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Inbox: It's about fast guys who can play

Something was definitely missing

CB Jaire Alexander
CB Jaire Alexander

Eric from Stramproy, Netherlands

So Mike, "optimism with expectations" next season?

Ha. I'll have to give it some thought. I think it's fair to expect this team to be a contender next year, but in this crazy league I don't like going beyond that.

Wayne from Prescott Valley, AZ

What will the Packers focus on in the 2020 draft?

Finding good players. Wow, it only took five days after the end of the season to recycle that one.

Chris from Mankato, MN

I understand that free agency doesn't start until March 18. Are the Packers able to re-sign their UFAs between season's end and the start of free agency? It'd be nice to not have outside pressure from other teams trying to steal your guys.

Teams have exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents right now, but at this point, many players are inclined to see what the market might bear before making any decisions.

Bill from Menominee, MI

This may get beat to death in the near future, but here it goes. Does the franchise tag appear to line up as a viable option with any of the Packers' pending free agents? I understand players don't care for it, but the NFLPA did agree to it.

I wouldn't anticipate the Packers using the franchise tag this year, but the one possibility I might allow for would be Crosby.

Mike from Rockport, TX

Has there ever been a lower combined total of wins in the prior season between the two teams in a conference championship than the Packers' and Niners' total of last season?

I hung onto this question for several days because I needed time to research it. The GB-SF combined win total from '18 was 10. Since the current playoff format was instituted in 1990 (six seeds per conference), I could only find one other instance of a conference title game pitting two teams with a prior-year combined win total as low – 1996, AFC, New England (6-10 in '95) vs. Jacksonville (4-12). Individually, New Orleans in '06 (3-13 in '05) and Jacksonville in '17 (3-13 in '16) had the fewest wins of teams that came one game away the following year.

Mike from Atlanta, GA

Seeds sprout fast against losers. Ignorance is bliss! 13-3 against losers. Big deal. The way you guys try 'n paint a pretty picture is hilarious.

Glad you're entertained. But your incessant submissions with the "losers" take are what embody ignorance. Did you know only 13 of the 32 teams in the NFL finished with winning records this year? That means 60 percent of the league is "losers," so I don't know what you want a team to build its record on. Of the 13, a dozen made the playoffs, of course. Their wins in the regular season against teams that finished with winning records: Baltimore 6, San Francisco 5, Seattle 4, Green Bay 3, New Orleans 3, New England 3, Kansas City 3, Houston 3, Tennessee 2, Philadelphia 2, Buffalo 1, Minnesota 1. If you're averse to fact-based analysis, I struggle to understand why you'd read anything I have to say.

David from Janesville, WI

Gents, multiple times in the NFC Championship Game I heard Troy mention how a receiver was open early but for whatever reason Rodgers didn't immediately make the throw and the defense closed up the coverage. I seem to recall several of these over the course of the year. The offense needs to take advantage of those fleeting moments rather than throwing the ball away. Do you think the hesitation is Rodgers still getting used to the offense? Not wanting to risk throwing into the tight window? Both?

It's too easy to watch from above, or view the film later, and say this or that guy was open. Plays have reads and progressions, and I don't like to pretend I know what Rodgers sees or doesn't see and when. I do know he can't have eyes on the entire field at once. If guys later in the progression are open early in the play, that's something the coaches upstairs have to point out for when the play is called next time. Or it's studied in the film room to tweak the call for the next game.

Margeaux from Tallahassee, FL

If I remember correctly by the end of the 2018 season EQ had moved ahead of MVS on the depth chart. How has he been progressing in his rehab? He seems to be a potential upgrade in the WR room.

We've had no updates on St. Brown. We'll see if Gutekunst provides one later today. Otherwise, we probably won't know anything until April.

Mike from Glenwood, IL

The trouble I have now that we are in the offseason, I feel the jump to 13-3 has artificially inflated expectations for next year. When you take some time and look at the numbers, this was an 8-8 or 9-7 team that got to 13-3. This team had an extraordinary run of health and they had an extraordinary record in those 50/50 games. I feel as a result, the 13-3 was a bit fraudulent. I feel this team probably will be a better team in 2020 but almost assuredly have a worse record.

That's a very distinct possibility. The 2014 team, for example, was superior to this one and went 12-4. Every year is its own entity. Half of the road schedule next season is against playoff teams (Minnesota, Houston, New Orleans, San Francisco) and the AFC runner-up (Tennessee) is coming to Lambeau. You play 'em as they come. Fraudulent or not, all the matters if you get to the postseason dance is what you do when the music starts, whether you're the 13-3 Saints or 9-7 Titans.

Kathleen from Fond du Lac, WI

Although I regularly read your entertaining Inbox, I haven't seen much, if any, insight on pondering a succession plan for Aaron Rodgers. With his age and slight decline in overall production, it would behoove the organization to prepare and be ready to jump to snag a potential successor a la Favre/Rodgers. If this makes sense, do you guys think Rodgers would then make a good mentor? Curious to know yours and others thoughts on this.

A popular query. I maintain the successor should step up and play in Year 2, or Year 3 at the latest, so the team has enough evidence to make the proper decision on a second contract. With Rodgers planning to play until he's 40, I don't see the timeline matching up quite yet, as far as spending the high pick required on the future rather than on another piece to build around Rodgers. Also, if the desire is for Rodgers to be the mentor, everyone must be in agreement on that timeline for moving forward, otherwise it's a recipe for difficulty.

Shilo from Murrieta, CA

Did you guys notice that Rod from Alaska wrote the "voice-of-reason ANCHORAGE" line in yesterday's Inbox? It was Wes's Inbox, but that was a Mike drop (pun intended)!

I hooted, and hollered out to Wes as soon as I read it.

Mike from Niles, IL

You say other teams will not do to us what SF did because they lack the 49ers' personnel. Partially true. However, a number of other teams have strong running games, and, given the magnitude of the 49ers' success, even a partially effective rerun could do us in. You say: "Some upgrades in front seven…are needed." In next response you say: "The amount of…(run defense miscues)…was mountainous." A bit of inconsistency?

A lot to unpack there. A "partially effective rerun" only does the Packers in if the offense has four punts and two turnovers in the first half again. It's a complementary game. Regarding the latter point, the Smiths were among the players making mistakes against the run, along with everybody else, but I'm not advocating moving on from two cornerstones of the defense who had rough days amidst a collective bad game. I don't think admitting there was poor play across the board in one instance but calling for "some upgrades" is inconsistent.

John from Sheboygan, WI

Looking forward to next year, I expect a jump for Savage with a year of experience under his belt to use his speed to make more splash plays/turnovers. Gary I expect to rotate in and reduce the Smith Bros. usage to keep them fresher, as well as being used for his unique skill set. I expect the draft/trades/free agency will address wide receiver and inside linebacker if the right players are available. Is there another spot you think is required to take the next step?

I'm curious to see what the tight end position looks like next year.

Aaron from Forest Grove, OR

Every year we go through this whole cogitation of what do we need? Who do we need? Which players can we acquire? And every year we vaguely or evasively try and make the answer more difficult than it is. It's not. Speed is king in the NFL and speed is the answer, especially in the middle of the field. Just look at the two teams in the Super Bowl. Speed at TE? Yep. Speed at slot receiver? Uh huh. Speed at ILB? Yes, sir. Now ask yourself, do we have that?

If it were that easy, everyone would just draft fast guys with the right body type for a position. It's about fast guys who can play, which means they have the toughness, smarts and skills to succeed in a brutal blur of a game, not just fast guys who fit the mold. The teams that find the former at key spots certainly do have an advantage.

Tony from Chanhassen, MN

What was your favorite game of the year?

Monday night in Minneapolis. It felt really good to walk out of that building for the first time with a victory.

George from North Mankato, MN

Let's not forget the other part to talent acquisition. We've mentioned position, cost, need, etc. Can we give a compliment to BG for the personalities and people he brought to this team? Where would we be if we signed Antonio Bryant, traded for OBJ or went all-in on any of the other countless available players that brought more headache than production to their new teams? I'm sure this team would not have been so tight-knit and unified.

Amen.

Sean from Baltimore, MD

I'll ask a different way. The franchise-tag salary for safety was $11M in 2019. Do you feel Amos ($14M) played better than a "franchise" safety? His most impressive statistic was tackles (68) and that was ranked 14th for DBs. No forced fumbles, one sack, two picks, no splash plays down the stretch or in playoffs. I guess you could make an argument that he's still learning the system, but franchise players play above the system IMO. [Input another dismissive response by Spoff here]

OK, I said I can't help you but I'll try since you clearly don't understand contract structure. Your characterization is disingenuous at best. Yes, he was paid $14M in the first year, but he'll annually average about half that for the remaining three years of the deal. He was a stabilizing force at a position that badly needed one. I'm not calling the deal a bargain, but when the Packers decided (correctly in my opinion) to start over at safety, they had to spend money to make it work.

Guilherme from Capinas, Brazil

Looks like they're finally going to try out the fourth-and-15 rule instead of the onside kick at Pro Bowl. While I think it's a pretty weak place to test these rules, I was thinking more something along the lines of preseason, what are your thoughts on it?

It's a weak place, and the fourth-down gimmick is a weak idea. I'd prefer a compromise. Provide scoring teams the option of just giving the ball to the opponent at the 25 to reduce injury-plagued kickoffs, but then bring back the old alignment rules for onside kicks, which must be announced.

Jim from Des Peres, MO

Why did the Pack come out flat vs. SF, as ML suggested? My guess from coaching four sports at the college level over 40 years is this: The players generally doubted they could win. Flat play often occurs when playing a superior opponent. It provides a kind of pre-play excuse for losing.

I find it difficult to get inside the head of a professional athlete, so I won't try, but I also won't dismiss your educated guess as a possible factor. Here's an additional thought.

Paul from Bay View, WI

Guys, I love what Matt LaFleur said at his postseason press conference about looking at why the team wasn't playing with their hair on fire. That was the one thing where I thought the team approached SF as just another game. It just seems to me that the playoffs are where players need to turn it up a notch or two. Maybe that's where they made their mistake? I'm sure ML will find the answer and will adjust accordingly. But do you feel like the players should've played with more tenacity?

If that's how LaFleur felt about his team, then something was definitely missing. As disturbing as his description might be to hear, what I liked was LaFleur immediately looking inward, wondering whether his approach to preparing the team contributed to what he witnessed and perceived. Regardless of blame assigned or deserved, that's a coach not interested in passing the buck, which is admirable.

Matt from Waunakee, WI

What's the mood like around 1265 this week? I can't imagine a work environment of going from the excitement of playing in the NFC Championship Game one day to watching everyone pack up and leave the next, some for good.

It's the fourth time I've witnessed first-hand this exact sequence, and you never really get used to it.

Jim from Woodbury, MN

So, who wins this Packerless Super Bowl?

I'm still pondering my pick, but it just feels like it's Kansas City's time.

Ky from Santa Cruz, CA

With all the ugly wins and talk of the team never putting together their best game, this is what I can't decide: Did the Packers overachieve or underachieve this year? A few plays here and there and this team looks much worse (indicating overachieving based on skill), but I also agree their peak game never came, which feels like underachieving.

That's an interesting way to frame the question. In a bottom-line, results-oriented business, I don't think you can say they underachieved, even though that complete, four-quarter performance eluded them.

Don from Cedar Rapids, IA

Now that you'll have to watch the Super Bowl and all of its commercials like the rest of us, a grammar question: Is "outpizzas" really a verb?

Only if it's accompanied by also using beer as a verb. As in, during said commercial, "Beer me."

Derek from Eau Claire, WI

Brace yourselves, the baloney is coming.

Can we make that a verb, too? Maybe we shouldn't. Happy Friday.

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