As the lyrics go in Bob Dylan’s 1964 hit “The Times They Are A Changin,” the same can be said for what the Green Bay Packers did on “NFL Black Monday.” First came the official news that the Packers had parted ways with longtime defensive coordinator Dom Capers. Then, not too long after the Capers news broke, it was announced they had also parted ways with defensive line coach Mike Trgovac and assistant linebackers coach Scott McCurley. But what could have been the biggest and possibly the most surprising news of the day, sources reported that long time general manager Ted Thompson was going to be phased into an advisory role and no longer the Packers general manager. For a franchise that has been known for its lack of moves, the Packers, with president Mark Murphy leading the charge, made more moves in one day than they had probably made in the past five seasons. But really, it was something that was needed, especially after what was witnessed this past season. The Green Bay Packers disappointing 7-9 season forced changes.
The Green Bay Packers Disappointing 7-9 Season Forced Changes
The parting of ways with Capers shouldn’t have caught anyone by surprise. The Capers led Packers defense has been the weak link of this franchise for many seasons and 2017 was no different. It was quite fitting that on what was Capers last game as the Packers defensive coordinator that the Packers allowed Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to throw for over 300 yards with three touchdown passes in a 35-11 loss. That type of output by an opposing offenses had become the norm for the Packers under Capers leadership. For the regular season, the Packers finished 22nd in total defense, 23rd against the pass, and 17th against the run. The most alarming stat, another common struggle for the Packers defense under Capers, is that the Packers finished 28th in third down conversions.
Throughout Capers’ tenure, it has been said that his scheme was best run by veteran players. But as Packers fans know, Thompson relied more on younger players that came through the draft rather than spend money on veteran players in free agency. Although Thompson didn’t do Capers, and really the Packers, any favors by turning his back on free agency, Capers stubbornly refused to adjust his scheme to best fit his young players. Capers stayed with what he knew, refusing to adjust, and it did him and the Packers in. Change was necessary and really, overdue.
Two Assistants Dismissed, More Could Be On the Way
When a defensive unit struggles for such a long period of time like the Packers defense has, changing the defensive coordinator just isn’t enough. But with that said, the dismissal of Trgovac comes as a bit of a surprise. Trgovac oversaw the development of former fourth round pick defensive tackle Mike Daniels. While playing under Trgovac, Daniels has become one of the top pass rushers playing in the interior part of the defensive line. Not only did Daniels benefit from Trgovac, but so did former first round draft pick Kenny Clark. In his second season as a professional, Clark has become one of the top young defensive tackles in the game. Although there weren’t many bright spots for the Packers defense this season, Clark was one of them. Not only did he play solid against the run, but he has also started to become a presence in the pass rush, with registering four and a half sacks this season.
Still, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy must have seen something he didn’t like from his defensive line that made him make a move on Trgovac. If McCarthy and the Packers decide to stay in house, it appears that defensive front assistant Jerry Montgomery will be in line to take over for Trgovac.
Heading out the door with Trgovac is McCurley, who just finished up his 12th season on the Packers staff. But just like with Trgovac, the McCurley dismissal has some questions to go along with it. McCurley’s task was overseeing the inside linebackers for the Packers. This season, under the eye of McCurley, inside linebacker Blake Martinez became one of the top tacklers in the NFL. Martinez made a pretty remarkable jump from his first to second season with the Packers and it appears McCurley helped with that. But still, it wasn’t enough to save McCurley’s job.
Curiously, Winston Moss, the assistant head coach/linebackers coach, wasn’t the one to be shown the door, at least not yet. When former outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene departed in January of 2014, Moss became in charge of all the linebackers. Before Greene’s departure, Moss was in charge of just the inside linebackers, a position that struggled under his guidance. Still, it was McCurley who was let go, not Moss.
Once a Scout, Always a Scout
To Thompson’s core, he is a scout. That is what he started as in the NFL and it appears that is what he still is. Thompson was hired back in 2005, taking over general manager duties from then head coach Mike Sherman. At that time, the personnel had struggled with Sherman as the general manager and it was Thompson’s responsibility to build the roster back up. Because Thompson’s background was in scouting, Thompson was able to build the roster back up through the draft, selecting players who would become core players for the Packers and signing undrafted free agents who had the raw potential that McCarthy and his staff were able to coach up.
But as the roster grew older, Thompson refused to change the way he built a roster. Instead of surrounding his proven veterans, such as Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and Jordy Nelson, with other veterans who could have helped propel the Packers to another Super Bowl, the scout in Thompson kept bringing in unproven rookies and young players to try to bolster the roster. The method that once helped the Packers to a Super Bowl victory in 2011 became a hindrance and can be argued that it was the reason that the Packers haven’t been back to a Super Bowl since 2011.
The Thompson haters will quickly point out the lack of Super Bowl appearances since 2011 and Thompson’s refusal to utilize free agency to the fullest. But they should also remember that Thompson did things to help improve the Packers during his tenure. Not only did Thompson help rebuild a roster that had fallen on tough times under Sherman, he also put together the roster that helped the Packers get back to the Super Bowl and ultimately win it, something that wasn’t done under Sherman’s guidance. Thompson also made one of the most important picks in franchise history, by selecting Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft.
Those same detractors of Thompson might lead you to believe that drafting Rodgers, who was expected to go in the top five of that draft, was a no brainer, but it really wasn’t. With Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre on the Packers roster at that time, selecting a quarterback in the first round was a very risky pick. But as history has proven, it was the right call and Packers fans should owe a thank you to Thompson for taking that chance on Rodgers.
But still, just like with Capers, it was time for a change. Rodgers isn’t getting any younger and the constant revolving door of rookies and undrafted free agents to the Packers roster isn’t helping Rodgers get back to the Super Bowl. It is pretty sad that Thompson didn’t utilize free agency more, because he actually was successful when he did use it.
Many will remember this season’s Martellus Bennett fiasco, but Thompson actually had a good track record of signing players who helped the Packers win games. Thompson brought in players such as cornerback Charles Woodson, defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, tight end Jared Cook, and outside linebacker Julius Peppers, all players who helped bolster the Packers. Woodson, who would win the defensive player of the year with the Packers, was signed when only one other team was interested in him, something that should be remembered when talking about Thompson.
What the Future Holds for the Packers
The list of candidates are already being talked about for replacing Capers and more lists will be discussed for replacing Trgovac and McCurley. The discussion for replacing Thompson will be very interesting as well. Rumors are already flying that the duties of Thompson will be spread between two people, Vice President of Football Administration Russ Ball and Eliot Wolf, Director of Football Operations. If it is the duo, just one of them, or somebody from the outside, whomever it is will have the task of making sure the Packers not only get back on the winning track, but guide the Packers back to the Super Bowl.
Through it all, the person who will be under the most scrutiny will be McCarthy. It wasn’t too long ago that McCarthy declared that he was “a highly successful NFL head coach”, but he looked nothing like that this season without Rodgers under center. He can make all the staff changes he wants, but the buck stops with him on turning around the Packers.
With him entering the final season of his contract, McCarthy hasn’t done anything to prove that he has earned a new deal. The so called experts will claim the Packers should lock up the long tenured head coach, but really, why? He hasn’t proven that he can win without Rodgers and even with Rodgers, the Packers have faltered and haven’t gotten back to the Super Bowl since 2011. With a new boss, or bosses, this coming season, McCarthy has a lot of proving to do. If he can’t prove his claim that he is a highly successful NFL head coach, he could become a very highly successful unemployed NFL head coach.