Packers: Future is bright with Matt LaFleur, Brian Gutekunst

There’s been much-needed change for the Green Bay Packers the past two offseasons.

Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy had a lot of success with the Green Bay Packers.

Thompson used his first draft pick as general manager to select Aaron Rodgers, and would build many championship-level rosters in the years that followed. McCarthy led the team to the playoffs nine times in 13 years, including eight years in a row.

Together, they won a Super Bowl. But the team began to decline following an excellent 2014 season that ended in a heartbreaking loss at Seattle, one game short of the Super Bowl.

Thompson, whose best work regularly came in the draft, began to swing and miss on draft picks more frequently. Of the eight players he drafted in 2015, only one remains. That player is Jake Ryan, who is a free agent this offseason. His future is uncertain.

And soon the results on the field began to get worse, also. McCarthy has coached a number of dominant Packers teams, but that hasn’t been the case in four years.

In 2016 they started 4-6 and needed some late-season magic to make a run. They weren’t so lucky in 2017, missing out on the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade. Aaron Rodgers’ injury was a major reason why.

But this past season, even with Rodgers starting all 16 games, the team failed to reach the postseason again. McCarthy led the team to a 4-7-1 record before he was fired.

In the past two offseasons the Packers have made a change at general manager and head coach. Thompson and McCarthy did some outstanding work in their respective roles, but Packers president Mark Murphy recognized that it was time for change and a fresh start.

Murphy made the right hire a year ago at GM, promoting Brian Gutekunst to replace Thompson.

Gutekunst put together an impressive debut offseason in the job. He looks to have hit on his opening draft pick, Jaire Alexander, who has the potential to become one of the league’s top cornerbacks.

Gutekunst not only selected Alexander, but traded twice in the first round to come away with the player he wanted along with a bonus first-round selection for the 2019 draft from the New Orleans Saints.

Gutekunst has brought a fresh approach to Green Bay. He isn’t afraid to make bold moves, and has shown he’s willing to bring in players who can help the team get better, whether via free agency, the draft or a trade.

It’s too early to hand out a grade for his 2018 draft class, although there’s a lot to like about the potential of Alexander, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown.

Enter new head coach Matt LaFleur, who was the choice to replace McCarthy.

“For me, I try to make this as simple as possible,” Gutekunst said in Wednesday’s press conference. “We wanted someone who can win, and that’s what we’ve found in Matt.”

“I think we’ve got the perfect candidate to lead us to where we want to go.”

LaFleur doesn’t have any experience as a head coach to draw from, but he’s been a part of some excellent offenses in recent years. LaFleur was Matt Ryan‘s quarterback coach during his MVP season in 2016, and was offensive coordinator for the LA Rams’ No. 1-ranked scoring offense two years ago.

LaFleur has worked with the likes of Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan in recent years, and McVay had high praise for the Packers’ new head coach earlier this week:

“He’s a great football coach,” McVay said, according to Wes Hodkiewicz of Packers.com. “Got a great understanding from offensive football. He’s just such a great guy. He cares about people.”

LaFleur has worked with a number of talented quarterbacks from Matt Ryan to Jared Goff to Kirk Cousins. He’ll take what he’s learned in the past few seasons, but also build an offense in Green Bay that best suits the strengths of Aaron Rodgers and the talent on the roster.

Which could mean more opportunities for Aaron Jones, who led the league in yards-per-carry this season, but was held back by McCarthy. Under McCarthy in 2018, Jones only had 15 or more carries in a game twice. His season-high was 17.

Running the football was Tennessee’s biggest strength this season with LaFleur calling the plays, as Michelle Bruton of Packers Wire noted last week:

“The zone-blocking scheme he installed helped the Titans finish No. 7 overall in rushing offense, averaging 126.4 run yards per game, despite the struggles the team endured in the passing game.”

LaFleur will bring fresh ideas to a Packers offense that had become predictable in recent years.

The offense already has a lot of talent to work with, including three-time All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Davante Adams, and of course Jones, who, in LaFleur’s offense, could very well become the Packers’ first 1,000-yard rusher since Eddie Lacy in 2014.

It will now be over to Gutekunst to add more talent on offense in the coming months. He’ll be searching for players that fit LaFleur’s vision. And the good news is he’ll be open to exploring free agency, the draft or potential trades in order to get the players that will help this team improve.

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The work Thompson and McCarthy did in Green Bay will never be forgotten, but the Packers needed a fresh start.

Over the past two offseasons they’ve got just that, and it sets up an exciting future.