It’s unfair to blame Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy for changing the structure of how the franchise will operate in 2018. It would’ve been unrealistic for him to keep the new general manager above the coach in the team’s hierarchy. Mike McCarthy adhering to the same chain of command with Brian Gutekunst that he did with Ted Thompson was just not going to happen. Thus, Murphy either had to fire McCarthy or put him on the same level as Gutekunst. He chose the second option, and while not ideal, it’s probably the best decision for now.
From all reports, Gutekunst and McCarthy have a very solid relationship. And similar partnerships have worked throughout the National Football League. General manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh is a good example. The two have worked hand-in-hand for 11 years and the results speak for themselves. The Steelers have gone to the playoffs eight times and to the Super Bowl twice during that time. Where Murphy screwed up was in placing Executive Vice President/Director of Football Operations Russ Ball on the same level as Gutekunst and McCarthy. All three men now report directly to Murphy.
Ball was given a fancy new title and a presumably a significant pay raise, but he remains essentially the money man in Green Bay. His main job has been and will continue to be negotiating player contracts. What’s changed is his power in the organization. He used to simply carry out Thompson’s wishes. Now, with a direct line to Murphy, he no longer has to rubber stamp extensions and free agent deals. And this is where the new organizational structure can get very tricky, and potentially lead to all kinds of problems down the road.
For example, let’s say McCarthy tells Gutekunst that the defense really needs to sign a big-time pass rusher in free agency. Gutekunst and what’s left of the personnel department will watch film and decide on a player to make an offer to. In the old structure, Thompson – the unquestioned boss – would then tell Ball – the unquestioned employee – to work out a contract. To put it simply, if Thompson was willing to pay the player $30 million over three years with $8 million in guaranteed money, Ball was going to pay the player $30 million over three years with $8 million in guaranteed money. But this won’t necessarily be the case now.
If Ball thinks the average salary per year and/or the guaranteed money is too high, he can now go directly to Murphy with his reservations. You’d like to think the three men would first get together and try to reach a compromise, and maybe they will for a time, but this set-up lends itself to all kinds of issues in the future. The idea that three equally powerful men can co-exist for an extended period of time is more fantasy than reality.
There’s a reason Ron Wolf turned down the GM job with the Packers in 1988 and wouldn’t except it until almost four years later when then president Bob Harlan finally granted him full authority over all football decisions. The Pro Football Hall of Famer saw what sharing the power looked like in Tampa Bay, and it wasn’t pretty. And he only had to deal with the coach. Gutekunst will have to deal with the coach and the cap guy.
So what happens when there’s a conflict that can’t be resolved by Gutekunst, McCarthy and Ball? Well, that’s when Judge Judy Murphy will step in. He’ll try to negotiate a solution that all three men can live with. But if he can’t, the final decision will ultimately be his. And while he played eight seasons for the Redskins in the 1980s, does anybody really want a non-football guy making decisions that will affect the on-field product? We’ve all seen how well that’s worked out in places like Dallas and Cincinnati this century.
From paying close attention to the goings-on in the NFL for over three decades, I feel pretty confident in predicting that this new organizational structure won’t last for very long before egos run amok and somebody or somebodies will be forced out. Murphy has put together a house of cards, and it’s only a matter of time before it all falls down. Let’s just hope that Packers can win a Super Bowl prior to that happening.