GREEN BAY - If Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy is really the guy in charge of all phases of the franchise’ operations, he should be ordering quarterback Aaron Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy into his office for a clear-the-air meeting.
There aren’t two people in the organization who hold the fate of the 2018 season in their hands more than Rodgers and McCarthy. If there is more between them than a simple disagreement, if there is a rift, then Murphy should step in.
Rodgers just might have been speaking out of frustration Sunday after the game when he called the offensive performance in a 22-0 victory over Buffalo “terrible” and questioned the game plan. But it appeared he was also sending a message through the media to McCarthy that things aren’t right.
If the lines of communication between the two were open, he wouldn’t have felt it necessary to express his dissatisfaction publicly.
It’s not always a bad thing to reveal internal disputes to the public because it brings it to the fore and forces both parties to deal with it. If not addressed, it might just fester, and turn into a season killer.
At his Jan. 8 news conference announcing his decision to replace general manager Ted Thompson with Brian Gutekunst, Murphy offered that he had found communication between the three “silos” — football operations, personnel and finance – lacking.
He restructured the front office so that all three departments reported to him, instead of the head coach and contract negotiator reporting to the general manager. It meant he was inserting himself into the day-to-day operation of the entire franchise, including the football side, which is usually the purview of the general manager.
It was all in the name of better communication.
"You can never communicate too much,” Murphy said then. “That's something that I've learned easy, early in my career. You're better to overcommunicate than assume people know.”
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Murphy had better make sure that Rodgers and McCarthy are communicating. Quarterbacks not agreeing with their head coach isn’t something new to football — ask Tom Brady and Bill Belichick — but there'd better be mutual respect. There'd better be the sense the two of them are better together than apart.
If they can’t resolve this, Murphy should sit them down in his office and force them to talk about Rodgers’ bitterness over the performance Sunday and whether his beef is solely with McCarthy. Gutekunst has no authority over McCarthy due to Murphy’s restructuring of the front office, so it’s not on him to get this thing figured out.
Murphy made the decision to add four years to Rodgers’ contract at the price of $176 million. He also agreed last year to add just one year to McCarthy’s contract, thereby thrusting him into a lame-duck season in 2019.
If the Packers lay an egg this season, Murphy could put his chips on Rodgers and let McCarthy go.
But before he even starts to think about such things, his primary goal should be to convince the two that they must put their egos aside and be responsive to the other. If at the end of the season, they can’t see eye to eye, then it’s probably time to break up the partnership.
The thing is, it really is in their best interest to communicate more effectively and be in sync with every game plan.
For Rodgers, it was a bad look to rip the offense’s performance in the media auditorium at the same time his teammates were talking in the locker room about the strides they made offensively. If you’re one of those guys in the locker room, you’re probably thinking Rodgers cares more about his own statistics then he does the fact the team won.
Rodgers did say after the game that there were a lot of good performances, but it’s unlikely any teammates heard that. The headlines were about Rodgers being in a sour mood over only scoring 22 points.
Seeing other quarterbacks around the league throwing touchdowns like they’re check-downs must be disconcerting for Rodgers. Seeing other coaches and coordinators like the Los Angeles Rams’ Sean McVay, Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson, Chicago’s Matt Nagy, Minnesota’s John DeFillipo and Indianapolis’ Frank Reich hit the throttle with their offenses can’t feel great.
But Rodgers must hold up his end of the bargain, too. He’s 34 years old and whether he admits it or not, his physical skills are diminishing. Significant injuries each of the last two seasons have limited his impact during that span. He has missed more easy throws this year than any time in recent memory.
McCarthy’s job is to evaluate what Rodgers’ limitations are playing with a sprained left knee and adjust the offense accordingly. He was without Randall Cobb (hamstring) last Sunday and made the decision to limit running back Aaron Jones’ carries because it was only his second game back from suspension, so he had to account for missed snaps from the two.
Rodgers must be realistic and accept he’s not the player he once was playing with a brace on his knee. If McCarthy takes some things out of the offense, it’s probably for good reason and it might just be temporary.
At the same time, McCarthy must admit his offense needs some updating. There are things he can do to make things more interesting for Rodgers and if you’re not stealing plays or concepts from other teams during the season then you’re not trying.
McCarthy talked a lot about starting over with his playbook this offseason with the help of his offensive staff, which includes 2018 additions Joe Philbin, Jim Hostler and Frank Cignetti. There are a lot of chefs in the kitchen, but it doesn’t look like McCarthy has tapped into the others’ outside experience for significant changes on offense.
If Philbin were truly having an influence, the Packers wouldn’t rank 23rd in rushing attempts. The decision to hold Jones to 11 carries against the Bills didn’t burn McCarthy because the defense played so well, but if he doesn’t consider giving the ball to Jones 20 times against Detroit on Sunday, he’s doing the offense a disservice.
Another criticism McCarthy must accept is his inability to get tight end Jimmy Graham open. It’s obvious Graham doesn’t run like he used to and won’t ever be confused with being a good blocker, but somehow he has to devise ways to get open the guy the Packers are paying $13 million in cash this season.
Murphy gave McCarthy a considerable amount of juice within the organization by giving him equal authority as Gutekunst, and it’s not hard to imagine it going to McCarthy’s head. If his stubbornness is preventing him from letting Rodgers have more say in the offense, he should relent and find a way to keep his quarterback happy.
It’s not a democracy. Rodgers doesn’t get an equal say in anything, but he’s a big part of the success the two have had together and his opinion counts. At least make him feel that he’s being heard.
In the meantime, there are games to be won. These two guys can win another Super Bowl together.
Someone must tell them to work things out and get on the same page. If they can’t do it on their own, then Murphy needs to step in. After all, he’s the one who injected himself into the football side of the operation.