Offseason of change awaits Packers after another losing year
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Clay Matthews looked up into the Lambeau Field suites to find his parents before walking down the stadium tunnel for what might be the last time as a member of the Green Bay Packers.
An offseason of change awaits in Titletown following a second straight year without a playoff appearance.
A coaching search is already underway after Mike McCarthy was fired in early December, which leaves the futures of upcoming free agents like Matthews up in the air.
Matthews, one of the last remaining links to Green Bay’s 2010 Super Bowl season, described the exit from the field following Sunday’s 31-0 loss to Detroit as “a little bittersweet ... I was waving up to my parents up in the suite.”
“So (my kids) will be waiting for me, wife, family and ... I’ll carry on as Dad,” Matthews said.
Players cleaned out their lockers on Monday and started meeting with interim head coach Joe Philbin and assistants for exit interviews. Philbin, who plans to interview for the position on a permanent basis, is handling the wrap-up responsibilities that come with the job, at least for the next few days.
At 6-9-1, Green Bay finished under .500 for a second straight year. The Packers went 2-2 under Philbin, finally winning a road game in Week 16 after losing their first seven away from Lambeau.
The affable Philbin seems to have won over some key players in the locker room with his leadership style, demeanor and dry humor. Rodgers and receiver Davante Adams have each said that they hope Philbin stays, though they don’t expect to be part of the decision.
“Joe’s funny, man, you’ve just got to get used to his type of personality,” running back Jamaal Williams said Monday. “Joe’s a good person ... caring, always trying to look out for everybody.”
The offensive coordinator for the 2010 Super Bowl team in his first stint with Green Bay, Philbin has familiarity with the franchise and Rodgers. He coached the Miami Dolphins for three-plus seasons without a playoff appearance before being fired four games into the 2015 season.
“While it’s important that (team executives) do know me, there (are) some things we haven’t discussed. I want to present who I am, because it’s not going to work if they don’t like who I am,” Philbin said Monday. “I think fit and alignment in this particular situation (with team executives) is absolutely vital. And if it’s not, it won’t work.”
The 57-year-old Philbin, who has coached for more than three decades, is also aware that the NFL is a business. In a team meeting before players began the chore of packing their belongings, Philbin said he “talked to them about embracing change, whatever that may be and not looking at it as a negative, looking at it as a positive.”
Regardless of whether the Packers stick with Philbin, the next coach will at least have Rodgers as a solid foundation on which to begin his tenure. The two-time MVP played through a left knee injury sustained in the season opener against the Bears, and then dealt with a sore groin late in the season before getting knocked out of the Lions game with a concussion.
Rodgers’ 62.3 percent completion percentage was his lowest since 2015 (60.7 percent). His 25 touchdown passes were a low for a season in which he played at least 15 games, though so were his two interceptions.
The emergence of Adams into an elite receiver helped. But injuries to Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison forced the Packers to turn to rookies perhaps earlier than expected to fill the void at the position.
Besides Matthews, Cobb is the other notable veteran facing free agency. Given the youth in the receiving corps, Cobb’s familiarity with Rodgers and ability to play the slot might be reasons to bring the receiver back.
As for Matthews, he finished with a career-low 3½ sacks in his 10th season with the Packers, which was also the first under the tweaked 3-4 scheme installed by first-year coordinator Mike Pettine.
“All my kids are doing awesome out here, we love the people, we’re settled here. It would be awesome if we stayed,” Matthews said. “But as I continue to say, these are uncharted times and we’ll kind of see what the future holds.”