TAKING STOCK: GREEN BAY PACKERS
It was supposed to be a coronation, the moment where Aaron Rodgers secured his second trip to the Super Bowl to face off against the Kansas City Chiefs, the same match up that opened the Super Bowl Era 55 years before.
Instead, Rodgers watched the confetti fall for another team, and the crowning of another Hall of Fame quarterback who’s made going to and winning the Super Bowl commonplace. Rodgers and Tom Brady now have exactly the same number of NFC Championships, a record they share with the likes of Jared Goff, Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Foles, Rex Grossman, Colin Kaepernick, Kerry Collins and Chris Chandler. It’s not exactly an elite list.
So why has Rodgers struggled to win his second? This past year the deck was securely stacked in the Packers’ favor, as they hosted the NFC Championship for the first time in his starting quarterback career. But the Pack came up one game short again. It was the fourth time in five tries with Rodgers at QB Green Bay made it to the NFC title game only to stumble out of it.
What’s it going to take to get over the hump? And can they? We’ll take a look.
In the Taking Stock series, we’re looking at each playoff team, going from worst to first, and outlining exactly what they must do to avoid being one of the five or so franchises who miss the postseason the year after making it.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
2020-21 Record: 13-3, NFC North Champions
Playoffs: Defeated the Los Angeles Rams 32-18 in the NFC Divisional Round, Lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-26 in the NFC Championship
Previously: Buffalo Bills, New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, Washington Football Team
DON’T DRAFT A QUARTERBACK
Obviously the Packers won’t draft a QB in April’s NFL draft, but that doesn’t change the fact that they shouldn’t have traded up to select Jordan Love in last year’s annual player selection meeting. Rodgers is playing with one of the worst wide receiver groups of any 2020-21 playoff team. Outside of Devante Adams, who is one of the best in the league, none of his other pass-catchers would start on any squad outside the Washington Football Team. When you want to score points and boast the NFL’s MVP at quarterback, that’s not what you want.
Instead of Love, Green Bay could have selected Tee Higgins (67 catches, 908 yards, six touchdowns), Michael Pittman Jr. (40 catches, 503 yards, one TD), Laviska Shenault Jr (58 catches, 600 yards, five touchdowns), Chase Claypool (62 catches, 873 yards, nine touchdowns) or Van Jefferson (19 catches, 220 yards, one TD). Any and all would have been better than the group the Pack lined up alongside Adams.
Instead, Green Bay made a pick for the future when they could have held a Vince Lombardi Trophy in the present. Not winning a title with Rodgers at QB is literally what got their last head coach, Mike McCarthy, fired. Why would you be thinking about his replacement right now? It was ridiculous.
So it’s time to make up for it. The Packers haven’t drafted a wide receiver in the first round since 2002, three years before they selected Rodgers. It’s time to fix that. So let’s pick them one.
Green Bay picks at No. 29, but that selection has more value to them than in recent years because other teams will be selecting quarterbacks, as many as five, in the first round. That pushes every other position group down and considering that, especially in the later first round, that defensive and offensive line become more valuable, there’s a good chance some high value passing targets will fall to the Packers.
They could very well be looking at a guy like Kadarius Toney out of Florida, Rashod Bateman from Minnesota, Elijah Moore from Ole Miss and Tylan Wallace from Oklahoma State. They need guys that can score points now, that Rodgers can build up and work with. Unless some crazy defensive player falls too far or they get offered a haul of later picks to trade down, it’s time to the pull the trigger.
The Pack got lucky that they didn’t have too many key free agents coming loose after their NFC Championship game run. They kept cornerback Kevin King and tight end Mercedes Lewis, but lost center Corey Linsley and that’s something they’ll need to address either in the second or third round of the draft or free agency if they don’t feel like fourth-year center Lucas Patrick is up for the job.
As they are perennial contenders, Green Bay remains on the radar for late signings, especially older players looking to play for a ring. Like with the draft, they should be looking at WR and OL help and, as far as the defensive line goes, they could end up with some solid post-injury reclamation projects like Geno Atkins or Jurrell Casey.
With the Chicago Bears going all in on Andy Dalton, the only serious contender for the Packers’ crown remains the Minnesota Vikings. So don’t expect any big shake ups in the standings. No, Green Bay, much like the Buffalo Bills in the AFC, must be thinking beyond its own division to the teams it could conceivably match up against the 2021-22 NFC Title Game; namely the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams, the exact teams they faced off against in the playoffs this past season. The Bucs have battled to remain the same, re-signing their own players and the Rams have battled to get better in spite of major losses on the coaching staff Because of that, the Pack can not stand pat and hope everything works out for them. A splashy trade for a difference maker would not be the worst idea, regardless of the cost. The Rodgers window is closing and the “Jordan Love window” might not ever be a thing.
Projected 2021-22 Record: 12-5, NFC North Champion