It is not new news that there is a changing of the guard amongst the Green Bay Packers.
I have written extensively over the last two or more years about the fortunes of the franchise under the thumb of Ted Thompson, and the need of the organization to rid itself of Thompson's inertia.
Apparently, the football gods answered my request in the form of Brian Gutekunst, the Packers' (relatively) new general manager, who was installed at the beginning of last season. And, despite my own armchair dissents from some of his decisions (I will remain critical of Deshone Kizer until we see something from the guy) he has largely been a raucous heavy-hitter in Titletown. He proved that last season after fetching tight end Jimmy Graham as a big red zone target for Aaron Rodgers and fleecing the Saints out of their 2019 first round draft pick. He's proving it again this year on the defensive side of the ball, bringing in edge-rusher Za'Darius Smith, linebacker Preston Smith, and safety Adrian Amos in the first 24 hours of free agency.
And while these new moves are surely welcome by not only the fans, but many within the organization as well, they are far from the only changes. After all, Mike McCarthy, the Packers coach since 2006, was fired last December after losing late to the Arizona Cardinals, the same team that possesses the first pick in the draft this year.
While I advocated for former Broncos whiz kid Adam Gase to take his place, Gutekunst and Packers President Mark Murphy went a similar, albeit slightly different direction in picking up former Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur.
And while questions abound not only about LaFleur's own ability, but also the direct nature of the divorce between McCarthy and Rodgers, there is one thing that is undeniable: change means out with the old and in with the new.
Such an end to an era is what became apparent to me as a lifelong Packers fan when four classic Packer icons announced their retirements in the preceding weeks. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson, guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton, and fullback John Kuhn all announced that they would be calling it a career with the NFL. And while none of these guys were still with the Packers at their time of retirement (save Kuhn's one-day special contract) there is still a gravity to their being gone from the football stage.
Save for Rodgers and kicker Mason Crosby, there is no one left on the Packers roster from their 2011 Super Bowl championship.
As Aaron Rodgers has aged, success has continued to elude him. A new story from Bleacher Report attempts to deduce the reason for this, expounding upon not only Thompson and McCarthy's stale techniques, but also Aaron Rodgers' petulance and his belief in his own supremacy. Others (including Kuhn) have disputed criticisms of Rodgers as a poor teammate/leader/what have you.
I myself am unsure what to think of such accusations. As with most things, I would gather that certain issues that brought down the McCarthy regime are probably accurate as reported and others are inflated or conflated. Short of being embedded in the organization, there's no way to convey the entire nuance of the situation.
Still, some of the commentaries from former Packers, such as wide receiver Greg Jennings or tight end Jermichael Finley, is concerning. I don't think it can be discounted. Not when it's being fired from so many different directions. Reports of Rodgers irascibility don't only come from nameless, faceless, accounts after all. There are real people putting their credibility on the line by confronting him.
As the narrative goes, as McCarthy's offenses grew more jaded, Rodgers worked his magic by changing plays in the huddle, creating a rift between coach and the coached. As Rodgers and McCarthy feuded silently, younger players failed to reconcile a relationship with their quarterback and the entire system began to decay. In culmination, the malaise that settled into the organization the last two season (7-9 and 6-9-1 records respectively) seems to have taken the once proud Packers by the throat.
All of which is perhaps nothing terribly new in terms of describing Green Bay's breakdown, but rather an expanded view of the context in which the team now sits.
Yet despite all the negativity, Mark Murphy is determined. The relieving of Thompson and McCarthy opens up the room for fresh air. As one era ends another may begin. And so there has been an ushering in of Gutekunst, LaFleur, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, and quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy, not to mention 10 new rookies that'll be joining the team later this month via the draft. All provide ample ammunition for hope.
It also means the last man standing is Aaron Rodgers…and I guess Crosby too.
After nearly a decade of missed opportunities and (more exactly) missed championships, a lot of the team's success in the twilight of Rodgers' career will come down to his ability to not only wow with Hail Mary magic, but to drive his team forward in conjunction with the men I named just above.
Now that the cards have been dealt, all we cheeseheads can do is cross our fingers and hope that this changing of the guard results in a new full-throated battle cry.