Matt LaFleur isn’t one to hide his emotions. Whether he’s excited or frustrated or feeling anything else, you’ll know about it when watching him on the sideline or listening to him speak after a football game.
Still, it was striking to see the Green Bay Packers head coach get choked up talking about quarterback Aaron Rodgers after the Packers lost in the NFC Championship Game for the second straight season on Sunday afternoon. Rodgers spoke to the media immediately after the loss, saying repeatedly that he was “gutted” by the loss before waxing poetic about his future with the Packers. Rodgers spoke at length about the uncertainty of rosters across the NFL, but in particular he expressing some measure of trepidation about where he fits in with the Packers moving forward, saying “a lot of guys’ futures are uncertain, myself included.”
What is certain are LaFleur’s feelings about his quarterback: he wants to make sure that #12 doesn’t go anywhere.
“I sure as hell hope so,” LaFleur said when asked if he thought Rodgers would be back in green and gold in 2021. “The guy’s the MVP of this league. He is the heart and soul of our football team, so hell yeah he’d better be back here.”
That was an emphatic response, perhaps borne out of frustration over the questions that the pair have faced over the past two years around their ability to work together. Despite those questions, LaFleur and Rodgers helped each other create the best passing game in the NFL this season, putting to rest any uncertainty about their working relationship this season.
After that initial passionate response, however, LaFleur took some time to reflect on the team’s loss and its impact on Rodgers: “He’s our leader. And (I’m) just so appreciative of him buying in to what we’re trying to do around here and leading that group. His voice carries a lot of weight in hat locker room.”
LaFleur then got visibly teary and audibly choked up, adding “I feel for him, to be in this situation and for us to not get it done. That hurts.”
Rodgers’ contract is set to pay him around $22 million in cash in 2021 and carry a salary cap hit of $37.85 million, according to Overthecap.com. With him likely to earn the NFL’s MVP award for this season, however, look for the team to explore ways of restructuring his contract, both to ensure that he remains with the Packers and to find a way to help reduce his cap hit with the salary cap shrinking for next year.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s future with the Packers is considerably more questionable than Rodgers’. LaFleur confirmed that Pettine called man coverage on the touchdown at the end of the first half that pushed the Buccaneers’ lead to 21-10. The 39-yard score from Tom Brady to Scott Miller beat Kevin King up the left sideline, and the Packers were in a single-high safety look with man coverage underneath. LaFleur was extremely unhappy about the call, saying “Yeah, that was man coverage; definitely not the right call for the situation. You can’t do stuff like that against a good football team like that and expect to win.”
After a lengthy discussion of how that play and the Packers immediate turnover to start the second half helped the Buccaneers jump out to a 28-10 lead, LaFleur reflected back again on his coaching staff — perhaps alluding to Pettine in particular. “You just can’t do that stuff. I blame us as coaches for putting our guys in that situation,” he said. “That’s inexcusable. That should not have happened. We have to take a look at it and do some self-reflection and try to figure out ways how that can’t happen again.”
Stay tuned for any news on Pettine or other potential changes on the Packers’ coaching staff in the coming days.