The shifting NFL landscape and what it means for the Packers
Super Bowl LVII has yet to kick off and Aaron Rodgers' future remains uncertain, but already the Packers know the NFL will look significantly different next season.
Super Bowl LVII kicks off in less than a week, but the world of the Green Bay Packers seems a million miles away. The franchise remains in wait-and-see mode while its superstar quarterback deliberates over whether to continue his NFL career and, if so, where. Meanwhile, the league continues to trudge along, with teams and players signaling some major changes.
Today's edition of The Leap examines several significant league developments that affect the Packers, both positive and negative.
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Which development from the past month should the Packers feel the most encouraged about?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: Tom Brady (probably) retiring for good. This holds regardless of what happens with Aaron Rodgers.
Brady's retirement further reduces the competition within the NFC. Speculation had run rampant that the former New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback could join the San Francisco 49ers, a team with no clear starter under center following Brock Purdy's UCL tear and Trey Lance's injury-stymied development. Brady, even in his age-46 season, could have propelled the 49ers to a Super Bowl run. That scenario has now come off the table.
Should Rodgers return to Green Bay, the Packers will face a wide-open NFC that they can realistically navigate despite last season's struggles. The Philadelphia Eagles presumably enter 2023 as favorites within the conference, but that still leaves plenty of paths for a Rodgers-led team.
Conversely, if Rodgers decides to continue his career but wants a trade, the Packers will hold more leverage with other clubs without Brady offering a viable alternative. Green Bay's front office might not net the same caliber of trade package it could have obtained a year earlier, but it could still expect a sizable haul.
In the seemingly less-likely scenario where Rodgers retires, the effect of the retirement wouldn't loom as large. Still, with multiple opponents on the schedule that could have plausibly signed Brady this offseason -- the Las Vegas Raiders, the New Orleans Saints, and the Buccaneers -- the slate appears easier without him in the league.
Peter Bukowski: Let me broaden Jason’s point with a wider lens and say none of the rest of the NFC has done anything scary or annoying (yet). Ejiro Evero heads to Carolina instead of Minnesota, though Brian Flores remains a front-runner for that job. Just a day ago, though, Evero was the reported front-runner. A division rival grabbing the toast of the NFL defensive town would certainly qualify as annoying even if that defensive personnel isn’t scary.
Not only is Tom Brady not going to San Francisco and the 49ers’ best quarterback is hurt for six months, but their defensive game caller is heading to Houston. We expect the Eagles staff to lose some pieces and their free agent class is loaded with outgoing names though winning a Super Bowl will have made it worth it. Vic Fangio stays in the AFC.
No team that was scary before looks any scarier now, nor has any team moved into scary territory based on what we know now about coaching movement and potential player acquisitions. How that impacts the Packers’ decision and/or Aaron Rodgers’ decision on what is next? It would be scary to think we know for sure.
And which development should give the Packers the most cause for concern?
JBH: Aaron Rodgers' continued submersion into psuedoscience.
OK, that doesn't actually count, though at least one co-founder of The Leap would prefer a world that didn't include that nonsense.
At one point late in 2022, it seemed plausible that the Packers might add Nathaniel Hackett and/or Ejiro Evero to the coaching staff for next season. Head coach Matt LaFleur discussed Hackett the week after the latter lost his job with the Denver Broncos while Evero, a one-time candidate for Green Bay's defensive-coordinator position, seemed as though he might come available again this offseason.
Since then, both have landed other jobs. Hackett will serve as the New York Jets' offensive coordinator in 2023 while Evero will run the defense for the Carolina Panthers. Given the Packers' struggles this past season, adding one or both would have represented a promising development for the team.
There is more to the story here. The Leap will have more to say on this front later this week.
PB: Quality defensive coaches are flying off the board, none of them to Green Bay. Matt LaFleur has so far stuck to his word that there would be no major changes to the staff even as Jerry Gray heads to Atlanta. Expecting some of these established coaches to go for a passing game coordinator position on defense would be foolish, but there’s no law that says LaFleur couldn’t pull the old “promotion” for Joe Barry to assistant head coach and senior defensive assistant while handing the play-calling duties to a Brian Flores … just for example.
Jim Leonhard remains unencumbered, a coach LaFleur has long respected. There’s no indication the Packers are going to make any changes, though promoting Aubrey Pleasant to Gray’s old role would be a step in the right direction.
Bringing in Pleasant as a set of fresh eyes, a defensive coach to help scout the offense, was an inspired choice by Matt LaFleur even if it didn’t incite some massive swing in productivity. Still, Pleasant comes as a respected coach who became the fall guy in Detroit for a group of defensive backs that just flatly wasn’t that talented. I’d like to see what some new blood could do there.
This can’t be another internal promotion like the offense was last year. None of the best coaching staffs outside of New England do that and it doesn’t work there anymore either.
Las Vegas has become the hot rumored destination for Aaron Rodgers. Are the Raiders, Jets, or Packers the best situation for Rodgers in 2023?
JBH: From Rodgers' perspective, I still believe the answer to this question is the Packers. Despite all of their struggles this past season, the offense remains loaded with talent and the receiving corps will enter 2023 with considerably more experience (both with Rodgers and in general). The offensive line in particular won't begin the process with significant injuries to its two best members -- David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins -- and the unit has more healthy depth than it possessed a year ago.
On defense, while Joe Barry's presence doesn't inspire as much confidence as other DCs might, the roster still possesses field-tilting talent at all three levels. Safety will require some attention and the defensive front will add a body or two, but the core of what the unit requires already resides in house.
Besides the mere talent, Rodgers would get to play with several of his close friends within the NFL in Green Bay, something the other teams cannot offer to the same degree. The NFC North looks open given the Minnesota Vikings' well-documented fraud status while the Detroit Lions, though capable and ascending, haven't established themselves quite yet. The window for contention remains open.
Compare that situation to those in the other spots. The Las Vegas Raiders can offer Davante Adams (who clearly wouldn't mind a reunion) and a head coach that Rodgers has long respected, but their defense requires much help than Green Bay's and the AFC West requires going through Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. As for the New York Jets, the defense looked championship caliber in 2022, but that side of the ball fluctuates significantly year to year. Even with the same players, it could regress by a sizable margin next season. Meanwhile, the offense doesn't have nearly the same caliber of offensive line, and the receiving corps might not look as superior to the Packers' in a matter of months.
PB: The best team for Aaron Rodgers to play like Aaron Rodgers again is Las Vegas. They have a coach who can reinvigorate his football brain, lock him in on a new way of playing, and throw to his pal Davante Adams again. There’s the old Tom Brady story that he said if Rodgers played in the Patriots system he’d throw for 7,000 yards every year.
In New York, Nathaniel Hackett and a talented skill group, buttressed by a terrific defense provide the best chance at winning as currently constituted. There’s no learning curve with the offense or coach calling it, and this team won games with Zach Wilson and Mike White. Imagine them with Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers are a close second to the Jets as far as winning situations because the division is easier than the AFC West by a (Broncos) country mile, and so is the conference overall. Green Bay still brings plenty of talent to the table from a roster standpoint, and the continuity for a player of Rodgers’ age and demeanor matters more than it would for most. Still, it feels like a quarterback and coach who don’t truly see eye-to-eye on the best way to play and that tension will always hold them back.
If there is a deal to be made, one could make the case we’ll learn something about what Rodgers values more: winning, or personal achievement. I’m sure you’ve already made up your mind as to which one it is.
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