After suffering back to back NFC Championship losses in each of the past two seasons, Matt LaFleur and the Green Bay Packers decided to make some major coaching staff changes. Following a disappointing end to their season, a loss to the eventual super bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-26, the Packers dismissed special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga, while the decision was made for Mike Pettine not to return.
In comes new defensive coordinator Joe Berry and special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton. Berry, the 50 year old coming from the Los Angeles Rams, has previous defensive coordinator experience. Berry led the Detroit Lions defense from 2007-2008, which was the year that the Detroit Lions went winless, becoming the first team in NFL history to go 0-16 in a single season.
Berry also was the defensive coordinator for the Washington Football Team in 2015 and 2016, before being released from his contract. While Packers fans have every right to be cautious, Berry was only 37 years old in Detroit, and didn’t seem to be ready for a coordinator role. In both situations, the lack of talent was evident. In his three seasons as a defensive coordinator, he had only one defensive player make it to the Pro Bowl, Ryan Kerrigan in 2016. While his past record isn’t exactly encouraging, it would be silly to write him off this soon.
The change continues for Packers this offseason
The former assistant special teams coordinator, Drayton was promoted to run the special teams unit on February 8th. Drayton has been with the three the past three seasons, and will be entering his 23rd season coaching. A former Citadel Bulldogs cornerback, Drayton stayed with the University after his playing career, serving as an assistant secondary coach in 1999.
After bouncing around numerous college, CFL and high school teams, Drayton finally was able to crack into the NFL coaching ranks as a special teams assistant with the Indianapolis Colts in 2016. Drayton is a well diverse coach, having coached multiple positions in multiple places. While this is Drayton’s first time as a special teams coordinator, he has shown the last few years that he is an up and coming star, and is ready to prove himself.
Along with these new coaches, general manager Brian Gutekunst has already started making some adjustments to the roster, reworking David Bakhtiari’s contract to free up $11 million. Gutekunst also released offensive tackle Ricky Wagner and linebacker Christian Kirksey. These moves opened up $10 million in cap space this year for the Packers this season. According to Spotrac, the Packers are still roughly $5.2 million in the red.
While Green Bay will be able to clear more cap space, the main question will be how much they would like to clear up. Green Bay could rework both Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams contracts, converting more money into signing bonus’ to lessen the cap hit. Preston Smith could be released as well after a disappointing season, where he only had four sacks. Cutting Smith after 6/1 would open up an additional $12 million in cap space, although it remains to be seen if Green Bay would want to wait for that long.