The Green Bay Packers are coming off of their worst season since 2008, and after record expenditures, there is no latency period allowed. They must have a deep playoff run in 2019.
In the Aaron Rodgers era, the Green Bay Packers have appeared in just one Super Bowl.
Let that sink in.
The Packers have one of the most talented quarterbacks to ever step foot on an NFL field, yet they have as much to show for it as the Baltimore Ravens did with Joe Flacco under center. And to make matters worse, the Packers have registered consecutive losing seasons.
But the good news is Rodgers is still Rodgers. For as much as some fans would like to create a controversy about his decline or his ego, Rodgers was one of the only positives for Green Bay in 2019. Somehow, he only threw two interceptions despite playing with an inexperienced wide receiver corps that was decimated by injuries. No, Rodgers didn’t have his best season, but he still had vintage moments. Check the comeback win over the 49ers as an example of Rodgers showing he remains a top-three quarterback.
That said, the Packers franchise quarterback is 35 years old and has to see the sands of time running low. Though plenty of quarterbacks, most prominently Tom Brady, have excelled well into their 40s, that’s not the norm. Look no further than Peyton Manning as an example of a prolific passer for whom Father Time caught up to abruptly.
Manning rode off into the sunset with a second Super Bowl ring courtesy of the best supporting cast of his life. But will Rodgers be afforded the same luxury in Green Bay after a decade of brilliance?
It’s up to new head coach Matt LaFleur to put all the Packers pieces in the right place. As unfair as it seems to pressure a new face into immediately turning a team with a losing record into a Super Bowl contender, those are the expectations LaFleur must fulfill.
The Packers have historically been infamous for playing it safe, electing to draft players instead of opening their pocketbooks on big-name free agents. But with Rodgers getting older and the Packers coming off another poor season, general manager Brian Gutekunst was emboldened.
In Za’Darius Smith, Adrian Amos, Preston Smith, and Billy Turner, the Packers have signed four high-profile free agents. The first three names on the list are borderline-elite defensive stars in the prime of their careers, set to boost a unit that finished 22nd in points allowed.
Yet for the Packers, the biggest questions heading into 2019 are on offense. In the past, the Packers would take their offense for granted with Rodgers having the likes of Greg Jennings, Donald Driver Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones, or Jermichael Finley to throw it to. Last season, Davante Adams was essentially the entire passing attack.
That’s where LaFleur comes in. A relative unknown who spent the last two seasons as the Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinators, respectively, LaFleur is a 39-year-old who can shake up a stagnant Packers offense under former head coach Mike McCarthy. The rift between Rodgers and McCarthy was no secret, with Rodgers reportedly showing little respect towards McCarthy’s knowledge of the X’s and O’s.
Yes, it’s not easy winning over Rodgers – a genius at the quarterback position who demands the same attention to detail and knowledge from his coaches.
Earning Rodgers’s respect is among LaFleur’s tasks, in addition to getting the most out of talented young wideouts Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown as surrounding weapons to veterans Adams and Geronimo Allison.
As much as LaFleur has his work cut out for him, there can be no excuses. The Packers have the talent to re-establish themselves as a top-five offense. Adams is a top-10 receiver at a four-deep position, and Allison and Valdes-Scantling are begging to have breakout seasons. Running back Aaron Jones looked like a star in 2018, as only McCarthy’s incompetence as a talent evaluator could hold him back. And if McCarthy whiffed on Jones, it’s entirely possible that he made missteps with other skill position players. Those are mistakes LaFleur can correct.
The Packers themselves know they need to return to being a powerhouse in the NFC in 2019. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been so uncharacteristically aggressive in free agency, barely turning a profit as a result.
It will all be a worth it if the Packers return to the NFC Championship Game. This should have been the yearly minimum for Green Bay with Rodgers under center, but it’s fair to say the front office got complacent. This offseason is the much-needed wake-up call to stir the Packers out of the NFC North doldrums, especially with the rival Chicago Bears getting stronger.
The elephant in the room and the need for the urgency is Rodgers. A record-breaking, generational talent at the most important position in sports, Rodgers has an unknown amount of time left. The decline, hopefully, won’t happen for another few years. However, the Packers can no longer take Rodgers for granted and must know that every year is precious.
Because even if Rodgers can play into his 40s like Brady, if the Packers don’t improve quickly and hold up their end of the bargain, Rodgers could do the unthinkable. The NFL has seen running backs sit out to get what they want, and while Rodgers signed a four-year deal worth $134 million in 2018, quarterbacks have a special kind of power. It’s never been exercised yet in the form of an NBA superstar-esque trade demand, but the Packers must know that a return to prominence isn’t just important to placating a fan base that demands championships.
The Packers need to be a contender in 2019, because a third straight losing season could cause the Rodgers window to slam shut and be sealed for good.
There’s frustration bubbling inside Rodgers, and it’s up to the Packers to harness that. Their offseason has been a step in the right direction, but LaFleur and the organization must make sure they put the team in a position to make it count on the field. Nothing less than excellence will be acceptable.