It's a New Era in Titletown and That's a Good Thing.

Posted March 14th, 2018 @ 03:03pm

The dawning of free agency has ushered in the dawning of a new era in Green Bay. And while there will be some difficult realities to digest, the reality of a seven year Super Bowl drought has amped up the urgency meter.

Brian Gutekunst has already demonstrated that he will work the roster harder in March than we ever saw under Ted Thompson. We've gotten used to watching teams spend gobs of money in March, while the Pack waited for the Marshall's counter to open a couple of weeks later to peruse the discount bins.

The Pack's draft and develop philosophy will always hold center court, but with salary caps  in the stratosphere and a five year window to return to the top with Aaron Rodgers, Gutey understands he can do some considerable tinkering before he turns his attention to his 12 draft picks.

If you would have told me the Pack would sign two free agents before the official window opens, I would have assumed one, if not both, would be cornerbacks. Obviously, that was not the case. There was a run on corners Tuesday, but the Pack sat on the sidelines.

The first signing was the most un-Thompsonest signing ever. Would Ted have ever considered a 31 year old skill player, giving him the richest deal at his position? Um, no. But Jimmy Graham is now a Packer, taking care of the biggest hole on the offensive side of the roster. Graham was never the playmaker in Seattle that he was in New Orleans, but he remained one of the most dangerous red zone targets in the league.

The Packers will count on him to be more than a red zone magnet, envisioning that he will draw plenty of attention in the middle of the field, providing favorable matchups for Davante Adams and the running game. It's a three-year deal, but essentially two years, with the 22 million guaranteed over the first 24 months. It's been reported that Rodgers lobbied for this signing--I wonder if he knew it would cost him his favorite receiver.

It's disappointing, and a bit surprising, to learn that Rodgers didn't hear about Nelson's release until after the fact. Their production and chemistry were better than any in the NFL over the past seven or eight seasons. Packer nation will need some time to get over this divorce, but it's one of those bitter realities. Most receivers, when they get to be 33, slow down and aren't worth seven-figure contracts. With all the money committed to Adams, Nelson and Cobb (north of $30 million on the cap)--plus Graham, there was no way that was going to work. When he was unwilling to play for substantially less, he became a cap casualty. Nelson has been considerably underpaid for years--I don't blame him for wanting to get paid one more time.

Now the Pack has a hole at outside receiver opposite Adams. Geronimo Allison and Michael Clark will be in the mix, but the Pack will keep their eyes open for good value there, and will likely add another or two in the draft.

The move that most excited me was the signing of Mo Wilkerson, on a one-year prove it deal. He was at his most productive in '14 and '15 with the Jets, when Mike Pettine was his coordinator--that's undoubtedly why he made the Pack a priority. We all know that a stout pass rush can make up for deficiencies in the back end, and suddenly the Pack has a three man line that will rank among the league's best. Adding Wilkerson alongside Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark could be scary.

Obviously, there is still plenty of work be done at edge rusher and cornerback, along with figuring out what's going on on the right side of their offensive line. Bryan Bulaga's status is one of the big pieces to be sorted out, as well as whether they bring back Jahri Evans or go younger there. They'll also likely face the prospect of losing Morgan Burnett, who will likely be looking for a big money deal that the Pack will feel they can't afford. With Josh Jones and Kentrell Brice waiting in the wings, they may swallow hard and let Burnett walk away.

It's a brave new world in Green Bay. In the nine years I've been writing this blog, I've never worried that one of my posts could get outdated quickly in March. But Gutey has already demonstrated that he will look to improve his roster wherever he can in free agency. And he's proven he won't be blinded by sentimentality. Two positive developments in Titletown.

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Thoughts on Gutey and Pettine...

Posted January 19th, 2018 @ 05:01pm

Sorry, gang, I should have posted my thoughts on the Pack's big moves a week or so ago. Been traveling for my day job and just haven't had the chance until now.

Let's start with the promotion of Brian Gutekunst. This one caught me by surprise, since insiders were certain Russ Ball had the job, while Packer nation was rooting for Eliot Wolf to get the job it seemed he was being groomed to take over. Reading the tea leaves, it looks like Mike McCarthy won a power play and convinced Mark Murphy to promote a scout to the big chair, over an expert capologist.

I have no idea how close a call it was for Murphy to go with Gutey over Wolf, maybe the nine extra years on the planet was the difference. But I'm all aboard giving him a chance to run the ship. He built his name from the ground up and has worked for 20 years for this moment. I'm quite sure he'll do all he can in this 5-6 year Rodgers window to add veteran talent, while building a core through the draft.

All the upheaval on the coaching staff comes as a surprise, with the exception of the change at defensive coordinator. It was time for a new voice and a new scheme to come in and Mike Pettine has been handed the reins. I was all aboard the Vic Fangio train and was also intrigued with the idea of Gus Bradley bringing what he learned in Seattle and then implemented in Jacksonville and Los Angeles.

Pettine's name came out of left field, but then you start to think about it a bit. He sucked at the teat of Rex Ryan for years before taking over defenses with the Jets and Bills. He was successful enough to get a head coaching job, albeit in Cleveland and like so many coaches before him, saw his career careen just a bit after the expected failure with the league's longtime punching bag franchise.

So the guy's been chomping at the bit to run a defense again, spending this past year in Seattle as a defensive consultant and biding his time for another opportunity.  We all understand he needs some playmakers to make his scheme work. Most importantly, Gutey needs to identify a pass rusher and cornerback this spring via free agency and the draft to add to a solid core led by Daniels, Clark, Perry, Martinez, Matthews, King, Randall, Clinton-Dix and Burnett or Jones.

His aggressive defenses have made life miserable for quarterbacks in the past and we can only hope he'll turn around the Pack's unit to a degree where we'll actually see a decent percentage of stops on third downs and in the red zone.

Murphy's new organizational structuring is the biggest news to come out of Titletown, as he takes a more active role on the football side of things, allowing Ed Policy to handle the business side. Just how active he is remains to be seen, but he will serve as the teams de facto owner and we may see him around more and hear more from him when conflicts arise.

Big changes were needed after 13 years and now we'll see if Gutey, Pettine and McCarthy are up to the challenge.

As for this weekend's games, I got the Patriots winning a close game and the Vikings squeaking past the Eagles 19-17, with a late Forbath field goal exorcizing those playoff demons once and for all.


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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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