Silverstein: Half of Packers' roster could face overhaul under next coach
GREEN BAY – You wouldn’t think that a coaching change would affect wide receiver Davante Adams all that much.
He should be able to play in any offense the next coach installs.
"I’d like to think so,” Adams said. “But you never know.”
The unknown looms large over the Green Bay Packers after team president Mark Murphy fired coach Mike McCarthy after 13 years at the helm. Interim coach Joe Philbin isn’t going to change a whole lot, but if he’s not the next head coach half the roster could be gone depending on what systems the new coach introduces.
When Ted Thompson fired Mike Sherman and hired McCarthy after the 2005 season, the roster changed dramatically the next year.
Of the 58 players who played at least three games in ’05, only 27 (or 46.6 percent) of them returned the following year. (Three others who were on the roster but did not play also returned.)
There were salary-cap issues general manager Ted Thompson had to confront after the ’05 season, so that accounts for some of the turnover, but McCarthy made many changes to the offense and Thompson started drafting players to fit that system.
When McCarthy fired defensive coordinator Bob Sanders after the ’08 season and hired Dom Capers to replace him, the roster went through another overhaul. The following year 11 of the 30 players (35.5 percent) who had played in at least one game in ’08 were gone.
If you’re a current member of the Packers, those numbers might surprise you, but then again, they might not.
"I think football players are good at dealing with what’s in front of them,” linebacker Kyler Fackrell said. “It’s something that’s so out of my control so I don’t think it’s good to worry about it. Just finish out this season strong. There’s still a lot to play for. There’s a lot of great opportunities to prove ourselves.”
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When a team is out of the playoffs (the Packers aren’t quite out but will be with another loss), the smart players understand they’re playing to impress the front office or some other team’s front office.
If someone is playing not to get hurt or acting as though the offseason has already begun, it will be out there for every general manager and talent evaluator around the NFL to see. If a Packers player has hope that he’ll have a space in the same locker room next season, he should heed a warning from veterans such as linebacker Antonio Morrison, who went through a coaching change in Indianapolis and found himself in a new defensive system this year.
Eventually, the Colts didn’t think Morrison was a good fit and traded him to the Packers on Aug. 26.
“Man, you have to focus on yourself, you can’t focus on the things you can’t control,” Morrison said. “You have to just make sure you’re prepared to do whatever job is asked. Whatever staff, whatever scheme, just prepare your body to be able to do all of that, do whatever it is.
“Part of the business is you have to win. Guys are moving forward, the more they can understand it’s part of a business it will help them more.”
For players such as inside linebacker Blake Martinez and end Dean Lowry, another change in defensive scheme will mean they’re starting over for a third time. They had to prove their worth to Capers and then prove it again with Mike Pettine.
Both have taken on new and improved roles under Pettine, but now they might be starting over again in a new system.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” Lowry said. “It comes with the sport, the business.”
McCarthy’s firing adds another layer of doubt for veterans set to become free agents in the offseason. Among them are linebacker Clay Matthews, receiver Randall Cobb, tight end Lance Kendricks, guard Byron Bell and linebacker Jake Ryan.
In Matthews’ and Cobb’s case, general manager Brian Gutekunst will determine first if he wants them back, and then second, how much he’s willing to pay. If the new coach runs a 4-3 defense, then he might not want Matthews or if he prefers bigger receivers he might not want Cobb.
If he does, for instance, want Matthews back, maybe his intention is to move him off the line of scrimmage and into stack position. Matthews’ preference would undoubtedly be to play outside in a 3-4, which he has done his entire career, so he might choose to go somewhere else.
‘This is all new to me,” said Matthews who was drafted in 2009. “Hopefully, we don’t get there, but if it does everything will be evaluated, especially when you’re at this point of your career.
“I’d love to finish my career here. My family has taken to the city, my kids are thriving. Furthermore, I’d just like to finish here.”
Cobb, whose contract year has been marred by a hamstring injury that cost him six games, said he’s fully aware of what a coaching change means, and he has already gone through the free-agent process once.
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Like Matthews, he has a family and would prefer stability, but he’s not naïve enough to think the next coach will see him the same way McCarthy did. He said putting any thought into what will happen after the season would be a waste of time because he truly doesn’t know.
“Before I had a son, I looked forward to knowing what I was going to be like as a parent, but you don’t know until that time comes,” Cobb said. “I tried to prepare myself by reading books and learning as much as I could but, at the end of the day, it all changed when that kid came along.
“It’s the same thing with us. Yeah, obviously, we know what it entails a little bit with the future, but we don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like, so you can’t focus on that right now.”
The next four weeks will be critical for players like tackle Jason Spriggs, guard Justin McCray, cornerback Bashaud Breeland, linebacker Reggie Gilbert, tight end Robert Tonyan, receiver Jake Kumerow and safety Josh Jones. They are all going to play down the stretch and are in effect auditioning for either a roster spot or a role next season.
Some of the guys who aren’t playing a lot like rookie receiver J’Mon Moore, running back Jamaal Williams, quarterback DeShone Kizer and tackle Alex Light will be judged on special teams play or practice performance. They can’t assume anything about next season.
“I would love to know, but you don’t,” Spriggs said of the next coach. “Whenever you find out, you’re going to know. So, you have to make the best case that you can for whatever happens in the future.
“You have to put your best stuff on tape. You want to take away any doubt they might have in you. Give them more reasons to keep you around than get rid of you.”