Season grade: Below-average. If there was a lower category, the Packers would be in it. Anything less than a playoff berth when Aaron Rodgers starts 16 games is disastrous. Part of that is on Rodgers for not playing at his usual MVP level, which would have covered up for myriad other issues. Part of it is on a roster that wasn’t nearly as talented or deep as it should have been thanks to some subpar drafts in Ted Thompson’s final years as general manager. Part of it is on coaching, which is why the Packers have a coaching search on their hands.
Season in review: When Rodgers marched back onto the field in the season opener against the Chicago Bears with his injured left knee wrapped up and led the Packers back from down 20-0 to a 24-23 win, it looked like it would be just the start of a season filled with thrilling victories. Instead, that was the zenith. It was a slow, agonizing fall from there. Road loss after road loss – seven of them to start the season before the Packers finally avoided a winless road record by beating the hapless Jets in Week 16 -- was like slow torture. The low point came on Dec. 2 at home against the Arizona Cardinals, a listless performance that convinced team president Mark Murphy to dump Mike McCarthy with four games left in his 13th season as head coach.
He said it: "I really felt that change was needed and kind of Mike's tenure had run its course. I think we needed a new voice, and it happens in our league.” -- Packers team president Mark Murphy the day after he fired McCarthy.
Key offseason questions:
When will the new coach be in place? When the Packers hired McCarthy in 2006, it took less than a week after Mike Sherman was fired. There’s reason to think it will take much longer this time. Indications are that Murphy and GM Brian Gutekunst want to talk to as many candidates as possible. Neither has ever been through a coaching search in his current role, and they believe they will benefit from conducting a wide array of interviews. And then there’s the possibility that they’ll hire someone who’s coaching in the Super Bowl, which means they can’t sign him until early February.
Who will the new coach keep? If interim coach Joe Philbin doesn’t get the job on a full-time basis, how much of the existing staff will the new coach retain? Rodgers has spoken highly of Philbin, but if it’s an offensive-minded head coach, then what are Philbin’s chances of staying on? The new coach needs to connect with Rodgers and get him to buy into whatever system he plans to run. Philbin certainly could assist with that. And then there’s defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, whose unit has played perhaps better than its talent in his first year on the job. There certainly will be plenty of change on the staff no matter who’s hired, but the Packers have two highly regarded coordinators in place now in Philbin and Pettine.
How active will Gutekunst be in free agency? The Packers need at least one more game-changing weapon on offense (free-agent tight end Jimmy Graham wasn’t it), help on the offensive line and pass-rushers galore. That’s too much to fill in the draft. Gutekunst showed a more aggressive approach to free agency last offseason, and even though a few of the moves failed, he’ll need to jump back in this March in order to make the Packers a contender again. He said recently that last year’s free-agent results won’t deter him this year, and he’ll have plenty of salary-cap space to be an active participant.