Ch-Ch-Ch Changes...Posted:Jan 2nd, 2018 2:18 am
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.