Midweek Musings: Virtual offseason brings upsides, downsides for Packers

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Last week, in a somewhat expected move, Denver Broncos players banded together and released a statement through the NFLPA, explaining their intent to boycott offseason workouts.

Broncos players cited COVID-19 positivity rates for their planned absence. Seattle Seahawks players followed suit, and within the last week, players from at least 20 franchises have expressed their intent to boycott voluntary workouts.

The Green Bay Packers are not among them. Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the Packers have made the first four weeks of their offseason program virtual, which will allow certain Packers players to still obtain their workout bonuses while the NFLPA and NFL (hopefully) sort out what the rest of this offseason will look like.

Worry not at the early absence of physical workouts, Packers fans. An entire virtual offseason led to your team having the No. 1 scoring offense in football. Not to mention, this is likely a preview of what’s to coming as the NFL adjusts to a 17-game (and 18-game, likely sooner than you think) schedule. Have to keep those bodies as fresh as possible for December and January, right?

The Packers largely avoided any issues from last year’s mostly virtual offseason. Again this year, there will be individuals or position groups that stand to benefit from a similar schedule. And there will also be those whom a virtual offseason will be a hindrance.

Here’s which players and groups will be impacted by a virtual offseason the most:

Joe Barry and the Packers’ defense

With Matt LaFleur entering his second season at the helm of the Packers last offseason, there was certainly a sense that the Packers dodged a bullet that it wasn’t LaFleur’s first. Imagine being a first-year head coach who’s not only trying to implement a new offensive system, but trying to reinvigorate a winning culture that had gone doormat for a few seasons while only being able to meet with your players and staff on a computer.

Starting a new job can be difficult in a vacuum. Adding COVID protocols and Zoom to the mix, replacing in-person meetings and on-field workouts, probably had last season’s five new head coaches feeling as if they were looking upon Mount Everest. Last season’s rookie coaches went a combined 35-45, with only Cleveland’s Kevin Stefanski propelling his team to a winning record (Ron Rivera’s Washington Football Team went 7-9, but still won the NFC East).

Would those coaches have fared better with a normal offseason? Ultimately that’s a hypothetical we’ll never have the answer to. But last offseason also provided a blueprint for first-year coordinators, and those mixed results could be telling for what’s ahead for the Packers’ new defensive coordinator Joe Barry.

Twelve teams changed defensive coordinators entering 2020. Results ranged from the best (Brandon Staley led the Rams to the No. 1 scoring defense and No. 1 total defense) to worst (three of the five worst scoring defenses were led by first-year defensive coordinators).

Whether the Packers anticipated another virtual offseason or not, LaFleur clearly valued continuity when replacing Mike Pettine, and that’s why University of Wisconsin defensive coach Jim Leonhard (a disciple of Pettine) was the first to be offered the job. When Leonhard declined, LaFleur turned to Barry.

The Packers can look to their own history at the variance of first-year defensive coordinators. Green Bay was leaps and bounds better in 2009 than 2008 after the hiring of Dom Capers, but when Capers was replaced by Pettine prior to 2018, the immediate results weren’t so remarkable. And neither of those hires had to meet their defensive personnel on Zoom.

Those that have studied Barry’s defense, and Barry himself, have indicated the importance of the “star” position (in simple terms, the slot corner). Could it be Jaire Alexander? Chandon Sullivan? A draft pick? While the answer to that wouldn’t be decided until training camp (and could change regularly during the season), the lack of on-field work could rob Barry the indication of the clubhouse’s early leader.

Jordan Love

It’s too far to say Love’s rookie season was a total waste. He sat in a room all season with a future Hall of Famer, studying defenses and learning nuances of being an NFL quarterback. That could go a long way in determining his success or failure whenever the opportunity to start arises.

But pointing out what you see on film and turning that into productive play on the field are two separate things. And for a quarterback considered “raw” by his own general manager, the only way to truly get better is by being on the field.

Every time that Packers offensive coaches and players meet virtually this summer, it’ll be a missed opportunity for the 2020 first-round pick. Barring an injury to Aaron Rodgers, Love’s only meaningful playing time in the next year will come during preseason. And if that preseason is hindered in any way, or Love struggles because that critical offseason work was missed, how can he possibly supplant Rodgers in time for Year 3?

Brett Favre’s annual retirement threats and offseason absences were a major benefit for Rodgers, who was able to fill in with the starters and prove he belonged. When the Packers moved on to Rodgers from Favre, they did so with the benefit of limitless information gathered from offseason and preseason showings. Love likely won’t gain such experience, which brings us to…

Aaron Rodgers

You better believe, for a handful of reasons, that Rodgers would love (no pun intended) to stay off his feet this offseason and meet virtually with LaFleur, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and the rest of the offensive staff. Who could blame him? Such a schedule helped revive his career a year ago. The last two times the NFL dealt with an irregular offseason — in 2011 due to labor negotiations and in 2020 due to COVID — Rodgers went on to win the Most Valuable Player. He’s 37 years old. He doesn’t need the practice time.

Rodgers has also been an advocate for longer offseasons, expressing his thoughts several times leading up to the Collective Bargaining Agreement vote in February 2020.

Most consequentially, if no offseason serves as a disruption to Love, it can only stand to benefit Rodgers. The pair might be co-workers, but they’re also competitors, and what’s negative for one is likely positive for the other.


Green Bay Packers
Many players are deserving of Hall of Fame candidacy over Julian Edelman, including former Packer Sterling Sharpe.

Offseason boycotts were not the only major developments in the NFL world last week. On April 12, New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman announced his retirement, following news that his contract was terminated due to a failed physical.

Of course, especially in a dull news cycle which we all patiently await the NFL draft, conversation about Edelman’s retirement quickly shifted to his Hall of Fame candidacy.

Such debate was popularized after Edelman won Super Bowl LIII MVP in February 2019. Upon his retirement, Edelman ranks behind only Jerry Rice in career postseason receiving yards and receptions.

The issue with Edelman’s candidacy is two-fold: He’s never been named to an All-Pro team or Pro Bowl roster, and his induction would usurp countless receivers (including a former Packer) that have long waited for the Hall call.

In his 11-year NFL career, combining regular season and postseason statistics, Edelman accumulated 8,264 yards and 41 touchdowns in 156 games. He had three 1,000-yard seasons.

Sterling Sharpe, accounting for regular season only (he only played in two postseason games), totaled 8,134 yards and 65 touchdowns in 112 games. He had five 1,000-yard seasons and was named first-team All-Pro three times. Due to a neck injury, his career was cut short after only seven seasons.

There’s not a soul alive who would argue Edelman was a better football player than Sharpe, and the accolades and statistics bear that out. Yet only the former is garnering Hall of Fame arguments, while the latter’s modern era candidacy expired last year.

Frankly, if Edelman was a Packer, he wouldn’t be in this conversation. His career receiving yardage in the regular season (6,822) would put him seventh on the Packers’ all-time list, just in front of Greg Jennings and Antonio Freeman, and well short of Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson. None of those aforementioned four will ever sniff the Hall of Fame, even though all four obtained Pro Bowl status that eluded Edelman (and each, like Edelman, has a Super Bowl ring on their resume).

Early next season, Edelman will be passed on the all-time receiving ranks by Davante Adams, considered by many as the NFL’s best wide receiver. Adams, only 28, already surpassed Edelman in All-Pro and Pro Bowl nods. Yet it wasn’t until this season that the mere possibility of Adams becoming a Hall of Famer was considered. Adams is already 20th all-time in postseason receptions and 31st all-time in postseason receiving yards — with a few more postseason appearances, Adams could easily reach the top 10 in both categories. And he’ll likely still be fighting an uphill battle for future enshrinement in Canton, because the wide receiver position is that loaded.

Which broaches the crux of the problem. How can it be justified to induct Edelman when better players by almost any measure are waiting years for any consideration? And spare the “You can’t tell the story of the NFL without him,” argument. You can’t tell the story of the Super Bowl without mentioning Max McGee got drunk the night before Super Bowl I and then scored two touchdowns to help lead Green Bay over Kansas City. But McGee’s story alone isn’t Hall of Fame worthy. And neither is Edelman’s.

 

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