young coach like Sean McVay (31) make his mark early with the Rams. Maybe it makes sense to put the team's future in the hands of the 35 year old Wolf.

But it's Murphy's call and he could be infatuated with someone else. Wolf will be the fan favorite, I would think. I'd guess Wolf, Ball or Schneider, though he might cost the Pack some compensation to the Seahawks, if he wants to leave.

Now, on to the defense. For Capers' replacement, I'll be shocked if the Pack appoints someone within the organization. I expect them to target a proven, veteran coordinator. There have been multiple reports that the Packers have their eye on Bears GM Vic Fangio, a Capers protege who has always bedeviled McCarthy, especially when he was in San Francisco. His contract is up in Chicago and they're bringing in a new head coach, so he'll be looking for a comfortable landing spot, and a 200 mile drive north to a team led by Aaron Rodgers would have to be appealing.

My next target would be Gus Bradley, who's a free agent after one year with the Chargers. He comes from the Carroll tree and his defenses are tough and aggressive. Of course, he'd be coming to a roster that has nothing resembling the duo of Rosa and Ingram, but there's a lotto young talent here that could use his fiery style.

John Pagano will be out in Oakland and is about as respected a DC as there is. He was in San Diego, before heading to Oakland and has to be on McCarthy's short list. He'll also likely consider Mike Nolan, who's toiling in New Orleans as LB coach. McCarthy served as his offensive coordinator in San Francisco in 2005 (they decided they liked Alex Smith more than Rodgers in that draft. Thanks Mike and Mike).

McCarthy has already said he'll consider in-house candidates, which of course, he has to say. Joe Whitt, Darren Perry and Winston Moss are all viable guys and I wouldn't hate seeing one of them get the gig. But it feels like the right call is bringing in a new voice with new ideas to get this thing back on track quickly.

It's an offseason of upheaval. It started on Friday with the signing of Davante Adams and was followed a day later with Corey Linsley's new deal. Now Thompson and Capers are out. Rodger's new deal will likely be the new guy's first order of business. I have to think #12 has watched these events unfold and will be energized by all of them. Yes, Thompson's the guy who believed in him and stopped his free fall in the '05 draft. But he knows, like we all do, that 13 years is a good run and the Pack needs a jolt to set a course for his sunset years.

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Season Finale? Who Cares? Here's Pack's Offseason To-Do List.

Posted December 29th, 2017 @ 02:12pm

This is my eighth year writing this blog and for the first time I won't be previewing a Packer game. The season finale in Detroit has literally nothing on the line, so instead, I'll dive into the big issues the Packers face heading into the offseason.

One word on Sunday's game: with the Packers locked into third place in the North and a shot at avoiding a losing season the only real thing on the line, look for extra playing time for most of the healthy young players on the roster. That means a long look at guys like Reggie Gilbert, Lenzy Pipkins and Michael Clark--all of whom flashed against the Vikings.

Here's my Packers to-do list heading into what promises to be an active offseason:

1. Move on from Capers: Not breaking any ground here. If it was up to the fans, he'd be long gone by now. Mike McCarthy has been exceedingly loyal to the longtime DC, but it's time for a new voice, preferably from outside the organization. If this is going to happen, it should happen within 48 hours of the last game. If it happens, will his replacement change schemes? If so, it could impact who stays, who goes and who gets moved around. Bottom line, the unit's failures on third down and the red zone were alarming in 2017. I don't put the blame on Thompson's players. I think there's plenty of talent on this side of the ball. Yes, they need re-enforcements at OLB and CB, but the success of Hayward and Hyde elsewhere is an indication that Thompson is stocking the defensive cupboard adequately.

2. Sign Davante Adams: He has demonstrated that he's the Pack's biggest playmaker behind Rodgers and deserves to paid like the top ten WR that he is. The two brutal concussions he suffered this season are an obvious concern, but with Nelson and Cobb's future up in the air, Adams needs to be locked in. He would be the biggest WR prize on the free agent market and Thompson needs to take care of him, stat.

3. Figure out the right side of offensive line: It's in flux, with Bryan Bulaga's late season ACL injury and Jahri Evans' advanced age. There's no guarantee Bulaga will be ready for the season (the same holds true for his replacement, Jason Spriggs). Is there another potential right tackle on the roster? Justin McCray? Patrick Murphy? As for right guard, despite Evans' solid season, he'll be 36 next season and Expect either McCray or Lucas Patrick to take over there.

4. What to do with Nelson and Cobb? Both are signed through 2018 and both count more than 12 million dollars against the cap next season. Once Adams is signed, we'd be looking at $35 million in cap space devoted to the top three WRs. If either is released, the Pack would take on about $3 million in dead cap money--that's not horrible. I would think they would try to redo both guys' deals to reduce the cap number, but my hunch is that Nelson will be more amenable to that idea. It wouldn't shock me to see them cut Cobb loose. He's still a solid player, but in no way worth $12 million a year.

5. What to do with Ty Montgomery? It wouldn't surprise me at all to see the Pack cut ties with him. His switch to running back was a non-starter, unable to stay on the field. With two promising rookies ahead of him on the depth chart, maybe they move him back to wide receiver to replace Cobb. He has a small salary, so it wouldn't hurt to hang on to him, but not as a running back.

6. Sign free agents Linsley and Burnett: Of the Pack's 11 unrestricted free agents, there are only three must signs, in my opinion: Adams, Linsley and Burnett. Linsley proved himself in 2018, staying healthy for the first time (and with no JC Tretter waiting in the wings). He has earned a new deal. The Burnett decision is a bit murkier, with the Packers having nice depth at the position. He remains the QB of the defense and the unit is stronger when he's out there. His ability to step in and play some linebacker was much needed and he played well there. Josh Jones may be an eventual replacement, but as long as Burnett doesn't demand a huge deal, the Packers defense needs his steadying presence for a few more years.

The other free agents could all be gone. In order, I'd be interested in trying to keep House, Rodgers, Brooks, Evans, Dial and Goode. It's time to move on from Janis and Goodson.

7. Give Rodgers a new deal: With two years left on his contract, this is the offseason to make Rodgers the highest paid player in the NFL. It will likely be structured to do the least damage to the cap long term, but this is an obvious move and one that will likely happen pretty quickly.

8. Bring in a veteran backup QB: I'm probably living in fantasy land here, since Hundley has one year left on his deal and likely won't be traded, since his performance in 2017 was beyond shaky. Obviously, we hope and expect Rodgers to stay healthy in 2018, but I'd rather see a proven, veteran QB at the wheel, should Rodgers go down. Imagine if the Packers had a guy like Josh McCown or Ryan Fitzpatrick this season. I think they'd be playing for something on Sunday.

9. Move Clay inside: Assuming the Packers' defense doesn't undergo a major scheme shift, it's time for Matthews to be an inside linebacker and play alongside Blake Martinez. He could be moved outside on obvious passing downs, but he can't be counted on to be a pass rushing stud down after down anymore. The Pack needs to identify a pass rusher in free agency to complement Nick Perry. Youngsters Kyler Fackrell, Vince Biegel and Gilbert will get more opportunities, but the team needs a major upgrade at OLB.

10. Try to find another FA tight end: We were all excited by the additions of Marcellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks but it turned out to be a failure, with Bennett quitting on the team and Kendricks showing a penchant for drops. With Rodgers a free agent, the team may be starting over here. There are plenty of productive tight ends out there. Thompson and his staff need to restock this position with a veteran or two, and then draft one in the spring.

Note: The season finale of "Packer Preview" airs this Sunday at 7am on KFAN. You'll also find it at iHeart Radio if you don't feel like waking up that early on New Year's Eve day. We'll go into further detail on the Pack's offseason and take an early look at next year's schedule.

 

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This Is Not the Week 16 Situation We Were Looking For.

Posted December 22nd, 2017 @ 03:12pm

Considering the magnitude of this game, I'm gonna keep this one brief.

There have been plenty of memorable, season-changing games between the Vikings and Packers at Lambeau Field. The 2017 meeting will most likely not add to that lore, since the Pack faces unchartered waters: playing a meaningless game in Week 16.

There was no question that the team would put Aaron Rodgers on ice, once they were eliminated from the playoffs. So Brett Hundley gets one more prime time showcase and it's against a motivated division rival. We'll see whether he's up to the challenge on a bitterly cold night on a field where he has struggled in each of his starts.

He won't have his trusted sidekick Davante Adams this time. Adams will likely be shelved for the final two games, recovering from a second blistering, illegal hit that has him in the concussion protocol. He was the one Packer who I believe was snubbed in the Pro Bowl voting, deserving the spot that Hall of Famer-to-be Larry Fitzgerald got. His ten touchdowns lead all NFC receivers and he managed 74 catches playing most of the season with an untested, backup quarterback.

There will be a lot of changes coming for this organization in the offseason and some tough decisions. The easiest call will be to sign Adams to a deal that pays him like the wide receiver royalty he has become.

The biggest change could be the "resignation" of Dom Capers. The unit is in dire need of new leadership, along with some veteran re-enforcements at OLB and CB. After a season of horrific third down and red zone play, the defense is ready for a major re-boot. There will be an opportunity in these last two games for some young players to show if and where they'll fit in 2019. With Clay Matthews and Nick Perry likely out on Saturday night, young pass rushers Kyler Fackrell and Vince Biegel should get a chance to show how they're developing. The same holds true at cornerback. I hope they'll give some snaps to Donatello Brown and Lenzy Pipkins. This is the rare chance to trot them out there, since the consequences aren't that meaningful.

There's nothing I'd like more than to damage the Vikings' hopes at a high seeding and I do think the Pack will be competitive in this game. I think both Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones will have success running the ball, but ultimately Case Keenam will make enough plays and Jerick McKinnon will go all Christian McCaffrey on the defense and the Vikings will make enough plays to get out of there with a win.

Vikings 24  Packers 17

 

P.S. There will be no "Packer (P)review this Sunday. It was KFAN's call: they have no run available to run the board. We'll be back for the season finale on 12/31. It's just as well. I'm taking my son Jackson and his buddy to the game (father of the year), and now they won't have to deal with me doing a radio show from our hotel room. Have a great Christmas, everyone.

 

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