No longer playing with house money, Matt LaFleur faces a big choice

No longer playing with house money, Matt LaFleur faces a big choice

The “house money” analogy wasn’t a perfect description of the 2023 Packers’ postseason run, but it worked well enough. At 2-5, the season was essentially dead in the water until Jordan Love transformed into an MVP-caliber quarterback over the back half of the year.

The playoff run, accordingly, was something of a gift. It was unexpected but appreciated, and though the Packers squandered it with their late-game collapse against the 49ers, the odds of them even being in a position to throw such an opportunity away were so long that it was hard to stay overly mad for long.

But the loss ended the house money era. The Packers’ young core, talented though it is, will no longer sneak up on anyone. They will, and should be, the talk of the NFC North heading into next season no matter what happens with the Lions this weekend, and another trip to the postseason should be an expectation both in 2024 and as long as Jordan Love is the Packers’ starting quarterback.

Accordingly, the clock has now started on the Love era. With an extension likely as soon as the collective bargaining agreement allows, the Packers will officially be committing to whatever future Love can bring them, and they need to work to maximize every season they have a solid starter at the helm.

That’s why it’s both encouraging and concerning to see the news about the Packers’ defensive coordinator situation. The Packers could very easily have committed to another year of Joe Barry, reasoning that his units, while never overwhelming, had always done more or less enough to keep games close and give the Packers’ offense a chance. But no more, said head coach Matt LaFleur. Given the chance to upgrade, he took it, parting ways with Barry, whom he chose to succeed Mike Pettine after a protracted interview process that included Jim Leonhard and Ejiro Evero, both more popular picks for the job than Barry.

But, as it turns out, the break may not be complete. ESPN’s Rob Demovsky reports that Barry may be retained in some capacity, setting up the potential for a truly odd situation in Green Bay. If Barry doesn’t depart, it stands to reason few other defensive assistants would either, meaning that whoever succeeds Barry will probably not have the luxury of choosing the remainder of their own staff.

That means the next Packers’ defensive coordinator could have a staff made up of coaches largely or entirely hired by the two previous defensive coordinators, one of whom is the previous defensive coordinator himself. That doesn’t even include defensive line coach and run game coordinator Jerry Montgomery, who arrived during the Dom Capers era, three defensive coordinators ago now.

It’s just one report, to be sure, and a lot can change between now and whenever we’re watching the press conference where the Packers introduce their next defensive coordinator. But these decisions are important and will shape the first years of the “real” Jordan Love era. The next coordinator will be responsible, in part, for shepherding the Packers to another playoff berth. He’ll be in charge of the Packers’ transition from some of their veterans to their rising young players. He’ll have a say in what defensive players the Packers bring in with their wealth of draft capital this spring and the salary cap windfall expected in 2025. It’s a hugely important hire, and it’s one the Packers need to get right.

The house money is spent. Now, Matt LaFleur is putting up his own cash as the Packers roll the dice on their next defensive playcaller.

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