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Packers Weekend Musings: Mark Murphy is utilizing his Northwestern connections

Green Bay has acquired several players hailing from Murphy’s old stomping grounds. Could a head coach be next?

Big Ten Championship - Northwestern v Ohio State Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Just two games remain in the 2018 season for the Green Bay Packers, but offseason predictions are already under way with the Packers in need of a new head coach and holding plenty of money to play with in free agency.

But before we get to talking about the Packers’ plans for 2019, the team is in a difficult position in having to make a decision on whether or not to play Aaron Rodgers over the remainder of the current season. And how about the peculiar Northwestern connection to this season’s Packer roster?

I took a look at each of these storylines, as well as the chances of a notable defensive player returning to the Packers next season, in this weekend’s musings.

The Packers have four former Northwestern players and the school’s head coach may be on the market.

Over a given year, an NFL team will add a medley of undrafted and street free agents. But over the past year in particular, Green Bay has been active in adding players from Northwestern via those routes.

Packer President and CEO Mark Murphy was the school’s Athletic Director from 2003 to 2007 and, while much of this might be a coincidence, Green Bay has not been shy to bring in former Wildcats. The Packers drafted Dean Lowry in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft and, since the conclusion of the 2018 NFL Draft, have signed defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster, safety Ibraheim Campbell, and fullback Danny Vitale.

In search of a new head coach, the Packers certainly could look to another individual with Northwestern ties - current head coach Pat Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, originally hired by Murphy at Northwestern, would complete a recent surge of Wildcat products to the Green and Gold.

My take on Aaron Rodgers playing out the last two games

Injuries are always a risk and the Packers will not be contending for the postseason over the final two weeks of the season. But I am a strong believer that Green Bay should trot Rodgers on to the field anyway.

Over the past several seasons, getting to watch Rodgers play has been far from a guarantee and it is still something that brings entertainment to Packer fans. The slightest possibility of him getting shelved for the season has already led to Rodgers being a limited practice participant this season and a rare sighting in preseason games. In a way, his lack of chemistry with receivers this season may be a byproduct of that conservative handling, especially in a season with first-year receivers and tight ends. Giving Rodgers an extra two weeks of meaningful game reps with players like Equanimeous St. Brown, Jake Kumerow, J’mon Moore, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling could pay some dividends heading into the offseason, as all have a very real chance of being on the 53-man roster again.

In addition, sitting Rodgers sends a signal to the rest of the team that there is little left to play for and that he is bigger than the team. If other key players like David Bakhtiari and Davante Adams have to put themselves in harm’s way, Rodgers should have to as well. In a year where Rodgers has been blasted for being self-centered, this would seemingly be another negative spot heading into the offseason break.

Clay Matthews may be back with Green Bay in 2019

Throughout the year, I tended to cast away any notion that the Packers would re-sign Matthews after this season. Now, I’m starting to re-think.

The stats are not glamorous for Matthews with just 3.5 sacks in 2018, but he’s been much more active in pressuring the quarterback this year. A lot of that has to do with Matthews’ health and a lot has to do with having a better plan systematically to line him up in ways that his skillset can still be dangerous. Green Bay will definitely bolster its edge rushing talent externally in the offseason. But Matthews will not be commanding anywhere near the almost-$10.5 million salary he is currently earning. As more of a situational pass rusher at age 32, Matthews may be open to a team-friendly deal after 10 seasons in Green Bay if the Packers’ new or returning defensive coordinator sees his value.

But with Green Bay having such little depth at the position, the odds of Matthews being in a Green Bay uniform next season might be higher than that of Nick Perry, who is currently under contract.