With general manager Ted Thompson now clearly in command of the Packers making such moves, so much still can and will be done over the next several months. The biggest decision will be the one Brett Favre makes as to whether or not he returns to play another year, but there will be other happenings that will affect the Packers in ways not foreseeable at the moment.
Here is the stark truth, however, about the immediate future of the Packers: tough times are imminent.
Various reasons can be argued for the Packers' 4-12 debacle this past year, but signs back in training camp pointed to a losing season. A new general manager was brought on board with a different philosophy than the old one, even if neither admitted the Packers were in a transition phase. Then free agency came, and the draft, and the release of at least two high-priced, over-valued players, all suggesting that the Packers were not necessarily prepared to make a run at the Super Bowl in 2005. In the previous two years, they had at least been considered contenders with Sherman calling all of the shots.
Now there are signs that losing will continue into next year and possibly the year after, something that will be tough to swallow for the Packers after a run of non-losing seasons from 1992-2004. It will be a flashback to the 1980's, but with the way the NFL is structured, such a run of poor seasons it is not likely to last. At least that is what green and gold fans hope.
In McCarthy, the Packers have a new coach that they are hoping is the next Mike Holmgren. He has an offensive background, a reputation with quarterbacks, and most recently was with the San Francisco 49ers. The reality is that McCarthy will struggle being a first-time NFL head coach with one of the youngest rosters in the NFL set to get even younger. As much as Sherman accomplished and as hard as he worked in his six years in Green Bay, he still made mistakes as a coach with game management and decisions just because he was learning on the job. McCarthy can be expected to make mistakes too, whatever part of his job they may occur in. This time, though, the Packers do not have the same type of team to bail him out.
Not only will Favre's decision affect the roster for the 2006 season, but nobody can say for certain how Javon Walker will come back, how Ahman Green will come back, and if so, what his role will be, and how the younger players will continue to develop. Even if Favre, Walker, and Green are an integral part of the mix and play well, the Packers will have to fight with everything they have to even have a chance at the playoffs.
Though the Packers are reportedly well under the salary cap for the NFL fiscal year, Thompson has given no indication that he will go out and get a Reggie White-type impact free agent that could have an immediate impact. Why? It is because he is building his team his way, and that process is different than some other general managers around the league and what Packers' fans have seen in the past. By contrast, Ron Wolf in his first year with the Packers hired a young, relatively unknown coach in 1992 and by the following season, he was signing White, making the Packers a major force in the NFL.
Perhaps the biggest blow to the Packers chances of a winning season next year was losing Bates this week. In just one year, the veteran defensive coordinator had the Packers' defense on track and believing that they could be dominant. Instead, that unit will now have its fourth coordinator in four years with new wrinkles to learn and possibly an entire new system. Several players on the Packers' defense have yet to show that they are good enough to succeed on talent alone.
Bates really had no choice but to leave the Packers. He was publicly disappointed in not being named the Packers' coach and does not seem to fit the direction the new coaching staff is headed to remain the defensive coordinator, even if McCarthy said he wanted him back.
Besides losing a great coach and a great leader, the Packers lost their best chance of winning next season when Bates walked out the door.
There has been much attention on the Packers this off-season and that will continue with several critical decisions ahead. It is an exciting time for the fans, the media covering the team, and the franchise, but that excitement will wane when the reality of the 2006 regular season hits. It sure seems like it will be another long year.
Editor's note: Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.