The Green Bay Packers are one of the most consistent and decorated franchises in NFL history. Their current streak of eight straight playoff appearances is tied for the league lead. Over that span, Green Bay has brought just one Lombardi Trophy back to Titletown but the team remains in Super Bowl contention each year. As quarterback Aaron Rodgers enters his tenth season as the starter for the Packers, it’s time to look back at the team’s journey with him at the helm. The LWOS NFL office delved into the key factors responsible for the Green Bay Packers continued success over the last decade.
Keys to Green Bay Packers Continued Success
Drafting of Clay Matthews
Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson made one of his boldest draft day moves when he traded back up into the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft to secure the unheralded Clay Matthews out of USC. Matthews was hardly considered a first-rounder after seeming to be the third best linebacker on that USC team. Matthews went on to post ten sacks his rookie campaign and won NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year (his former USC teammate Brian Cushing won the league honor). Perhaps the most important moment in Green Bay’s performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV was when the second-year linebacker forced a fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter. Green Bay recovered, giving the Packers momentum needed to close the game.
Matthews quickly established himself as the face of Green Bay’s defense where he remains today. He has amassed over 300 tackles and 70 sacks during his time in Green Bay. Matthews continues to be a terror when on the field but hasn’t been able to stay healthy in recent years. After yet another injury-plagued season in 2016, Clay Matthews will look to bounce back from the worst statistical campaign of his career. Matthews has two years remaining on the five-year extension he signed in 2013, but his tenure in Green Bay will be determined by whether he can return to dominant form in 2017.
Jordy Nelson’s Super Bowl XLV Performance
Jordy Nelson has been one of Green Bay’s most consistent players since his breakout game in Super Bowl XLV. After being drafted in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft, Nelson was brought along gradually in an offense that already featured receivers Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and James Jones. After just 686 yards over his first two years, Nelson saw more involvement in 2010. His hard work and chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers culminated in a nine catch, 140 yard performance on the game’s biggest stage. Nelson caught a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch down the right sideline for an early touchdown. Then when Driver was forced out of the game, the Packers offense was able to continue churning with Nelson and Jennings making key plays to ice the game.
Nelson has been a focal point of Green Bay’s offense since that breakout performance in the Super Bowl. In 2011, Nelson demolished his previous career highs on his way to over 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns on 68 catches. Nelson’s improvement allowed the offense to seamlessly transition from a team led by Driver and Jennings and into a new era. He has amassed 7,366 career receiving yards with Green Bay over a relatively healthy nine years with the team. Nelson’s impact to the Pack’s success was never more evident than the 2015 season when he was lost for the year to a torn ACL and ironically didn’t play a single snap. Aaron Rodgers is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, but without his favorite target, had the worst season of his career. Many take credit away from Nelson for having Rodgers as his quarterback, but Jordy Nelson has given Rodgers a truly dominant and accountable number one target over the course of their time in Green Bay.
Making Aaron Rodgers the (Then) League’s Highest Paid Player
Aaron Rodgers had already established himself as one of the most elite at the position over his first four years as a starter while averaging near just $10 million per season. Rodgers’ first contract extension was set to run through 2014, but the young quarterback excelled on his way to a Super Bowl victory in 2010 and an MVP season in 2011. Rodgers posted his second straight 4,000 yard season in 2012, proving the time had come for Rodgers to set the bar in an ever-evolving quarterback market. After Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens signed a six-year $120.6 million contract extension following the team’s Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers, Rodgers secured a five-year deal worth an NFL record $22 million per season and $62.5 million guaranteed.
After watching Derek Carr sign a deal worth north of $125 million at over $25 million per year this off-season, it has become clear to quarterbacks and their agents that there is no financial limit in contracts with quality signal callers. Rodgers will be just the seventh-highest paid player at his position for the upcoming season. This is blasphemy considering he is coming off one of the hottest streaks of his career and is the lifeblood of Green Bay’s entire organization. Rodgers continues to post ridiculous statistics regardless of his supporting cast. He has proven time and again that he is fearless with the game on the line. Although he has two years remaining on that monstrous extension from 2013, Rodgers should be recognized as the best at his position. His next contract should be the largest the NFL has ever seen.
Continuity in the Front Office
Although there isn’t any one moment that can illustrate the continued success of head coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson, the consistency and resiliency exhibited by these two is the true key to Green Bay’s success over the past ten years. Rodgers may receive all the accolades, but this duo has handled roster turnover in a way that defies typical logic in today’s NFL. Both have received their share of criticism, but the bottom line is that Green Bay has made eight consecutive playoff appearances because of its stability in the front office.
Thompson and McCarthy have been with the organization since 2006. After bringing the Lombardi Trophy home in 2010, McCarthy was granted a contract extension averaging over $3 million per year. He has now passed the legendary Vince Lombardi in franchise victories and was rewarded with another extension through the 2018 season. Thompson has drafted ten Pro Bowlers over his time with the organization, four of which still remain on the roster. None has been more important than Thompson’s first ever pick in Rodgers. Thompson, 64, is closer to the end of his career than McCarthy. The next season or two may be this duo’s last chance to capture the second Super Bowl of the Rodgers era. Packers fans should always be hopeful with these two at the helm and Rodgers in the pocket.
Future in Good Hands
The Green Bay Packers have enjoyed many victories since Rodgers took over as the starting quarterback. The generational talent has not been alone, however. Clay Matthews and Jordy Nelson join a long list of players developed by Thompson and McCarthy that have found success in the league. Recent extensions for players such as Nick Perry, Mike Daniels, and David Bakhtiari show an organization that knows how to retain its star players. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Davante Adams are two players to watch this season. Both could be searching for lofty second contracts with the organization after showing huge potential in their careers thus far. With the looming extension for Rodgers, Thompson will have his hands full as he nears retirement. It will be up to McCarthy to continue Green Bay’s winning ways and cut down on the brutal playoff exits as he continues to build upon his resume as one of the most prolific coaches in Packers’ history.