GREEN BAY, Wisconsin – Under normal circumstances, Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur would have one of the best jobs in the NFL this time of year.
With almost everyone back on the offensive from a 13-3 team going to the NFC championship game, an MVP quarterback leading the offensive in his third season, new defensive and special team coordinators on board and a nine-person rookie class consisting mainly of power Five conference attendees, the potential for success in 2021 seems limitless.
But this off-season isn’t normal for LaFleur.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ alienation from the Organization has left LaFleur in a limbo that is not his own and that certainly does not deserve a man 28-8 years old in his first two seasons as head coach.
As anyone can tell, Rodgers’ beef is with General Manager Brian Gutekunst, and depending on which inside report you believe, the chances of Rodgers wearing green and gold again are slim to negative with Gutekunst around.
Perhaps time or a brink truck full of money will make Rodgers reconsider his stance never to play for the Packers again, but LaFleur will have to work as if their road together has come to an end for now.
“I’m not going to make any guesses at this point,” LaFleur said Friday when asked if it was fair to assume that Rodgers would not be on hand on Monday when seasoned players have the opportunity to sign up for training sessions outside of that Report season. “We’ll just take it day after day.”
The Packers trainer had just spent the final hour at Clark Hinkle Field watching two tryout quarterbacks toss passes at a group of rookie receivers running back at the team’s rookie minicamp with tight ends. It’s likely that either Chad Kelly or Kurt Benkert will sign a deal after this weekend, but they’re not the answer to who will be the team’s starting quarterback if Rodgers isn’t on the list.
It is very likely that Jordan Love will report on the start of the third phase of the off-season conditioning program on Monday along with newly signed veteran Blake Bortles in the 2020 first round, but Rodgers is unlikely to do so. Fully Organized Team Activity (OTA) drills begin May 24, and Love will be the first team’s quarterback in Rodgers’ absence. When you are LaFleur there are several different ways you can approach things.
One would be to press ahead with the offense at full speed, provided Rodgers will return at some point and expect Love, who had no training on the field in the past off-season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will struggle to keep up and force you to that the offense works on a lower level for the veterans present.
Another option would be to prepare Love to be the starter, which means tailoring the offense to the things he does well and eliminating some of the things Rodgers had in place that only a 16 year old could do Starters with a computer mind could create. It could mean scrapping some of the things he wanted to add this year and adding more emphasis to the run.
When asked if he would work with Love like he was the starter, LaFleur said yes. But he said it the way he could say it if asked about the Left Guard or the Long Snapper.
“I think every player on our squad needs to have the mentality they will be,” said LaFleur. “If not, when you get your opportunity, you won’t be prepared for it. That’s always what we emphasize to every player on this soccer team.
“And football, unfortunately there are some uncontrolled circumstances that can happen. And you might be one game away from your chance and you might only get one chance in this league. You’d better be prepared for that. “
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Part of the prep is making sure there’s a veteran who can when Rodgers isn’t around and Love isn’t ready – remember, when he and Gutekunst said he and Gutekunst said he wasn’t when he worked out Love Be ready to go overnight. Make enough games to add to the game in progress and keep the offensive moving.
It’s possible that Bortles, number 3 on the 2014 draft who has been looking for a job on the Denver training team for half a season last year, could be that guy. He played in Jacksonville in 2017 for the then offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and had the Jaguars within 43 yards of a late touchdown in a 24:20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.
“Blake’s familiarity with Hackett, the Rams offensive (backed up in ’19) with a lot of procrastination terminology and just his general experience in the league (were attractive),” said LaFleur. “I mean, this is the guy who started a lot of games and had a lot of success.”
The latter part can mainly be traced back to part of the ’15 season and most of the ’17 season. The rest of the time he was an interceptor and his career 80.6 rating is testament to how bad he could be.
But he’s all that was out there at that point in the off-season, and if Rodgers isn’t around, Gutekunst has to keep looking for someone better. Maybe love is better than thought, but the Packers can’t go into the regular season without a better option than Bortles if love isn’t ready.
Trading Rodgers remains the only viable option once it’s as deeply buried as some have reported. Draft picks won’t be enough in any deal as Rodgers will turn every team he goes to into a winner and move their future first-round pick to their 20s or higher, making them less likely to be Pro Bowl players bring forth.
For every deal they make, there has to be a quarterback in exchange.
Either way you look at it, LaFleur is trapped in the middle and has brought this out to some of his coaching friends in the NFL. After seeing Gutekunst do his best to keep last year’s team together, the Packers coach knows he has the parts he needs to get over the hump of the NFC championship game when Rodgers arrives Board is.
It’s so close that he can probably taste it.
“We obviously still feel the same way,” said LaFleur. “We want him back in the worst possible way. I know he knows and we will keep working on it every day. “
Ultimately, it’s out of LaFleur’s hands. Gutekunst and Packers President Mark Murphy are the ones to deal with Rodgers.
He needs to know this thing won’t be done anytime soon and his best bet is to teach Love and prepare him for the start of the season. He can still boot things up later when Rodgers comes back, but the best he can do now is enable love to succeed and hope for the best.
Every season is different because the squads in the NFL change so dramatically, but somehow LaFleur has to prepare this team for someone new to take center stage. His priority, he said, is not about adding new games or concepts, but rather regaining the groove the team had last year, which is not easy to do with a new quarterback.
He has no choice but to prepare his team to play with love and see where that takes him. It has probably done the toughest coaching job in the NFL, which is not what it should be.