Are the Green Bay Packers a better team without Josh Sitton?
It’s a question that coach Mike McCarthy tip-toed around on Monday.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say that about anybody,” said McCarthy, making the team’s first – and likely last – statement about the shocking release of the two-time All-Pro left guard.
The decision left the Packers' veteran offensive linemen reeling.
Speaking for the rest of the line, “We were all pretty devastated, confused, shocked,” Lang said.
“You guys were probably just as shocked as we were,” Lang said. “Yeah, totally unexpected, I think, by everybody. I didn’t really ask Josh the reasons behind it. Yeah, it’s definitely shocking. I thought he was joking around with me when he texted me on Saturday. I kind of joked back with him, then I talked to him on the phone a little bit and it kind of sunk in. It was obviously tough news for him to take and tough news for us to take, losing a good friend and good player.”
For a team that had invested more than two-thirds of its salary cap in just 12 players – making it the most top-heavy roster in the league – perhaps McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson decided Sitton’s level of performance at his position was no longer commensurate with his $5.9 million base salary (and $400,000 of roster bonuses) for the upcoming season.
“I believe there are positions in football that are primary positions and some positions not to that level,” McCarthy said. “It’s just like any profession, when you outline job responsibility and what you’re asking each position to do, there’s some positions you put in front of the others. I think we all understand that the quarterback position is the most important position in football and that goes without being said. To sit there and say, are you a better team or not a better team because of one player, we haven’t even played a game yet.”
If not pay, was it Sitton’s impact on the locker room? Throughout the McCarthy-Thompson era, the players have mostly toed the company line with public comments. However, with the offense struggling last season, Sitton went on the “Clubhouse Live” show following a midseason home loss to Detroit and proclaimed that the offense had become “too predictable” and defenses knew “exactly” what was coming. With Sitton nowhere near the front of the list for a new deal as he entered his last season under contract, the team might have been worried about Sitton’s influence with the rest of his linemates, where he was viewed as a mentor by young starters David Bakhtiari and Corey Linsley. So, this could have been about chemistry and team harmony more than play and pay.
“I think anytime you make decisions, you have to look at everything that’s involved,” McCarthy said. “I’m not going to sit here and go through every variable, every component of our program, but each player is evaluated. Every person that touches the locker room has always been evaluated because the locker room is the most important room in our building, frankly, in my opinion. Decision are made all the time about trying to improve and continue the flow of growth for our football program.”
Without Sitton, the Packers will move forward with Taylor as the left guard. He started twice last season, including at left guard in the Week 17 game vs. Minnesota when Sitton bounced out to left tackle. Taylor played well in that game, and that’s the expectation moving into 2016.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Lane,” McCarthy said. “He’s earned this opportunity. I think he’s done a very good job particularly in the run blocking phase of his game. The pass protection and some of the things – particularly how we do it and what we do – is something he just needs some game experience at. That’s part of the leap when you make changes. But with that, it’s an opportunity to grow.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.