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Monday, February 7, 2011
Speculating on the Packers' future

By Kevin Seifert

Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy
Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers are likely in Green Bay for the long haul, but any talk of a run of Super Bowl championships is premature.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- I think the world has dissected Super Bowl XLV pretty thoroughly. So in lieu of a Free Head Exam, let's take a look at what lies ahead for the Green Bay Packers now that they have brought home the Lombardi Trophy.

From the top, let's curb talk of the D-word. Yes, the Packers have the raw ingredients to put together a dynasty: An elite 27-year-old quarterback, one of the youngest rosters in the league and a strong coaching staff that should return almost entirely intact. (Safeties coach Darren Perry could be a candidate for promotion elsewhere.) But as the Packers would be the first to tell you, every season stands on its own merit.

Unpredictable events and unexpected developments occur annually in the NFL. There is a reason it has been 14 years since an NFC team returned to the Super Bowl the year after a championship. The league is built to spread its wealth and success, not to concentrate it.

Monday, quarterback Aaron Rodgers said: "Every team has a different face to it. Every year, different players, guys come and go. But I think the core, the nucleus of this team is intact to make runs like this for the next four or five years."

Mike McCarthy
Head coach Mike McCarthy is in line for a new deal, according to team president Mark Murphy.
When the Packers lost a 7-3 game at the Detroit Lions in Week 14, we weren't having this discussion. Over the past six weeks, we saw the Packers perform at their optimum level. We saw what they were capable of. Sustaining elite play is the single most difficult task in pro football, even moreso than reaching it. Dynasties aren't for predicting. They're for reflecting upon after they occur.

Some serious cash is about to flow in Green Bay. General manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy each have two years remaining on their contracts, which were upgraded in 2007. But team president/CEO Mark Murphy indicated new deals will be forthcoming for both.

Former Packers coach Mike Holmgren got restless after winning Super Bowl XXXI, feeling professionally blocked by the presence of general manager Ron Wolf. But it appears McCarthy, 47, has no such ambitions and wants to continue working with Thompson under the current arrangement.

"I would hope this is my last job," McCarthy said Monday. "I'm a builder and we have built something special. This program was built the right way, has quality people in Aaron Rodgers and all the way through that are going to lead this football team for a long time. So I would definitely hope this is my last job."

The Packers will realize an internal talent influx this offseason. In speaking with reporters Monday, Rodgers called Jermichael Finley "the best tight end in football." Finley will return from a knee injury in 2011, and in addition, the Packers should get tailback Ryan Grant and safety Morgan Burnett back on the field as well.

Some of their 2010 injuries led to what could be permanent transitions in the starting lineup. It's hard to imagine Mark Tauscher returning to supplant Bryan Bulaga at right tackle. The same goes for inside linebacker Nick Barnett; the Packers have already signed replacement Desmond Bishop to a four-year contract extension. A contract stalemate with linebacker A.J. Hawk, whose deal calls for an ungainly $10 million base salary next season, might be the only avenue for Barnett's return.

James Starks
The emergence of James Starks and the return of a healthy Ryan Grant should mean the Packers are set at running back in 2011.
In some ways, Grant's injury was fortuitous for the Packers. It led to them realizing they will have, if nothing else, a decent 1-2 combination with him and James Starks for next season. I'm not sure that we saw enough to suggest Starks is ready to supplant Grant. But one of the Packers' few weaknesses this season was a lack of established depth in the backfield. The Grant-Starks combination should solve that for 2011.

There was some significant and expected buzz about backup quarterback Matt Flynn at the Super Bowl. Flynn has spent three years developing in a program that produced Rodgers in a similar timeframe. In his only notable playing time to date, Flynn kept the Packers close in a 31-27 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 15.

A number of NFL teams are looking for starting quarterbacks, and plucking one from the Super Bowl champions is always an alluring option. Flynn is under contract for one more year, so any interested team would have to make the Packers a trade offer.

Thompson would have to decide whether the return value is worth the loss of a relatively proven backup. The Packers have historically made a habit of developing quarterbacks for trade, most notably with Matt Hasselbeck, and might decide they have promotable backup material in current No. 3 Graham Harrell.

This is all speculation and dot-connecting, of course. But it's now the offseason, and that's what we do during this time of year. Get ready for another six (or more) months of it.