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Matt LaFleur Will Be Judged Based on His Success With Aaron Rodgers

The Packers are reportedly set to hire the Titans’ 39-year-old offensive coordinator, who arrives in Green Bay with experience working under some of the league’s brightest offensive minds

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers have hired Aaron Rodgers a new head coach. I mean, the Packers have hired a new head coach. According to reports, Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur will lead Green Bay next season, and while he’ll be leading a staff and a 53-man roster, he’ll be graded primarily on how well he does as Rodgers’s boss. Rodgers, the highest-paid player in NFL history and perhaps the most gifted quarterback of all time, needs a Super Bowl win to justify his contract and burnish his legacy, and LaFleur’s job will be facilitating that.

On the surface, LaFleur looks like a strange hire. During his one year as the offensive coordinator in Tennessee, the Titans were 27th in points, 25th in yards, and 22nd in offensive DVOA. But LaFleur spent six years combined as quarterbacks coach underneath Kyle Shanahan at both Washington and Atlanta, overseeing Robert Griffin III’s stupendous rookie season and Matt Ryan’s 2016 MVP campaign. When Shanahan went to San Francisco in 2017, LaFleur went to Los Angeles, where he served as the offensive coordinator for Sean McVay as second-year quarterback Jared Goff completed a career turnaround.

It’s an impressive résumé for LaFleur, who turned 39 in November and has crossed paths with every trendy offensive name except Kliff Kingsbury, but it’s still a big risk for Green Bay. LaFleur has never called plays in the NFL save for a handful of quarters in the preseason under McVay and his stop in Tennessee this year, and his tenure with the Titans is hard to judge because quarterback Marcus Mariota had several nerve injuries throughout 2018.

LaFleur is expected to retain defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who replaced longtime defensive coordinator Dom Capers last year. Pettine oversaw a Packers defense that didn’t perform statistically well (29th in defensive DVOA) but was ravaged by injuries and has promising young players including cornerbacks Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, and Kevin King and defensive lineman Kenny Clark.

The Packers fired head coach Mike McCarthy in December after he spent nearly 13 years in Green Bay. While McCarthy and Rodgers won a Super Bowl in February 2011, Green Bay failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons. Just as importantly, Rodgers noticeably declined in 2018 after an astonishing run in the early part of this decade—in part because of age but also because McCarthy stuck with isolation-route concepts that were not ideal for the Packers’ younger receiving corp, which forced Rodgers to improvise early and often in games. Packers CEO Mark Murphy used the early start on the coaching search to interview more than 10 candidates, including Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken and Saints assistant head coach Dan Campbell and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr.

Despite Rodgers being the team’s biggest investment on their balance sheet, the Packers apparently did not let Rodgers have power over the the decision.

“Aaron is free to provide input but he won’t be part of the process,” Murphy told reporters in December.

Rodgers may not have had final say in the decision, but he certainly looms over it.