Green Bay Packers

Mike Vrabel Would Be the Perfect Defensive Coordinator For Matt LaFleur

Photo Credit: Denny Simmons via USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers are in the playoffs, delaying the offseason for at least one more week.

They are a touchdown underdog against the Dallas Cowboys, and Dallas has been dangerous at home. But the way Jordan Love and the offense are playing, the Packers look like they can hang with anyone. Still, while Green Bay is in winning mode, more than half the league is looking to rebuild for a better chance to make the postseason next year.

Even though Green Bay still has a lot to play for, I can’t keep my eyes from wandering through this first week of major changes across the league. Joe Barry’s defense did its job in the final two weeks of the regular season. But I’m already checking out who could be available if Matt LaFleur makes the right move and elects for a change at defensive coordinator.

And wouldn’t you know it? LaFleur’s old boss with the Tennessee Titans, Mike Vrabel, just became available.

The Titans made a surprising change, and someone will benefit from it. It’s more likely than not that Vrabel will end up a head coach somewhere in 2024. But there are a lot of attractive, big-name options for HC-needy teams. If, for some reason, Vrabel is available and open to taking a DC job somewhere, Green Bay should pounce at the chance to hire the former Coach of the Year winner.

In six years as Tennesee’s head coach, Vrabel:

  • Finished with a 54-45 regular season record
  • A 2-3 postseason record
  • Two division titles
  • And a Coach of the Year in 2021 (over Matt LaFleur and Rich Bisaccia)

A longtime New England Patriots linebacker, Vrabel fared particularly well against his old team. In 2018, Vrabel’s Titans crushed New England, 34-10, with offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur calling his best game of the season. In 2019, Vrabel’s team upset the defending Super Bowl Champion Patriots 20-13 in Foxborough.

The Titans make the AFC Championship in 2019, their furthest postseason run under Vrabel. They made the postseason the following two years, losing in the Wild Card round in 2020 and the Divisional round in 2021.

Unfortunately, the 2022 and 2023 seasons were less spectacular. Vrabel’s final season ended with the Titans finishing last in the AFC South. Still, they upset the Jacksonville Jaguars in his final game with the team and knocked them from the playoffs.

During this time, Vrabel always put up solid defenses, and his team always punched above their weight class.

Tennessee has long had offensive problems despite two of their former OCs (LaFleur and the also recently fired Arthur Smith) becoming head coaches. A quarterback carousel, some questionable talent acquisition, and trading away their best receiver in A.J. Brown led to an offense that struggled.

NFL.com’s Tom Pellssero suggested that there was tension between Vrabel and Tennesee’s front office, especially new general manager Ran Carthon. The Titans considered looking for a trade target for Vrabel but ultimately decided that the process might take too long.

In this cycle, Vrabel will be a top candidate for a head coaching position. But Vrabel could be left out with attractive options like Jim Harbaugh, Bill Belichick, Raheem Morris, Dan Quinn, and more potentially available.

As of this writing, we don’t know what direction the Patriots will go. But if they move on from Belichick and look to someone familiar, Vrabel would likely be the favorite for his old team.

Still, he’s the most attractive DC candidate Green Bay could ask for if he is available. LaFleur worked under Vrabel and knows him well. They coached against each other at the 2022 Pro Bowl. As a DC, Vrabel would have a ton of talent to work with while knowing LaFleur can take care of the offense. It could be odd to flip from their previous working dynamic, but there’s no reason to think these two successful coaches wouldn’t work it out.

Vrabel’s defenses have the attitude, aggressiveness, and passion I’d like to see in Green Bay’s next DC. Vrabel’s groups were famous for punching upward, and he’s shown a killer instinct to play spoiler when his team is eliminated.

Even if Vrabel has to “settle” for a DC job in 2024, he’d likely be a top HC candidate again in 2025. Unless he really likes working as LaFleur’s defensive coordinator, the Packers would likely only get a year of Vrabel’s services at most. But it’s hard to see Vrabel going the Barry route and keeping his predecessor’s staff intact. If he leaves, Vrabel would bring in his own staff and potentially groom someone there to fill the role. So even if the Packers only had Vrabel for a year, they’d have a promising internal candidate available, something they can’t say under their current staff.

Maybe I’m guilty of the classic move “wanting this coach because he’s a big name.” But brilliant, proven defensive coaches don’t become available every day. LaFleur’s team is still focused on advancing in this season, not “rebuilding” for next season. Still, Vrabel’s status is something worth monitoring.

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Photo Credit: Denny Simmons via USA TODAY Sports

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