Green Bay, Wisconsin is a town that likes things a certain way. And yet the Packers’ fan base — many of them actual shareholders in the team of which they own precious slivers — has demanded changes as the team’s Super Bowl window slowly has been closing.
“Fire Dom Capers!” has been a rallying cry for at least half a decade.
“Find a few GM!” has been nearly as loud in the echo chamber.
And what do you know? The fans got those wishes.
The Packers let go of Capers, their defensive coordinator since 2009, along with a few other defensive assistants. Ted Thompson, the team’s general manager for 13 years, was moved into a more specified role: senior advisor of football operations. It’s not a gold watch, per se, but it’s certainly not a promotion.
Changes are afoot. They’re designed, one would think, to maximize the time the team has left with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a few other pieces. Whomever is promoted to GM is likely to make Rodgers’ contract extension a priority this summer.
At 34, Rodgers has not yet entered the sunset of his career. Scores of quarterbacks his age and older have thrived in recent years, such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. Even Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger belong in that category, and to a lesser extent Carson Palmer (MVP runner-up at age 36) and Eli Manning.
But the Packers should plan on loading up these next three seasons — from now through 2020, let’s say — with winning a Super Bowl as the only goal. It’s still a very reasonable expectation, despite the Packers being stuck in neutral the past few seasons as a good but not great team.
Will the changes make a tangible difference, however? That’s a very fair question — and one we don’t yet know the answer to until the replacements are named. The early word is that the new coordinator and GM could come from in-house candidates, which might give some the aroma of mere cosmetic alterations without actually shaking things up.
That’s a bit unfair, of course. The Packers’ front office for years has been loaded with several candidates with the ability to run their own ships, but the early signs point to a few of those men leaving for other opportunities. So whether it’s Russ Ball or Eliot Wolf or Brian Gutekunst who takes over for Thompson, or if it’s someone from outside the building, the idea of a vast philosophical departure from the structure Thompson put in place just feels like a bit of a stretch to us. This is still a train that runs on the tracks, to a degree; it just needs the right conductor.
The same goes with Capers’ successor. It can be an in-house candidate such as Joe Whitt, the defensive backs coach who is beloved by his players and respected by the team. Whitt might have just as much success calling plays as, say, the flavor of the month — Vic Fangio. There has been a bit of a movement to hire the Chicago Bears defensive coordinator who might now be looking for a job.
But did you know that Capers’ defensive coordinator for eight years (on two different teams) was … Fangio? Sometimes the biggest changes can come not from the guy down the road but from the next-door neighbor.
The Packers need defensive help at several positions. They still need to buttress the offensive line depth. There are questions at receiver, where Davante Adams is back on a big-money extension but where the 2018 cap numbers for Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson are just far too unwieldy. There are just far too few difference makers on the roster outside of Rodgers.
That’s the goal of the new leadership: get him some darned reinforcements. Develop and employ the defensive talent they do have in the right way, adding more through the draft. Make the right decisions with the veterans on the roster and with a few smart but not pricey free-agent additions.
The Packers have started the ball rolling on making big changes, something they’ve balked at previously. Now comes the hardest part, which might be more about making the right roster adjustments than it is about hiring the fanciest, sexiest names to replace Capers and Thompson.