GREEN BAY — It’s looking like the Green Bay Packers are doing a soft rebuild with their eye on the 2020 season.
The biggest sign is president/CEO Mark Murphy’s decision Sunday to fire Mike McCarthy and start over with a new coach next season.
Sure, there’s a chance a new coach can click with Aaron Rodgers and, with the help of the 2019 draft and free-agent classes, contend for a Super Bowl next season. Murphy wasn’t wrong at his news conference Monday when he mentioned that possibility by pointing to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, who became a bona fide Super Bowl contender last year on the strength of an outstanding 2018 draft.
More often, though, teams need a year to adjust to a new coaching staff, and vice versa.
Think back to 2006, when the Packers hired McCarthy. They had the quarterback in place with Brett Favre but still went only 8-8 that first year. Then in 2007 they were 13-3 and hosting the NFC Championship.
There’s also the way the Packers have positioned themselves for next year’s draft, which will get a season to mature and learn how to play in the NFL before taking the field as second-year pros in 2020.
They have the extra first-round pick that general manager Brian Gutekunst picked in last year’s draft-day trade with the Saints. Granted, with the season the Saints are having, it could be in the final four picks of the first round, but it’s still a pretty high pick.
The Packers’ own first-rounder might be as high as the top third of the first round, so Gutekunst should have more than enough capital to package those two picks and trade into the top five if he thinks there’s a special player there. If not, he can draft two top-30 prospects.
Then there was Gutekunst’s recent trade of safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for a 2019 fourth-round pick. The Packers surely would have let Clinton-Dix walk in free agency anyway, but then they would have had to wait until 2020 to get the compensatory pick. It’s also hard to believe Clinton-Dix will sign a contract next year that nets even a fifth-rounder, let alone the fourth-rounder the Packers received from Washington.
Gutekunst also picked up an extra sixth-rounder from Seattle in his trade of Brett Hundley, so all told he has 10 picks in the 2019 draft. By 2020, this year’s promising draft class will be hitting its prime, and next spring’s class will be up and running in its second season.
Before the 2020 season, Gutekunst also will have had two offseasons to add a key free agent or two. Back in 2006, former GM Ted Thompson signed Charles Woodson as a free agent, and Woodson proved to be a critical player in the team’s runs in 2007 and to the Super Bowl title in 2010.
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Rodgers will turn 37 in 2020, and this season showed there’s no guarantee he’ll be a top player as he gets older. But Favre, Tom Brady and Brees played some of their best football at that age or older — Favre was 38 when he took the Packers to the conference championship game in 2007, Brady was league MVP last year at 40, and Brees is an MVP candidate this year at 39. If Rodgers doesn’t rebound, he’ll be the exception, not the rule.
Plans can accelerate, and they can go awry. An overperformer here, or an underperformer or injury there could change everything. But in their minds, Murphy and Gutekunst might be pointing for 2020.
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