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MT5: Matt LaFleur is off and running

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On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at: MurphyTakes5@packers.com.

On Jan. 8, Matt LaFleur was introduced as our new head coach. Everyone involved in the search process is excited about Matt and believes he is a great fit for the Packers. We’re looking forward to seeing the team develop under his leadership. Matt’s first few weeks on the job have been hectic, to say the least. The first priority for any new head coach is hiring his coaching staff. Putting together a strong staff that will work well together is crucial for a new coach.

During the interview process, we made it clear to Matt that he had complete control over what coaches would be a part of the coaching staff. Brian Gutekunst, Russ Ball and I (as well as others in football operations) would be available to provide input, especially regarding coaches who were here last year. While all of the hires are important, the three coordinator positions are especially important. For a head coach with an offensive background (like Matt), having a strong defensive coordinator is essential. I was pleased that Matt decided to retain Mike Pettine as our defensive coordinator. I thought Mike did a good job last year under challenging circumstances, and we should see improvement this year as the players will be more familiar with his system. Matt hired Nathaniel Hackett as our offensive coordinator and Shawn Mennenga as special teams coordinator.

Once the final touches are put on the coaching staff, Matt will turn his attention to planning for free agency, the draft and putting together the offseason program for the players. January was a whirlwind for Matt, and he is off and running as the Packers’ 15th head coach.

Now, on to your questions…

Ziga from Ljubjana, Slovenia

Hello Mark! I was extremely disappointed to find out Packers won't play in London once again. I am a fan from Slovenia since the early ’90s and I bleed green and gold. London is very accessible for me, but Green Bay and Lambeau Field much harder. Though I hope to make it to Wisconsin one day, the most realistic way for me to see my favorite team play is in London. So I'm waiting for 10 years to hear the announcement Packers are traveling overseas to play a game with no luck so far. All other 31 franchises already played there (last one of them will this year anyway), which only makes it more frustrating.

I know other teams don't want to give up home Packers games and Packers wouldn't give up a home game. Am I a fool to hope? Indication was that previous or this year visits to LA without new stadiums are the occasion to make it happen. But it didn't. Surely this isn't over?

What can you as a President and CEO, position compared to owners of other 31 franchises, do? I don't think it's fair Packers are the only team not to play in London. It's a travesty quite frankly. Really hoping you and the whole Packers organization will do something about it. There is a huge Packers fan base in Europe. I believe the game would almost feel like home game for Packers, had they finally played there. Will it happen next year? Thank you and kind regards.

I was disappointed as well, Ziga. We would love to play in London. We have a great fan base in Europe, and our players would love it. I also think our fans in the U.S. would love to travel to London. With the Panthers playing in London this fall, we are now the only team that hasn’t played in London. We’ve discussed the main issues here in the past – we are not willing to give up a home game (too important to the local community) and our fans travel so well that teams do not want to give up a home game against the Packers. While 31 clubs have played in London, only 13 have given up a home game. Interestingly, teams with fan bases that travel well (i.e. Pittsburgh, Dallas, New England) have not had to give up a home game. I think the key will be the league office making it a priority to have all 32 teams play in London.

Team photographer Evan Siegle shares some of his favorite images of the 2018 season.

Joe from Moorestown, NJ

Dear Mr. Murphy, I wholeheartedly agree that team performance can change rapidly in the NFL. A team with a losing record can quickly mount a playoff run. However, 10 draft picks including two first-rounders, a new head coach and staff, a first-year GM and lots of cap space all point to a rebuild rather than a reload. Can you effectively build a foundation for the long term while still targeting high performance next year? For example, seems the former is based on acquiring new young players to fit a new strategy and scheme. The latter begs for the acquisition of established, seasoned players.

Great question, Joe. You’ve certainly correctly laid out the situation we’re facing. There’s no question it will be challenging, but I do think we can improve significantly this year. First, having a talented veteran quarterback like Aaron Rodgers is a huge help (similar to the Saints’ turnaround with Drew Brees). Also, as mentioned above, we should see a big improvement in our defense in the second year in Mike Pettine’s system. We also need to make smart decisions in free agency and take advantage of our draft assets this year (two first-round picks and six in the top 120). Finally, it would really help if our second- and third-year players continue to improve.

Dan from Minneapolis

Mark, now that the Packers have the football operation in order with changes in roles and personnel, and the financial stability provided by expanding Lambeau Field and developing Titletown is in motion, the event on the horizon that seems to pose the biggest threat to the Packers' continued success is the renegotiation of the collective bargaining agreement with the players after the 2020 season.

You are in a unique position, functioning as an NFL owner and having also been an NFL player. You serve on NFL committees associated with this process. Would you say your legacy to the Packers will be significantly determined by the outcome of that negotiation, maintaining the revenue models that have served the Packers so well since the 2011 CBA? The Packers seem to me to be the franchise for whom the outcome of this process will be the most important, since there is no billionaire owner. The financial stability of the Packers has always been a function of revenue sharing with the NFL; anything that puts that at risk puts the Packers at risk.

Thanks as always for taking my questions, Mark.

There is no question, Dan, that the next collective bargaining agreement will be extremely important to the league, and particularly the Packers (for the reasons you mention). First, I think the current CBA has been great for the game overall, for management as well as players. The fact that we have a 10-year agreement in place has allowed the league (and teams) to enter into long-term agreements with the networks and sponsors, and for teams and cities to invest in new stadiums or major renovations – these have benefitted both the owners and players greatly. I may be overly optimistic, but I do not see the basic system (revenue sharing, players receiving a percentage of the revenue and a salary cap) that has been in place since 1993 changing. It has worked so well for both players and owners, and we would be foolish to change it. Moreover, even if it did change, I do think the Packers would still be able to compete – we have a reserve fund of approximately $400 million and last year were ninth in the league in revenue. I don’t focus on my legacy, but rather look for all of us to make decisions that are in the best interest of the franchise. We work toward winning multiple Super Bowls and achieving success both on and off the field (and a new CBA would certainly be important in this regard).

A question from Mike

I first played football in the 1940s before facemasks were used. I watched many Packer games during that time played without facemasks and don’t recall any serious head injuries.

Soon after the introduction of facemasks came the inevitable use of helmets as a weapon and the consequent skyrocketing number of concussions. The awkward and confusing rules being introduced may mitigate head injuries but are only half-hearted steps and make the referee’s task almost impossible.

I am certain that removal of facemasks in the modern game would be a straightforward measure that would almost eliminate concussions; bewildering rules would be unnecessary. I’ve read that Marv Levy and Mike Ditka also have recommended this, so I’m not alone. I’ve enjoyed your columns and good luck!

Mike, there are many great football minds that agree with you. I know Joe Paterno also said the best thing to do to reduce concussions would be to take off the facemask. With the current facemasks and helmets, the players think they are invincible and use the helmet as a weapon. While I don’t think it is realistic to remove the facemask, we did make many safety-related rule changes last offseason. I was pleased to see that concussions went down 29 percent this year. I think the new use-of-the-helmet rule and kickoff rules were key factors.

Ivan from Green Bay

I watched the Pro Bowl for about five minutes before turning it off. It was awful and didn’t even look like football. Why do they still play the game and how can anyone watch it?

Well, Ivan, over eight million people watched the game – more than watched the Stanley Cup Finals. So I think the game will continue to be played and televised. The ratings have been strong since the league moved it to the Sunday before the Super Bowl, and it serves as a three-hour commercial promoting the Super Bowl. I agree with you, though, regarding the quality of play in the game. It seems to be getting worse every year, and it is clear the players are playing not to get hurt. The location of the game could change, however. It has been played the last three years in Orlando, and the league is now free to move it to other cities. They have tried it at the Super Bowl site, but I think it kind of gets lost with all the other Super Bowl activities. The players loved it when the game was played in Hawaii, but the stadium is not up to NFL standards. I think the league will decide to play the game in warm-weather cities that will be hosting future Super Bowls.

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