Mark Murphy

Packers Notes: LaFleur, Rodgers, Murphy

Here’s the latest on the Packers and new head coach Matt LaFleur:

  • LaFleur will report directly to team president/CEO Mark Murphy, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter). Such arrangements can lead to problems sometimes in the NFL, but GM Brian Gutekunst is presumably on board with the plan.
  • LaFleur told reporters that he that he had the opportunity to speak with Aaron Rodgers prior to accepting the job. “I cannot wait to get to work with him. I think he’s equally excited,” LaFleur said of Rodgers (Twitter link via Olivia Reiner of the team website).
  • The Packers interviewed a number of candidates for the job, but Murphy was unimpressed by everyone outside of LaFleur “Quite honestly, no one stood out,” Murphy said (Twitter link via Pelissero). After talking with other coaches, they interviewed LaFleur in Nashville on Sunday afternoon and found him to be “the most prepared candidate.”

Aaron Rodgers Won’t Be Part Of Packers’ Coaching Search

After firing their longest-tenured coach since Curly Lambeau, the Packers will enter a hiring period with a high-profile vacancy.

While Green Bay’s next head coach will be tasked with recharging the Aaron Rodgers-led team and maximizing the championship potential created by the quarterback’s employment, the two-time MVP will not be part of the Packers’ coaching search, team president Mark Murphy said Monday (via Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com, on Twitter).

Obviously, he’s free to provide input and talk to us,” Murphy said, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. “But he’s not going to be a part of the process. … The other thing I would say, Aaron was no part at all in the decision to move on from Mike (McCarthy).”

Murphy will be the one making the hire, not GM Brian Gutekunst, though Murphy said he obviously will not pick a coach with whom the soon-to-be second-year GM is uncomfortable. Gutekunst will be “actively involved” in the search, however (Twitter links via Wilde).

Gutekunst, Russ Ball and McCarthy each reported to Murphy this year in the Packers’ post-Ted Thompson-era arrangement. It appears that power structure will not change entering a crucial time for the franchise.

Interim head coach Joe Philbin will be a legitimate candidate, per Murphy (via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein, on Twitter). Rehired as offensive coordinator this offseason, Philbin was Green Bay’s OC during the team’s most recent Super Bowl title season and finished that stint in Rodgers’ 2011 MVP slate prior to becoming the Dolphins’ HC. But the two-stint Packers assistant landing the top job would obviously be an upset.

The Packers fired McCarthy early to dive into the search process early, but Murphy won’t be hiring a coach before the season ends, per Silverstein (on Twitter). While the Packers are mired in their most disappointing season in more than a decade, Rodgers (via Silverstein, on Twitter) doesn’t view the team as entering a rebuild. Prior to a Rodgers injury leading to the end of the Packers’ playoff streak last season, the franchise had qualified for the previous eight NFC brackets. At 4-7-1, the Packers are now a long shot to make that nine in 10 years.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Reactions To Mike McCarthy’s Firing

Immediately after their shocking home loss to the Cardinals, the Packers fired coach Mike McCarthy. While McCarthy was widely believed to be on the hot seat, it’s still somewhat of surprise the team made the move in-season because of his winning history with the team. The move could have a massive ripple effect on the rest of the league, and reactions and opinion pieces immediately began pouring in.

We’ve compiled the most interesting observations and responses below:

  • Assuming the Jets fire Todd Bowles, McCarthy should be at the top of the list in New York’s coaching search, argues Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. Vacchiano writes that McCarthy is “exactly what the Jets need”, and thinks that the Jets’ next coach needs to be someone like McCarthy, who is used to being in the spotlight, in order to handle the intense media pressure of being the Jets’ coach. Vacchiano thinks McCarthy would be a nice fit with Sam Darnold, and compares him to Andy Reid, who was fired after a long run in Philadelphia and has gone on to have great success with the Chiefs. It’s not the best comparison since Reid has been widely hailed for his innovation while McCarthy has been criticized for being overly-conservative, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the Jets are interested.
  • Because of the new structure of the Packers’ organization, it’ll be team CEO Mark Murphy who is making the call on who to hire as McCarthy’s replacement and not GM Brian Gutekunst, according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. While Florio thinks Gutekunst will have a role in the process, it’ll be Murphy making the final call now, which is a change for the team. Previously, GM Ted Thompson would’ve had the decision making authority in situations like this. For what it’s worth, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets that the decision to fire McCarthy was a joint one made by both Murphy and Gutekunst.
  • The move to fire McCarthy before the end of the season was “almost unprecedented”, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Schefter notes that this is just the second time in league history where a Super Bowl winning coach was let go in the middle of the year, with the only other time being when the Colts fired Don McCafferty in 1972. It underscores how surprising it was that they didn’t wait until after the season out of respect for McCarthy, and helps explain why McCarthy was reportedly blindsided by the decision.
  • The team made the right call letting McCarthy go early, according to Pete Dougherty of Packersnews.com. Dougherty argues that it’ll give the Packers a head start in their search for a new coach, and as such give them a leg up on all the other teams who will be looking for a new coach. Dougherty also writes that “former general manager Ted Thompson would never have done it during the season and might never have let McCarthy go” at all.
  • Ryan Wood of Packersnews.com took a look back at the McCarthy-era, and ranked the highs and lows of his tenure. Among the highs, of course, was the Super Bowl victory, as well as a streak of eight years in a row of making the playoffs, while the lows include today’s loss to the Cardinals and the history of losing in the NFC Championship game.

Extra Points: Patriots, Jaguars, Packers, Browns

In 2017, Browns defensive coordinator and now interim head coach Gregg Williams made a strong push for the team to take Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett with the No. 1 overall pick rather than take a quarterback.

On Friday, he reiterated that stance, saying he would still take the standout defensive end over quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and Mitch Trubisky, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes.

“Yes, I would,’’ said Williams. “I really like (Garrett). They had me evaluate the quarterbacks, too, and they had me evaluate a lot of the top players on the other side of the ball. You do good things like that in successful organizations. Get the opinion of a defensive guy on an offensive guy. Get the opinion of an offensive guy on a defensive guy. You are trying to find all of the little itty bitty things before you make the final decision, I think those are important.”

Regardless of what he would or wouldn’t do, it looks like the situation is going to work out well for the Browns. Instead of taking a quarterback a year ago, the team tabbed Baker Mayfield with the top spot and have recorded the same amount of wins this season as the previous three combined (four).

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Though the Packers need to win out and get plenty of help to get to the playoffs, team CEO Mark Murphy wrote in a week Q&A on Packers.com that he is not ready to give up on the season. “Now, I realize that we are 4-6-1 (and as Bill Parcells famously said, “You are what your record says you are”) and that we haven’t played well. However, we still have almost a third of the season left to play. I know that the odds of making the playoffs are slim (I’ve seen odds range from 3 to 15 percent), but we still have a lot to play for.” Like the odds say, there isn’t much left on the line unless the team can get hot and get some help.
  • Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone‘s firing of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett at this point of the season seems like a diversionary tactic to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. “It feels like an effort by Marrone to alter the conversation that inevitably will happen when owner Shad Khan, who had a taste of life in the NFL’s penthouse in 2017 and has taken the Super Fun Happy Slide straight back to the outhouse, starts asking tough questions after Week 17.” 
  • The Patriots need to re-sign defensive end Trey Flowers, NESN’s Doug Kyed writes in a mailbag. “They either need to bring back Flowers, take a player high in the 2018 NFL Draft, sign a free agent (pass rushers are not cheap) or trade for a veteran edge defender. Isn’t the simplest option just to bring back Flowers?” 

NFC Notes: Dez, Seahawks, McCarthy

Saints WR Dez Bryant suffered a brutal blow when he tore his Achilles just two days after signing with the club, thereby shelving him for about eight months. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network (video link) noted that Bryant’s recovery timeline could make his 2019 foray into free agency just as complicated as his 2018 one, though RapSheet does report in a separate piece that the Saints are open to bringing Bryant back next season (which Jay Glazer of FOX Sports [video link] also hears). Rapoport also says that Saints head coach Sean Payton fully expects Bryant to continue his playing career, and that Saints players quickly got to know Bryant and were stung by the injury (Twitter link). Given that, and given that Bryant made a concerted effort to improve his route running this offseason, perhaps he will still end up playing for New Orleans.

Let’s round up a few more items from the NFC:

  • Adam Schefter of ESPN.com details (via Twitter) the $500K in incentives (all tied to receptions) that were built in to Bryant’s contract with the Saints, which is obviously a moot point now. Earlier today, Schefter reported that the Saints are expected to pursue Brandon Marshall now that Bryant is on IR.
  • Rapoport writes that, when the Seahawks are sold to a new owner, the beneficiary of the transaction will be the Paul G. Allen Foundation, which consolidated the causes of recently-deceased owner Paul Allen. That means that the proceeds of the sale — which could exceed $2.5 billion — will be going to charity. As of now, Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, has taken more of a visible role in team operations, but the club is still expected to be sold (though it will remain in Seattle). Potential buyers are already preparing for the Seahawks to hit the market.
  • Pete Dougherty of PackersNews.com confirms what we have been hearing for some time: that something is off in the relationship between Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy, which could lead to McCarthy’s ouster at the end of the season. McCarthy is widely perceived to be on the hot seat, though Dougherty points out that team president/CEO Mark Murphy thinks highly of McCarthy and has final say over all football matters. However, Murphy will give a great deal of credence to the opinion of new GM Brian Gutekunst when it comes to the head coach’s future with the club.
  • We learned that top decision-makers for the Giants were in attendance at the Oregon-Utah game yesterday to scout Oregon QB Justin Herbert, even though Herbert is unlikely to enter the 2019 draft. Greg Joyce of the New York Post confirms that GM Dave Gettleman was one of the attendees, along with assistant GM Kevin Abrams and West Coast scout Jeremy Breit. If Herbert changes his mind and declares for the draft, New York will certainly be in play for him.
  • We learned earlier today that the Cowboys nearly fired OC Scott Linehan during last month’s bye.

NFC Notes: Rodgers, Giants, Falcons, Saints

With the quarterback carousel of the 2018 offseason winding down, it is now time for team’s with entrenched signal-callers to review their current deals. At the forefront of that list is Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The two sides have been long expected to come to an agreement on a new deal this offseason and Packers president Mark Murphy still expects a new deal to get done this offseason, Chris Roth of WBAY-TV in Green Bay tweets.

It only made sense for Rodgers to wait for Kirk Cousins to set the bar, and he did that when he inked a three-year, $84MM deal with the Vikings earlier this month. Currently, Rodgers’ 2013 extension — which runs through 2019 — pays him $22MM annually. He can expect that number to inch close to an annual salary of $30MM.

Before missing nine games in 2017 with a collarbone injury, Rodgers had played in all 16 games in three consecutive seasons. During that time, the Packers great earned three Pro Bowl selections, a First Team All-Pro nod and claimed league MVP honors in 2014.

Here’s more from around the NFC:

  • The Giants trade of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul does not mean the team is dead set on taking his replacement with Bradley Chubb at the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft, SportsNet New York’s Ralph Vacchiano writes. He says the move was simply the team dumping JPP’s contract, and the team is happy to move forward with Olivier Vernon, Kareem Martin and Josh Mauro. That being said, the team could still nab the N.C. State standout if it is not sold on a quarterback or wary of taking a running back in Saquon Barkley.
  • The Falcons could be bringing back safety Kemal Ishmael, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure heads (Twitter link). The versatile hybrid safety has spent five seasons with the Falcons, starting 20 of his 65 career games. In 2017, Ishmael logged one sack and 24 tackles in 16 games.
  • Among several other spots, the Saints can also stand to improve their wide receiver corps, The Times-Picayune’s Larry Holder writes. The team is locked into Michael Thomas as the No. 1 of the future, but the Saints could also bring in a veteran like Jordan Matthews or address the position in the draft, according to Holder. The writer also mentions running back, tight end, fullback and defensive tackle as positions that need to be improved upon.

Mark Murphy Explains Decision To Restructure Packers’ Front Office

After Ted Thompson oversaw one of the NFL’s most stable organizations for over a decade, the Packers will have one of the more unique front office setups going forward.

Thompson moving into a different role with the franchise prompted Packers president Mark Murphy to subsequently divvy up the former GM’s responsibilities between successor Brian Gutekunst and Russ Ball, who was once considered the favorite for the GM post.

Neither will have the power to hire or fire Mike McCarthy, with Murphy being in line to do that if the time comes, and McCarthy will report to Murphy as well. Gutekunst and Ball will report to Murphy, with the former being in charge of the Packers’ offseason and regular-season rosters, along with the draft, with the latter running the salary cap and negotiating deals.

Murphy explained his decision to revamp the front office in an answer to a Packers fan on the team’s website.

A key factor in my thought process was to improve communication within football. I felt that, over time, silos had developed within football operations and communication had suffered,” Murphy said. “Also, I wanted to create a structure that gave Brian the best chance to succeed.

By narrowing his responsibilities, it allows him to focus on the most important aspects of his job, the draft and determining the 90- and 53-man rosters. As I came to the end of the search process, I realized how important it was to keep both Brian and Russ with us. I determined that having both of them (as well as Mike) report to me would help us achieve this objective. Finally, all organizations evolve over time and I believe this change will help us improve as we move forward.”

This adjustment may have come as a way to appease McCarthy, who hasn’t made it too much of a secret he wants the team to be more open to free agency as a method of roster augmentation. A Thompson protege, Ball was not expected to deviate much from Thompson’s old-fashioned approach to team-building. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes McCarthy may have wanted out if Ball was given the job.

But the Packers attempted to keep everyone happy by opting for this arrangement, and their best-of-both-worlds attempt will be interesting to observe this offseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Vikings, Cards, Packers, 49ers

For the first time all season, the Vikings will have all three of their quarterbacks healthy when they host New Orleans on Sunday. Even with the return of Sam Bradford and the health of Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum “is the guy” reports Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio.

This should come as no surprise, as Keenum has been among the league’s top signal-callers since taking over for Bradford early in the season. The question, however, will be if the team wants to have all three suit up on Sunday. Florio’s sources say that won’t be determined until right before kickoff. Florio thinks untimely concussion evaluations could play into the decision.

Regardless of the decision, Keenum will have as long a leash as possible as the starter. The sixth-year quarterback enjoyed a breakout campaign, throwing for 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns while posting a stellar 98.3 passer rating. It is unknown at this time if Bradford will leapfrog Bridgewater for the backup role.

Here is more from around the NFC:

  • Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is the perfect candidate for the Cardinals head-coaching vacancy, AZ Central’s Dan Bickley writes. Bickley notes Shurmur’s ability to get the most out of his quarterback as the underlying factor. He also thinks the hiring of Shurmur would ensure the return of Larry Fitzgerald. The hiring, however, would go in opposition to former head coach Bruce Arians’ wishes that defensive coordinator James Bettcher get the job.
  • Packers head coach Mike McCarthy reportedly met with team president and CEO Mark Murphy and expressed concerns Russ Ball wouldn’t be aggressive in free agency, USA Today’s Pete Dougherty reports. The meeting in theory caused Murphy to not promote Ball to general manager after Ted Thompson left the spot. Dougherty has doubts that the meeting had any impact on the situation. He also laid out another theory that Murphy preferred Brian Gutekunst all along for the job.
  • There is confidence on both sides that the 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo will strike a deal, NBC Sports’ Matt Maiocco writes. If the sides don’t reach an agreement, it’s almost a guarantee that the quarterback will be franchised. After leading the Niners to wins in each of his first five starts, Jimmy G is a safe bet to be the QB in San Francisco for a long time.

Packers Rumors: Wolf, Gutekunst, FA

An offer for a prominent Packers job is on the table for Eliot Wolf, Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (on Twitter), but it’s uncertain he accepts it at this point. Before the sides can progress on a deal, the 35-year-old exec must determine if he wants to stay in Green Bay. Wolf was bypassed for this job after withdrawing his name from consideration for the 49ers’ GM position last year, and the Browns are expected to pursue him. Wolf worked with John Dorsey for several years before Dorsey became the Chiefs’ GM in 2013. New Green Bay GM Brian Gutekunst said Monday (via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com) he wants Wolf to remain on staff but acknowledged executive has other opportunities.

Here’s more from Green Bay and the latest from the North divisions.

  • What could change for the Packers is their offseason approach. The Ted Thompson years involved scant free agency participation, but Gutekunst looks to have a more modern approach to player procurement. Gutekunst said the Packers will be active in free agency, at least participating in bidding for players they covet, and (via Silverstein, on Twitter) the new GM said this announcement excited the Packers’ staff. “We’re not going to leave any stone unturned in every avenue of player acquisition,” Gutekunst said, via Wes Hodkiewicz of Packers.com (Twitter link). “… Our foundation is going to be the draft, but [free agency] is an absolute must as an accessory piece. We’re not going to be able to sign every player, [but] we want to be in the know of everything that’s going on. We have to be prepared to pull the trigger.”
  • Gutekunst may not be making a change at head coach anytime soon. Signed last week to an extension that runs through 2019, Mike McCarthy doesn’t look to have lost any support as a result of this front office change. “We have a great relationship,” Gutekunst said today. “I have a ton of respect for him as a football coach and as a man.”
  • Team president Mark Murphy said (via Demovsky), however, if a decision is made to ultimately fire McCarthy, he will make it and be responsible for hiring his successor. Other than that, Murphy said he will not meddle in football decisions. Silverstein notes (via Twitter) the previous arrangement involved all football parties answering to Thompson whereas this one could leave some uncertainty with Gutekunst, McCarthy and Russ Ball each reporting to Murphy. Ball has been given a title bump and now has a more direct line to Murphy.
  • McCarthy’s comments last week about the next GM being a “good fit” may have been a shot at Thompson’s free agency-phobic tendencies, Silverstein writes, adding they also may have induced the Packers to contact the Seahawks about a John Schneider interview. While Seattle blocked that move, Silverstein notes McCarthy’s comments may have prompted Murphy to hire Gutekunst in order to see the team take a more proactive approach to stocking the roster in free agency. Silverstein writes Ball was expected to approach free agency like Thompson, his mentor, so this decision could be interpreted as McCarthy getting his way. While Gutekunst worked under Thompson throughout the latter’s tenure, Silverstein writes that other execs who received opportunities elsewhere — Schneider, Dorsey and Reggie McKenzie — were not shy about signing free agents.