Packers want more leaders after locker room 'wasn't the best' last season

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers' broken collarbone exposed so many shortcomings -- and became a catalyst for myriad organizational changes -- that it's easy to forget another place where things went awry: the locker room.

The Green Bay Packers lost more than just their two-time NFL MVP quarterback.

They lost their leader -- the player everyone in the football-shaped changing room at Lambeau Field looks to for guidance, support, approval and even inspirational messages (see R-E-L-A-X and "run the table").

"They did a good job to stick together, [but] we're a little bit spoiled," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said recently. "We have high expectations of our locker room, it's been so strong for so many years. In comparison to the other 11 years [of McCarthy's tenure], it wasn't the best, clearly.

"Enough wasn't done in the locker room, frankly. That's something that when we get back together we'll [do] more about that in specifics."

So when Packers players return for the start of the offseason program next week, they not only will be introduced to several new assistant coaches -- including changes at both defensive coordinator (Mike Pettine) and offensive coordinator (Joe Philbin) -- plus an overhauled playbook (something McCarthy described as a "scrub-brush approach") on both sides of the ball, but it sounds like the long-time head coach plans to conduct frank discussions about leadership.

"It didn't create any major issues or things like that," McCarthy said. "I'd like to see some individuals step up more there, because that's their room. That's their space and their opportunity for the leadership to grow and be applied and excel and deal with things. When you're dealing with things after the fact -- I know when I sit down in exit interviews and I hear things that were not acted on or that you haven't heard before, that's a bad sign. We had a little too much information in the exit interviews."

McCarthy long ago adopted the policy of having an advisory committee of veteran players -- the same group that last season voted in favor of cutting cornerback Damarious Randall after his acts of insubordination that led to him getting thrown off the sideline. It may not have helped the locker room that then-general manager Ted Thompson stuck with Randall, a first-round pick.

Since then, new GM Brian Gutekunst traded Randall to the Browns for quarterback DeShone Kizer.

Thompson's Martellus Bennett signing probably didn't help, either, especially after Rodgers made it clear he wanted tight end Jared Cook back. Thompson turned to Bennett after talks between Cook's (now former) agent and Packers' negotiator Russ Ball broke down.

Those who warned the Packers about Bennett's big personality becoming an issue were proven correct when the two sides parted ways just seven games into a three-year contract and are still battling over a financial grievance.

"That's the dynamics of the locker room," McCarthy said. "You're going to have all these different personalities, that's why it's important for your veteran leadership to manage it and handle it. I'd like to see young guys grow. It's a young man's game. We've been young for 12 years, so some guys have to grow up a little faster than they might have to at some other places."

At least one player hinted at locker-room issues in the days after the 7-9 season concluded. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix told ESPN at the time that chemistry within the locker room was an issue -- at least on defense -- and that players shouldn't have been talking about whether Dom Capers should have been fired as defensive coordinator.

"That's the problem with this locker room," Clinton-Dix said in January. "We've got to control what we can control and not worry about what's going on upstairs or worry about whether a coach needs to be gone. No, you need to worry about if you need to be gone."

Clinton-Dix also questioned whether some players were in the NFL for the right reasons.

"It's business, but at the same time, we're trying to build a championship team, and if you don't have the chemistry within the team, and you've got so many different individuals coming into the locker room that aren't worth a s---, it's kind of tough," he said at the time. "Other guys have a different motivation when they come in here. Other guys want to get checks and just get out of here. Some guys just want to go to the Pro Bowl. Some guys are just content with where they're at right now."

Perhaps that's why McCarthy wants Clinton-Dix to help in the leadership area even though last season the safety didn't match the productivity that made him a Pro Bowl selection in 2016.

"The thing I'll say about Ha Ha, he needs to just continue to grow as a leader, dive into this new defensive system," McCarthy said. "I think he's definitely one of our top guys in the locker room. Great respect for him and the way he goes about it. But hey, it wasn’t my best year either last year. We all own that. To sit there and start putting that onto individuals, that's not realistic."