Apr. 17, 2019
A Tale Of Two Quarterbacks
The recent developments revolving around two Super Bowl winning signal callers have left the heretofore sleepy period between the frenzy of free agency in early March and the draft absolutely abuzz. Let's begin in mid America.
By now, most everyone has heard about the Bleacher Report article by Tyler Dunne that is an illustration of the Green Bay Packers under then head coach Mike McCarthy and current QB Aaron Rodgers. The piece, to be polite, was an unvarnished look into what has been long considered one of the NFL's signature (and well run) franchises. What was reported, based on accounts from ex-players and others familiar with inner workings of the Packers, would paint McCarthy as a head man whose singular focus on the offense would relegate the Green Bay defense to a forgotten unit year in and year out, left to the devices of defensive coordinator Dom Capers until his dismissal after the 2017 season. It would also show McCarthy as a head coach who completely agreed with the media's assertion of his prowess as an offensive mastermind, whose ego and arrogance would ultimately leave the Packers offense left to decay between the lack of creativity and departure of talent over the years. By 2018, McCarthy was reported to be mentally checked out, with an allegation of ducking out of offensive planning meetings to receive massage treatment for his back. Rodgers would also be portrayed in an unflattering light, with former teammates in wide receiver Greg Jennings and tight end Jermichael Finley divulging both personal experiences and observations about the future Hall of Famer that describes him as passive aggressive in his dealings with people that slighted him, holding grudges like a mob boss, and undermining his offensive play caller (McCarthy) by constantly changing play calls at the line due to situational disagreements. Rodgers would be painted as one who was intolerant of acts of friendship between his teammates and the opposition and an offensive facilitator who would render pass receivers as extraneous players on the field if they would so much as disagree with the passer. It is also alleged that Rodgers is not fond of his role as a leader on the field, saying he longed for the earlier days of his career where he could simply play and others could fill the roles of leadership. It was also stated that the issues with Rodgers have become so enmeshed in the Packer organization that team chairman Mark Murphy was reportedly saying to his star quarterback to not be the problem on the team after the hiring of new head coach Matt LaFleur. In response, Rodgers vehemently denied the conclusions in the report, referring it to a hit piece to enhance Dunne's career as a writer. McCarthy issued his own set of denials, which the responses by the subjects of this article are predictable and expected. And some of Rodgers' teammates, both former and current, have come out in support of him, proclaiming their own love and respect for him as a friend and compatriot.
The assertions of both Dunne and Rodgers are not the gospel truth one way or the other. But more than likely, the truth falls somewhere in between. McCarthy and Rodgers are both self-assured men who have confidence in their respective abilities and certainly have egos. This is not necessarily a bad thing; to be able to lead young men, either as a field general or a tactician in a command position, takes a measure of gumption to be successful. And these two did win Super Bowl XLV. But in the years since that triumph, in watching this team (especially in the playoffs), it would leave one coming to the conclusion that something was always missing. Be it a defensive embarrassment against the San Francisco 49ers in 2012, an utter collapse against the Seattle Seahawks in 2014, or a definitive rout by the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, the Packers always came up short in spectacular fashion, even as Green Bay were prohibitive perennial favorites to win the NFC in the preseason. The defense had been the guilty party in the downfall of Packer title aspirations, and given the dismissive attitude McCarthy carried regarding it, that neglect would present itself at the worst possible time. But another component that was touched upon by Dunne and did not receive much press in national media circles was the deteriorating talent base that was under the purview of then general manager Ted Thompson. Thompson was lauded as a great GM based on his old school "draft and develop" strategy of team building. What was ignored by those same people was the fact that the Packers would rarely foray into free agency. By conceding that avenue of player procurement, the Packers would giving their rivals, both in division and in conference, an insurmountable edge over them in roster improvement year in and year out. Compounding this was Thompson's reluctance to retain his own most effective free agents, ostensibly believing help is one draft away. We all saw what happened: the overall talent level would decline, ultimately leaving the Packers where they are now; with a lot of young players learning the Packers' system on both sides of the ball, with the expected growing pains left bare for all to see. When it comes to Rodgers, there may not be a better technician at the quarterback position in NFL history. But given his age, experience, and prominence within the organization, his younger teammates will look to him for leadership, like it or not. The way he has conducted himself in post-game press conferences, namely throwing players & coaches under the bus, only serves to the detriment of the team. This leads one to wonder how he will interact with LaFleur. Will Rodgers still hold his track record and past performance as pedigree to operate independently of his new head coach, or will he defer, at least in some measure, to either work with him or for him for the benefit of the whole team, regardless of the result? Expect this to be a story that can cause a ripple effect across many teams in the NFC in 2019. We'll see for ourselves on the field if Dunne's work was on point or off base.
Meanwhile, in Washington state, home of the Seattle Seahawks, their own Super Bowl winning QB Russell Wilson is entering the final year of his contract. He has expressed his desire to be extended by his team, but wants that new contract to be settled quickly, placing a deadline on such (April 15). This is a very complicated situation. The Seahawks have a new owner in Jody Allen, sister of the deceased Paul Allen. GM John Schneider is already dealing with a difficult contract negotiation with franchise tagged defensive end Frank Clark, who has expressed his displeasure in not being permitted to hit the open market. Plus, there is a valid question that has not been answered: are the Seahawks rebuilding or reloading? Seattle made the playoffs via a wild card berth, impressive given the competition in the NFL's senior conference. They did look outclassed against NFC powers in Dallas and LA, but are they a piece or two away from contending for their third conference title in the Pete Carroll & Wilson era? Add to this that Wilson and his representatives will be looking to top Rodgers' deal from last year of an average yearly salary of $33.5 million per year. Even considering that the salary cap numbers will be staggered with the weight of that potential contract being on the back end of the deal, it's still a significant percentage of the cap designated to one player.
The deadline imposed by Wilson has lead to speculation that he could be traded. There would be no lack of suitors if that were to be the case. A bonafide winning quarterback whose physical skills and leadership can elevate a roster to the next level? If the Seahawks cannot reach at least a path to a new contract with Wilson, then the draft in the coming days could be the site of a blockbuster trade that ships a haul of draft picks to Seattle in exchange for the potential trade partner picking up Wilson, under the gun to re-sign Wilson to a lucrative third career contract. Keep an eye on this situation, as the potential of a seismic shift in the league's tectonic landscape is very real.
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