In a typical year, when it comes time to trim the final roster down to 53, the Green Bay Packers routinely re-sign some of the final cuts to the practice squad. About half of these 10 players do wind up on the active roster for at least part of the regular season. Other teams might pick off one or two players the Packers hoped would join the practice squad.
This year hasn’t been typical though. Shortly after the final cut deadline of September 2, popular quarterback Taysom Hill was nabbed by New Orleans.
One of the bigger surprises that day was guard Justin McCray. Instead of being cut, as most of thought we would/should be, McCray made the roster. In what was either a smart or lucky choice, McCray moved up the depth chart when Don Barclay was sidelined. Then when the Packers top three tackles were inactive against the Falcons, it was McCray who was picked to start and play the whole game at right tackle.
Many fans were disappointed that receiver Max McCaffrey didn’t make the final roster cut. McCaffrey, who was on Green Bay’s practice squad at the tail end of last season, proceeded to find a spot on New Orleans’ practice squad. After only nine days, the Jaguars signed him and put him on their active roster. I’m pretty sure the Packers were sorry to lose a guy who had such an impressive training camp.
September 3 was a busy day for the Packers’ front office. They signed linebacker Ahmad Brooks, claimed linebacker Chris Odom off waivers from the Falcons, placed Don Barclay on IR, and traded Jayrone Elliott to Dallas.
The acquisition of Brooks could prove to be one of Thompson’s bigger September deals. After he was released by the 49ers, Brooks quickly signed a one-year deal, giving him a contract that could possibly amount to as much as $5 million. Green Bay is clearly hoping Brooks will be more than a fill-in in case of injuries. Brooks is now healthy, after missing the Atlanta game due to a concussion.
As for linebacker Odom, he’s an imposing rookie, at 6’4” and 262 pounds and he’s on the active roster.
Also on September 3, the Packers assigned 10 players to the practice squad. Guard/tackle Adam Pankey has already been called up, and some other familiar names might later get their chance on the active roster, including linebacker Reggie Gilbert, safety Jermaine Whitehead, and (God forbid) quarterback Joe Callahan. I would not be surprised to see receiver DeAngelo Yancey or Michael Clark also get a shot before the season is over.
On September 5, defensive lineman Quinton Dial was signed, with another defensive lineman, Christian Ringo, being released to make room for him. Just 10 days later, Dial had 34 snaps against the Falcons – and the newcomer quietly contributed three tackles and one QB hit. Ringo is now on the Lions’ practice squad.
Defensive end Ricky Jean Francois is another player the Packers reluctantly released. He was let go on September 12, though he had signed a one-year $3 million contract this spring. Fewer than 10 days later, however, the Packers managed to get the 30-year-old veteran back.
To make space for Jean Francois, the Packers moved backup tackle Jason Spriggs to injured reserve. That could herald the end of the season for the second-year man who has failed to live up to expectations.
Also on September 12, Green Bay shocked a lot of fans by releasing cornerback Ladarius Gunter, a starter for much of 2016.
Then on September 13, guard Darrell Greene was added to the practice squad.
With the Packers locker room looking like a MASH unit, Green Bay has been wheeling and dealing, finding fill-in players wherever they can. Their success, or lack of it, in finding fill-ins might be the key to whether the team will advance into the playoffs and secure a bye week and home field advantage.
Due to all the personnel upheaval, Ted Thompson and his large player personnel department are assuming a more important role than usual for this time of year.
As injured players strive to recuperate, Thompson keeps trying to plug the holes in the dike, but he’s running out of fingers. Being at 1-1 after two weeks against very tough opponents is okay, but danger lurks. In the space of five days, the Packers meet the Bengals on Sunday, and then, the Bears on September 28, a Thursday night game. Losing either one of these home contests, in which a healthy Green Bay team would be strongly favored, would be a major setback for the team.
Given the time frame, it’s critical that the Packers escape on Sunday with a win and without a long list of new injuries heading into the short week and the Bears game. After that, Green Bay will have 10 days to continue healing before going on the road against the Cowboys and the Vikings on consecutive Sundays.
The team’s front office passed one big test on Sunday. Despite the loss of their top three tackles, their fill-ins were not the reason the Packers got stomped. I’d look more to the continued failure of the Packers’ pass attack to click (when the outcome is still in doubt) without Jordy Nelson in the lineup.
The Jordy Problem
Yes, I was mocked and ridiculed when, after last season, I posted that I would select a wide receiver in the first round of the 2017 draft. The Falcons might well be among the first to agree it wasn’t a bad idea at all.
Without Nelson, last January, the Packers were down 31-0 to the Falcons less than two minutes into the second half. Last Sunday, without Nelson and with under a minute into the second half, the Packers had improved to only being down 31-7. That’s progress, I guess.
I have a pretty simple question for Ted Thompson and the rest of the Packers brain trust: are you ever going to formulate a viable replacement plan for when Nelson suffers his next injury? Hint: it’s not Geronimo Allison.