GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When the Denver Broncos vetted Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett for their head-coaching position, they may have come across this quote from quarterback Aaron Rodgers:
“Hack has been a really important part of our culture change and a part of our success on offense,” Rodgers said. “I love him. Hope he doesn’t go anywhere. Unless I do.”
That was on Nov. 11, 2020.
That was before Rodgers ever uttered the words “beautiful mystery” about his future. That was before Rodgers’ standoff with the Packers during the offseason before the 2021 season.
To say the Broncos hired Hackett in an effort to lure Rodgers to Denver would be discrediting Hackett’s résumé. He has eight seasons of experience as an NFL offensive coordinator, including the past three with the Packers, and a long history in the West Coast offense. In that role with the Jaguars, he helped lead them to the 2017 AFC Championship Game with Blake Bortles as his quarterback. The next year, however, injuries wrecked the Jaguars, and after a seventh straight loss, Hackett was fired in midseason. That Hackett also was a candidate this offseason for the Jaguars' head-coaching job speaks to what upper management thought of him despite then-coach Doug Marrone firing him. (Marrone was fired a year and a half later.)
Hackett is a football lifer, having grown up around the game with a coach for a father in Paul Hackett.
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur hired Hackett in Green Bay despite having no personal connection or previous work experience with him, and he became wildly popular among players – especially Rodgers.
Several Packers players reacted to Hackett’s hiring on Twitter:
One of the absolute best human beings and smartest coaches around. Man this makes my heart happy seeing great people get rewarded. I wish my guy nothing but the absolute best. https://t.co/LlP5KmxYWA— Marquez V-S (@MVS__11) January 27, 2022
Congratulations to coach Hackett and his family! Truly an amazing coach 🤝 https://t.co/an2yTRqFwj— AJ "The Sauce" Dillon (@ajdillon7) January 27, 2022
“I had never worked with him before [Green Bay], but so fortunate that he’s been a part of this staff,” LaFleur said last month of Hackett. “He is as big of a reason as anybody for our success here. I would hate to lose him, but at the same time, I would be so happy for him, and I know he’s ready for that opportunity. “
LaFleur won't be so happy if the Broncos ask Hackett to try to convince Rodgers to come to Denver. A similar move by the 49ers last offseason caused a rift between LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan, although it appears the two have patched that up, given their embrace following last Saturday’s playoff game.
The Broncos were among the teams that expressed interest in Rodgers last offseason, when word spread Rodgers might not want to come back to the Packers.
The Broncos have a solid roster with a good defense and some playmakers on offense, and they have plenty of salary-cap space (nearly $38.5 million) for next season. But they need a quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater started 14 games and Drew Lock the other three.
Myriad factors will play into Rodgers’ decision to play in Green Bay or elsewhere -- or play at all -- in 2022, but this might be the first domino to fall. Rodgers will no doubt watch closely how LaFleur goes about replacing Hackett, and chances are that will be with an internal candidate. There are two obvious choices: quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Luke Getsy and offensive line coach/run game coordinator Adam Stenavich.
Hackett also could attempt to lure members of the Packers' coaching staff to Denver.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in the guys that we have on our staff,” LaFleur said this week. “We’ve got so many good guys. It’s not going to be an easy decision, let me just tell you that.”