The Rodgers Stalemate, The GB Draft, and an NFC North Prediction: An Interview with Paul Bretl
Recently, I reached out to Paul Bretl (who is on Twitter), a Green Bay Packers writer for Dairyland Express (great name for a Wisconsin sports site). I wanted to get a perspective on how things are going for our NFC North rival. I’ve written about the Packers before, but my purple goggles can sometimes get in the way of an objective analysis. As a result, I thought that getting Mr. Bretl’s perspectives would be helpful. I hit him with five questions, and he provided some great insight. The questions, in case it isn’t obvious, are in bold; Mr. Bretl’s answers are included below. Enjoy.
1) When you look into your crystal ball, how do you see the Aaron Rodgers stalemate playing out? Perhaps more interestingly, how should it play out?
As I’ve said from the beginning, I still believe Aaron Rodgers is the Packers quarterback come Week 1. It was evident that with the selection of Jordan Love that the Packers’ timeline for Rodgers and what Rodgers thought the timeline was just didn’t align—even with four years left on his deal at that time.
But an MVP performance from Rodgers in 2020 allowed him to regain that control, and ultimately I believe that’s what all of this comes down to. Like any of us, Rodgers wants stability and doesn’t want to play on a year-to-year basis while he keeps the seat warm for his predecessor.
Money isn’t the driving force behind any of this, but it can solve the issue. With new money and added years infused into Rodgers’ contract, it will take away Green Bay’s ability to move on from him—simply put, the dead cap hits will be too large. What exactly this extension would look like, I’m not sure, but it will show that Green Bay is committed to Rodgers for the foreseeable future.
On top of that, to some extent, there is going to have to be some sort of relationship mending between Rodgers, Brian Gutekunst, and the front office. Although an extension may not solve that issue completely, it will do enough to keep everyone content.
To answer your question on how this situation should play out, well, exactly as I just described. Sure, there is some risk in adding new years and money to a 37-year-old quarterback’s contract, but it’s a “risk” you take. Especially in the very QB-friendly Matt LaFleur offense, I just don’t see Rodgers’ play falling off a cliff any time soon.
2) In your mind, do you think GB has done enough to support Rodgers? There’s a fairly consistent joke among Vikings fans that makes fun of the notion that GB hasn’t supported Rodgers (“If only he had an All Pro LT and All Pro WR1 to go along with his top-tier RB, then Rodgers would have won!”). Is there any truth to the Vikings’ fan joke, or should GB be doing more?
I can’t really argue with that joke, I mean, Green Bay did have the top scoring offense in football last season and they were also the top offense by DVOA. I suppose, you can always do more, but as you pointed out, the Packers have the best left tackle in football along with Davante Adams who many consider the best wide receiver. In addition to those two, Aaron Jones has become one of the top backs in this league, and for all the grief Marquez Valdes-Scantling receives he was one of the more effective deep threats in 2020. Not to mention that Robert Tonyan was a touchdown machine. Even the hiring of Matt LaFleur was the Packers pivoting towards a more modern and cutting edge offensive philosophy from what Mike McCarthy had established during his tenure.
In the draft the Packers have prioritized defense over the last several years and if you ask any fan of the team, they’ll be happy to tell you why. Ultimately players have to make plays in big games, including Rodgers, and in last year’s NFCCG that’s not what happened. Green Bay had the league’s most efficient red zone offense last season but failed to punch it in on several occasions against Tampa Bay. Aaron Jones also fumbled to start the second half and Green Bay was unable to turn turnovers from their defense into points.
So with all of that said, yes, Rodgers has had plenty of weapons despite what the national media says. At this point, it’s really a tired narrative.
3) What do you make of GB’s drafts over these past two seasons? I’ve been critical of their decision-making in the most recent draft. Am I wrong to think they did poorly in the past draft?
I’m not going to pretend like I wasn’t very surprised by the Jordan Love selection — of course I was — but the Packers have their way of going about the draft and they stick to it. The draft is about selecting who you think the player will become, not who they are on draft night, and Green Bay typically takes a long-term approach—and I have no issue with that. Honestly, very few rookies make a significant impact that first season.
The 2018 draft class has largely struggled but they did land Jaire Alexander and turned that first round draft pick they received from New Orleans into Darnell Savage the following year. The 2019 class has been excellent, Rashan Gary, Savage, Elgton Jenkins, and Kingsley Keke have all played big roles, and we still don’t know where Jace Sternberger is going to fall.
We saw very little of the 2020 class but several are slated for much larger roles this year. AJ Dillon will be RB2, Josiah Deguara — who we would have seen a lot of as a rookie had he not been injured — is a versatile chess piece in the LaFleur offense, and it appears Green Bay has some Day 3 gems in Kamal Martin and Jon Runyan.
I’ll also admit this year’s class wasn’t flashy, but they addressed a number of key needs including cornerback, offensive line depth, and finding a true slot receiver. We truly can’t judge draft classes for a few years, and while sure, there are some picks I questioned, overall Green Bay has been successful when it comes to the draft. Just look at the names mentioned in my previous response—all but Tonyan were Packers draft picks.
Yes, in a perfect world a few rookies come in and make an impact, but as I already said, that oftentimes doesn’t happen. I also don’t prescribe to the idea that had Green Bay taken a receiver over Love in the first round they would have beaten Tampa. The Packers have their approach, they’ve been successful with it, and just because it’s different than what a many in the draft community would do, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s just different.
4) What can we expect from your defense this season? Za’Darius Smith is an awesome player. Any chance he’ll slow down?
That’s a good question and one that I’m not sure anyone has the answer to at this point with new defensive coordinator Joe Barry now at the helm. Based on what the Rams did last year, we will see more light boxes and movement from the secondary. This is a defensive system that produced the NFL’s top scoring defense a year ago in Los Angeles. Obviously that has no bearing on Green Bay’s success but it’s worth noting.
What I do know is that this side of the ball is loaded with talent—Za’Darius Smith, Kenny Clark, Rashan Gary, Jaire Alexander, Darnell Savage, Adrian Amos, and Preston Smith. I imagine this is a big reason why the team moved on from Mike Pettine, the performance and final numbers didn’t reflect the true talent that this defense possesses.
As far as Smith goes, I don’t see any reason to suggest that he will slow down. From a numbers standpoint his stats in 2020 weren’t as impressive as they were in 2019, but also expecting him to maintain that ridiculous pace of 100+ pressures was unrealistic. He still made plenty of high impact plays, however. One big question we will have is whether or not we will see Z moving around the defensive front as often as he did under Pettine or if he will be more static on the edge under Barry.
5) Finally, can I get an NFC North prediction? Who wins the division and why?
Sticking to my first response and operating under the assumption that Rodgers is the quarterback, I’m picking the Packers. They have dominated the last two seasons, and while they didn’t add anyone notable in free agency, this is largely the same team that we saw in 2020. It’s clear that Gutey’s plan this offseason was to run it back, and why not? They were really, really good. So at this point, until I see otherwise, I’m picking Green Bay.