Clock ticking on window of opportunity
Thompson, McCarthy, Rodgers have limited time
Tick, tick, tick. Ted Thompson is entering his 12th season as Green Bay’s general manager. Tick, tick, tick. Mike McCarthy will begin his 11th season as the Packers’ head coach this fall. Amazingly, that makes him the second-longest tenured coach in team history, behind a fella named Curly Lambeau. Tick, tick, tick. And quarterback / game-show star Aaron Rodgers turns 33 this season and is coming off his worst season since he was a first-time starter in 2008. Tick, tick, tick. Together, this triumvirate will have 35 combined seasons as Green Bay Packers employees by the end of the 2016 season. That’s a remarkable run in a league often called “Not For Long.”
And without question, it’s a journey that’s closer to the finish than the starting line.
Windows close. The paying customers grow impatient. New management and younger players emerge.
We’re not suggesting that any of Green Bay’s “Big Three” are in trouble. Far from.
Green Bay has been a model of consistency under this threesome, with seven straight postseason appearances, including two trips to the NFC championship and a Super Bowl victory in 2010.
But there’s no question that the members of this trio are all on the back nine of their time in Titletown. The question is what hole? And if they’re going to make a Sunday charge again, all three must be substantially better than in 2015.
Start with the 63-year-old Thompson, who ignored free agency a year ago, didn’t make a trade for the sixth straight season, then left the Packers thin at inside linebacker, offensive line, tight end and wide receiver.
Thompson took a step in the right direction last month with the signing of free agent tight end Jared Cook. Aside from that, though, it’s been crickets in Green Bay since January.
It’s “draft and develop” with Thompson, meaning he needs to be at his absolute best this weekend. Thompson has had two solid drafts in a row, highlighted by the selections of Corey Linsley and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in 2014 and Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins last year.
Thompson is sitting pretty with six of the top 137 picks, including the 27th selection in Round 1. Thompson has the firepower to move up, like he did for Clay Matthews in 2009. Or, in a draft where many don’t see a substantial difference between picks 15 and 50, Thompson could move back like he did in 2008 when he landed Jordy Nelson.
No matter what happens, Thompson can’t afford a Justin Harrell or Derek Sherrod with his first pick. Who can?
Green Bay ranks among the NFC’s elite and might have passed conference champion Carolina last week when the Panthers allowed cornerback Josh Norman to leave in free agency.
But for the Packers to surge to the top of the NFC, Thompson must find a nose tackle and inside linebacker that can both contribute this season. Depth is also needed on the offensive line, in the secondary, at tight end and perhaps in the running back group.
“I think it’s a good roster,” Thompson said of his team. “I feel pretty good about it going in.”
So should McCarthy, who did less with more than any coach in 2015. Green Bay had more than enough firepower to win the NFC North and reach a second straight conference title game.
Instead, the Packers lost all of their divisional home games for the first time since 1968. And McCarthy turned in his worst coaching performance since taking over in 2005.
McCarthy made the ill-fated decision to give play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Tom Clements, then took them back late in the year when that plan blew up. McCarthy never adjusted to the loss of star wideout Jordy Nelson.
McCarthy chose to play overmatched wideout Davante Adams instead of an emerging Jeff Janis. When left tackle David Bakhtiari was injured, McCarthy played Don “Turnstile” Barclay at left tackle instead of JC Tretter. And McCarthy somehow allowed standout running back Eddie Lacy to nearly eat himself out of the lineup.
In a classic episode of “Seinfeld” (weren’t they all, though?), George Costanza believes his luck will turn if he does the opposite of his first instinct. Amazingly, that plan of attack worked. Last season, McCarthy should have pulled a Costanza himself.
Finally, there’s Rodgers, who is coming off his poorest season since taking over for Brett Favre in 2008.
His completion percentage (60.7%) and quarterback rating (92.7) were the lowest in his eight seasons as a starter. Rodgers’ 3,821 passing yards were the fewest he’s thrown for when he’s played at least 15 games. And his 6.7 yards per passing attempt was down 18.3% from his career average (8.2).
Rodgers seemed lost without Nelson, his No. 1 wideout. For some reason, Rodgers had happy feet like never before, and he left the pocket prematurely far more than he needed to. His deep-ball accuracy vanished. And he sprayed more throws than ever.
For whatever reason, Rodgers wasn’t the same player Packer Nation had grown used to seeing.
“We have goals that we’ll put in place and Mike (McCarthy) will set the vision for the season here pretty soon,” Rodgers said. “But you want to finish on top every year, and only one team does. So every other team, if you’re not the Super Bowl champ, you’re falling short.”
If Green Bay’s triad has a bounce back year, there’s no reason for the 2016 Packers to fall short.
The roster remains elite. The schedule is soft. The NFC is wide open.
But can Thompson, McCarthy and Rodgers all recapture greatness of yesterday?
Tick, tick, tick.
There’s no question that the members of this trio are all on the back nine of their time in Titletown.
Packers GM Ted Thompson talks with wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who missed last season due to injury, during training camp last summer at Ray Nitschke Field.