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Can The Green Bay Packers Salvage What Appears To Be A Lost Season?

They’d have better luck buying Mega Millions tickets than scoring first half points.

Their run defense is sieve-like, their ground game is stuck in first gear, and they’re the NFL’s most penalized team.

“We’re a mess right now,” Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said after his team lost to Minnesota last week.

Amidst the bevy of problems LaFleur & Co. face, they were dealt a new one this week: keeping morale up.

The Packers, mired in a four-game losing streak and sitting with the sixth-worst record in football, became sellers at the NFL’s trade deadline.

General manager Brian Gutekunst traded Rasul Douglas — his best cornerback and arguably top defender — to Buffalo in a clear sign that 2023 isn’t nearly as important to him as 2024 and beyond.

Needless to say, the move wasn’t warmly received in the locker room.

“I mean I understand it’s a business, but I’m still sick to my stomach, honestly,” cornerback/return ace Keisean Nixon said.

He wasn’t the only one.

Douglas — plucked from Arizona’s practice squad in Oct. 2021 — was one of the greatest rags-to-riches stories in recent Packer history.

Douglas led Green Bay with five interceptions in 2021 and returned two of those for scores. He made 28 starts over the last two-plus seasons and played all 487 of Green Bay’s defensive snaps this fall.

As good as Douglas was on the field, he might have been better off of it. He was a leader on a team devoid of veterans. And the younger players continually turned to the 29-year-old Douglas for advice with their games — and their lives.

“It’s hard to kind of look past it,” Packers wideout Christian Watson said of Douglas being traded. “Obviously our job is to go out there and prepare to win football games. So when we’re out there on the field, we can’t be thinking about that. But it’s definitely something that’s hard to get past.”

Nose tackle T.J. Slaton agreed.

“At the end of the day, we do build relationships and bonds with each other,” Slaton said. “It ain’t just that we’re football players all 24 hours. So it stings a little bit, but hey, you can’t tell him to stay. He’s off to Buffalo.”

Everyone in the NFL understands it’s a business. You can be here today, gone tomorrow.

It’s why many joke the NFL’s acronym is “Not For Long.”

Still, that doesn’t make it easier when your pals leave.

It’s also not much fun when the front office tells its worker bees that the current season isn’t as important as future ones. And that’s the message Gutekunst seemingly sent through the building earlier this week.

To many, the Douglas trade felt like the organization was waving a white flag on 2023. A team desperate for help — on both sides of the ball — instead sent away one of its top players.

Now, it’s up to the remaining Packers to grin and bear it, turn the page and try salvaging their final 10 games.

“Definitely not a super fun deal when a buddy has to leave,” center Josh Myers said. “It’s tough, but you have no choice but to keep moving forward.”

Added tight end Josiah Deguara: “We’re obviously a lot more than players. A lot of these guys are great friends, husbands, fathers. We’ve got great people in this locker room and all around the league.

“So obviously when stuff like that happens, it sucks. We know it’s part of the business, but we’re going to have guys step up and make plays and we’re going to continue to work and get off this thing.”

That “thing” is an ugly stretch of football that has enraged half of the fan base, while the other half has already started dreaming about landing players like Caleb Williams or Marvin Harrison Jr. in the 2024 draft.

Green Bay’s current players could care less about next spring’s draft. Or the 2024 season for that matter.

They all realize if they don’t start playing better — immediately — they might not be around to see next season.

“We’re competitors man. We hate to lose,” Deguara said. “We put so much into this thing and that’s to get wins and to win Super Bowls, and that’s everybody’s goal on this team.

“So when you’re not getting the results on the field, obviously it’s a little frustrating. You can’t let morale get too low. Obviously you’re going to be frustrated, but you’ve got to learn from it and move on. We’ve got to try keeping morale up.”

That’s a hefty challenge for a team that’s had more trials and tribulations than any Packer squad since the 2005 bunch went 4-12 and finished with the fifth-worst record in football.

Is it doable?

That seems unlikely.

Gutekunst hasn’t given this team the help it needs. LaFleur is just 10-16 in his last 26 games after beginning his Green Bay career 41-11. And many of the younger players the Packers were counting on haven’t taken the necessary steps.

Now, throw in morale issues and the winter months could quickly become even colder.

“We can’t worry about what they’re doing upstairs,” Watson said. “We just have to focus on doing our jobs.

“It’s a business, and I think they’ve still got the best interests of the business and the organization in terms of what they think will benefit them the most. We can’t just scrap the rest of the season.”

Even if it feels like it’s been scrapped already.

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