How will the pairing of Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur mold Green Bay?
These are uncertain times in Green Bay.
Any time a regime change happens in football, there is trepidation about how things are going to go. When you take that same environment and overlay it upon a community so invested in winning that its literal nickname is Titletown, the scrutiny applied to the situation is magnified hundredfold.
Such is the current case with the Packers. Victims to the first such changeover at the head coach position in nearly a decade and a half, the current roster knows the nature of uncertainty all too well. Just ask the multitude of veteran players who've been cut or shipped away from the Dairyland via trade.
Yet, amidst the chaos, nothing is more uncertain than the relationship between quarterback Aaron Rodgers and new head coach Matt LaFleur. And rightly so, given that it was the souring of a relationship between Rodgers and former coach Mike McCarthy that led to the regime change in the first place.
As has been well documented by the news media and my own Packers beat writing, McCarthy was fired this past season shortly after losing to the lowly Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals went on to achieve the worst record in football in 2018.
So, how did Green Bay get here? McCarthy's stale play-calling definitely contributed. But so did Rodgers' willingness to defy said play-calling, procuring his own brand of backyard ball.
The result was a scheme that was largely a dud and totally reliant on Aaron Rodgers' magic, which became especially problematic when nasty collarbone injuries kept him out for long stretches during the 2013 and 2017 seasons.
Now, cracks of that same defiance are beginning to peek through in the Rodgers-LaFleur marriage.
As NFL.com's Mike Silver expounds upon the situation, Rodgers and LaFleur are trying to get along. They're trying to find a happy medium between the system (drawn from the minds of LaFleur's friends Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVey, relying heavily on pre-snap movement) and the genius improvisational skills of the future Hall of Fame quarterback.
LaFleur: "…we've never really had a quarterback who's had complete freedom to change plays at the line, because that's not really the way the offense is set up. But, I mean, this is Aaron Rodgers."
Rodgers: "It's a conversation in progress. I don't think you want to ask me to turn off 11 years (of recognizing defenses)."
Full quotes and greater context can be found in Silver's piece linked above, but the message is clear: things are still a work in progress.
I have some hope this can be done, but can also sense palpable danger bubbling just below the surface.
After all, battle lines are already being drawn. The quarterback that had preceded Rodgers at the helm, Brett Favre, asserts that his successor need not do anything different.
"Aaron will be fine…The question is, how will they handle it with him?" Favre said.
And there's not shortage of folks in the punditry who have their doubts about how things are going to pan out under the new regime. Hell, this episode of First Take didn't even need Stephen A. Smith to reach a titanic crescendo about the legacy of Rodgers and the contending capability of his organization.
However, the silver lining provided by Silver is this: things are relatively rosy. LaFleur is willing to cede some ground and Rodgers is excited about the strides he and the team might make in a McVey-style offense. Rightfully so. The Rams made the Super Bowl this past February, as woeful as their final performance may've been.
Other players are excited as well, as Davante Adams expresses, "There's a lot of big play potential—a lot of things that are gonna scheme me to be open." This coming from a man who had 111 receptions, 1,386 receiving yards, and 13 touchdowns last year.
And yet, the (heavily disputed) words of Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy can't fall by the wayside: "Don't be the problem." Murphy was speaking of Rodgers. Having been on virtually every level during the contentious departure of McCarthy, he's seen how much trouble the quarterback has the potential to produce.
So, what's the bottom line? Well as of right now, uncertainty may be the name of the game, but the equation is also a simple one: don't be the problem, find that middle ground, and bring a title back to Titletown.