Green Bay Packers: Looking at the 53-Man Roster Heading Into Week 1

mike-mccarthy

The Green Bay Packers have certainly put together a very interesting 53-man roster heading into the opening game of the season versus the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field.

The Packers are just three days away from that game, which will take place under very hot and humid conditions in northeastern Florida.

One of the most surprising aspects of the roster is that four undrafted rookies made the team. It’s not surprising that an undrafted rookie made the team, as it seems to happen every year for one or two players, but four is almost unheard of.

Three of the four undrafted rookies are defensive backs. They are Kentrell Brice, Marwin Evans and Josh Hawkins. All three of those players had fabulous camps, plus also shined in preseason games. With the addition of those three players, the Packers now have 11 defensive backs on the roster.

The other undrafted rookie who made the club was quarterback Joe Callahan. In a recent story, I wrote that Callahan was the offensive MVP for the Packers this preseason. Even with that, I still didn’t believe that the Packers would keep No. 6 on their roster. But indeed, Callahan made the club.

“This is just clearly Joe Callahan earning the job,” head coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. “I mean, how the hell does he not make the team? It was clear. Just watch the games, watch the video. I’m very, very happy for him personally because you always like to see a guy grab hold of an opportunity. I thought it was very obvious what he accomplished during the preseason.”

Another surprise on the roster was seeing the Packers keeping seven wide receivers. In the McCarthy era, the team has kept five receivers for the most part and sometimes even six. But seven? Time will tell how all of the receivers will be utilized.

The seven receivers are Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis.

To even get to seven, the Packers had to cut Geronimo Allison, who had a great training camp. The Packers were able to add Allison to the practice squad.

The kicking game of the Packers also went through some alterations before the current 53-man roster was set.

First, the Packers cut veteran punter Tim Masthay last week, after it appeared that he had won a training camp punting dual versus undrafted rookie Peter Mortell. But even after Mortell was released, the Packers thought they could still do better, so they cut Masthay and brought in Jacob Schrum, who punted for the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2015.

Schrum punted very well in the last preseason game in Kansas City and locked up a roster spot.

Then the Packers released longsnapper Ricky Lovato in the final cut, which meant that the team needed a new longsnapper. The Packers actually brought back their old longsnapper, Brett Goode, who handled those duties from 2008 until late last season when he tore an ACL.

The Packers also made one waiver claim, when the team picked up rookie running back Jhurell Pressley from the Minnesota Vikings. Pressley was timed at 4.38 in the 40 at his pro day at New Mexico. Pressley gained 2,725 yards (a 6.9 average) and scored 35 touchdowns in his career as a Lobo.

The most shocking development in the final roster cuts was when the Packers released left guard Josh Sitton. That release stuck out like a sore thumb, or in Sitton’s case, a sore toe.

Sitton is considered one of the best guards in the NFL. Over the past four seasons, Sitton had been named to three Pro Bowls and was named second-team All-Pro twice.

As good as Sitton has played throughout his career in Green Bay, many observers saw a drop off in his performance last season. A lot of that could be blamed on injury issues.

Sitton has had back issues for a couple of years now. Plus, in 2014, Sitton tore a ligament below his left big toe midway through the season and that injury hampered him all year long.

And in training camp in 2015, Sitton disclosed that the toe injury had not yet fully healed. Last season, the Packers allowed Sitton to miss a number of the practice sessions to rest and rehab his toe and back issues, but it was pretty apparent that Sitton’s performance on the field was affected by his injury issues.

That situation may have played a part into why Sitton was released. Another reason was the fact that four offensive linemen, including Sitton, would be unrestricted free agents after the 2016 season. The other three linemen are David Bakhtiari, T.J. Lang and JC Tretter.

According to an USA Today Network-Wisconsin report, the Packers reportedly told both Sitton and Lang that their contract situation would not be discussed until after the 2016 season.

On Monday, Lang confirmed that report that he and Sitton were told their contract negotiations would be put on hold while the Packers worked on younger players’ contracts during the season.

That means that Bakhtiari and Tretter were bigger priorities in terms of extending their contracts, as opposed to Sitton and Lang.

josh-sitton-ii

Pete Dougherty of USA Today Network-Wisconsin also put out a very interesting article  the other day which talked about how Vince Lombardi often looked to move on from older players on his roster. Dougherty gave many examples from the that era, which saw players like Jim Ringo, Bill Quinlan, Dan Currie, Bobby Dillon, Jesse Whittenton and Hank Gremminger move on from the Packers.

Dougherty compared that history with the release of Sitton, who turned 30 back in June.

Included in that same piece was some insight from an NFL source. The source said that in the eyes of the Green Bay organization, Sitton had become haughty and uncommunicative.

When asked about why he decided to release Sitton, general manager Ted Thompson didn’t really add any insight.

“I’m not going to go there,” Thompson said. “Not right now, no.”

Thompson did however have a comment about the former No. 71 of the Packers.

“I will say this,” Thompson added. “Josh Sitton is a heck of a football player and a good teammate. He’s one of the better picks I’ve ever made.”

After his release, Sitton didn’t burn any bridges with the Packers via any comments and instead quickly signed a three-year deal with the divisional rival Chicago Bears.

The bottom line is that an issue or a variable of issues precipitated this shocking release.

Before training camp started for the Packers, I asked NFL scout Chris Landry about how Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the offense of Packers will perform in 2016, compared to 2015.

“I’m not worried about Aaron,” Landry said. “I’m more concerned about the offensive line. That will dictate how effective they will be running the football and that’s going to determine the protection level and what he [Rodgers] can do in the passing game.

“Listen, you never know, but you hope for good health, better health. They [the Packers] have got weapons. I think they have better weapons than they have had in the past. But to me, the success of the offense is going to come down to the offensive line play and how well they are able to hold up there.

“If they do, this offense can flip around and be one of the eight or ten best offenses in the league and be a big, big factor for them going deep into the playoffs. If they don’t, they won’t even win their division, because I think this Minnesota team is pretty good and pretty consistent.

“I think it’s pretty clear where the issues are. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I like at least some of the things I’ve seen. The offensive line to me is one you have to see and grow and develop. They won’t be as good in Week 1 as they will be in Week 7 or 8, but I want to see the progress there. That will determine ultimately how good this team will be.”

Landry said this when he assumed Sitton would be the starting left guard. It appears now that it will be Lane Taylor starting at left guard with the release of Sitton.

In addition to that, center Corey Linsley has missed all of training camp with a hamstring injury and will start the season on the PUP list. In the absence of Linsley, Tretter has manned the center position and has had a great camp.

Still, questions still linger on the offensive line. Can Taylor do the job at left guard? No. 65 is an effective run-blocker, but can struggle at times with his pass protection.

Also, what is the next course of action if Taylor doesn’t play effectively? Don Barclay would most likely get the next shot at left guard, as he has also had a great camp since he moved inside from offensive tackle and has manned the center and guard positions this summer.

We shall see how things develop on the offensive line. If the line does hold up, the offense should be much improved with all the weapons Rodgers will have at his disposal.

Nelson is back after missing the entire 2015 season because of a torn ACL, while the Packers also added tight end Jared Cook in free agency.

In the running game, Eddie Lacy had an excellent camp/preseason and looks much like the back who performed so well in 2013 and 2014.

The defense has also made some improvements. The secondary looks to be the biggest strength of the defense. There is talent everywhere, plus the depth is outstanding.

The inside linebacker position looks to be solidified with the addition of rookie Blake Martinez, who appears like he will be given the duties of a three-down linebacker.

Blake Martinez II

Blake Martinez

Martinez will be paired with Jake Ryan at inside linebacker, with only Joe Thomas in reserve. That is because the Packers waived Sam Barrington. If injuries occurred at the position, Clay Matthews can move back inside or the Packers could simply call up Carl Bradford, who had an excellent camp and preseason.

The Packers are also very deep at outside linebacker, with Matthews, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Datone Jones, Jayrone Elliott and Kyle Fackrell manning the position.

The defensive line is a bit short-handed with only five linemen on the roster. They are Mike Daniels, Dean Lowry, Christian Ringo, Letroy Guion and Kenny Clark. The reason the group is lacking in numbers is because Mike Pennel is serving a four-game suspension.

The Packers also have the option of using both Peppers and Jones on the line in passing situations.

Special teams improved quite a bit last year under the leadership of Ron Zook, who took over as coordinator in 2015. After finishing a NFL-worst 32nd in 2014, Zook had his units climb up 15 spots to be ranked 17th last season.

Although there are still question marks about the punting situation, kicker Mason Crosby is one of the best in the business at his position. Plus, before his ACL injury, Goode was as automatic as they came as a longsnapper.

The speed of the special teams should be excellent, especially with the additions on the roster at defensive back and wide receiver.

Finally, in looking at the current 53-man roster, it’s definitely still a fluid situation. Moves will have to be made after both Pennel and cornerback Demetri Goodson serve their four-game suspensions.

In addition, the Packers may add a free agent who is considered a vested veteran. The defensive line is one place where a player like that might be added. Players who might be able to help the Packers there include Terrance Knighton, Red Bryant or former Packer Cullen Jenkins.

By signing a player like that after Week 1 of the season means that the player’s salary would not be guaranteed for the entire season, which it would be if they opened the season on the 53-man roster.

Adding a defensive lineman during the season has helped out the Packers on a couple of occasions in recent history. Examples are Howard Green and Grady Jackson.

Time will tell how the 2016 Packers will fare this season. The opening act starts on Sunday afternoon in hot and humid Jacksonville, Florida.

Ironically, Jacksonville is the place where Sitton was born.

Green Bay Packers: Evaluating the Free Agent Situation in 2016

Ted Thompson II

We are now less than a month away from the start of free agency for the NFL in 2016. That wild and crazy time starts on March 9. It’s not so wild and crazy for the Green Bay Packers though, as general manager Ted Thompson uses a different approach in putting together the roster of the team.

For the most part, under Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers have become a draft and develop team. The Packers try to sign as many players on their own roster before free agency begins, and only rarely will they try to get free agents who have played with other NFL teams.

But when Thompson has tried the “pure” free agency route, he has hit gold. Examples are Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett in 2006, plus Julius Peppers in 2014.

Normally, Thompson prefers to sign “street” free agents or undrafted rookie free agents. Examples are Tim Masthay, Sam Shields, Don Barclay, Chris Banjo and Jayrone Elliott.

But all in all, it is the NFL draft which has mostly put together the roster of the Packers and that approach has paid some dividends.

Since the alliance of Thompson and McCarthy began in 2006, the Packers have gone 104-55-1 in the regular season in 10 years. In that time, Green Bay has also won five NFC North titles, plus have gone to the postseason eight times, which includes seven consecutive years now.

That also includes a victory in Super Bowl XLV, as well as three appearances in the NFC Championship Game.

Looking at free agency in 2016, the Packers have already signed a couple of their potential free agents when they signed defensive linemen Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion to contract extensions.

The Packers signed Daniels to a four-year, $41 million deal in mid-December and then last Friday signed Guion to a three year deal worth $11.25 million.

Letroy Guion

Letroy Guion of the Packers tackles Robert Turbin of the Cowboys

The Packers still have some work to do as they have a number of other players who will become unrestricted free agents as of March 9. The list includes players like Mike Neal, Mason Crosby, Sean Richardson, Nick Perry, Andrew Quarless, James Starks, B.J. Raji, Don Barclay, Scott Tolzien, Casey Hayward, Brett Goode, John Kuhn and James Jones.

The Packers also have three restricted free agents. They are Lane Taylor, Andy Mulumba and Chris Banjo. Justin Perillo is an exclusive rights free agent.

Currently, the Packers are in very good shape in terms of their salary cap. Green Bay is estimated to be nearly $23 million under the cap. That means they do have plenty of room to sign a number of their own players, plus perhaps even sign a “pure” free agent or two.

Plus, the team has to figure in the money for the 2016 draft class, plus cap decisions down the road, which includes 2017 free agents. Included in that group is Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, Julius Peppers, Datone Jones, David Bakhtiari, Micah Hyde, Eddie Lacy, JC Tretter and Sam Barrington.

For the 2016 free agents though, I would think the first priority is to re-sign Crosby. No. 2’s cap value was $3,550,000 in 2015, so he is certain to get more than that in his next deal. But seeing that Crosby is one of the best kickers in the NFL, I would almost guarantee a deal will get done.

It won’t be an easy decision as to who to choose from in regards to Neal and Perry. I can see the Packers bringing one of them back, but not both.

Neal was steady for the Packers last year, but he will be 29 years old in 2016. Plus, his cap hit was $4,250,000 in 2015.

Perry came on strong for the Packers late in the season and in the playoffs. No. 53 will be just 26 and his cap hit was just $2,386,125 in 2015.

Both Neal and Perry have also had their share of injuries in their time in Green Bay. But from a cap standpoint and also factoring in the age, the Packers might tend to lean towards Perry. We shall see.

Another interesting decision will need to be made about Raji. With the signings of Daniels and Guion, plus the development of Mike Pennel, not to mention the upside of Christian Ringo, who is currently on the practice squad, Raji has been put in a tough situation.

No. 90 was having a fine season in 2015 before a groin injury really slowed him down. That being said, if Raji would accept a similar deal to the one he signed in 2015, when his cap hit was just $1,750,000, he could be back with the Pack.

In terms of running back James Starks, according to Pete Dougherty of PackerNews.com, No. 44 is expected to re-sign with the Packers. That being said, Dougherty also didn’t expect the Packers to re-sign Guion, which they recently did.

The running back position is where Thompson might attempt to make a big splash in free agency this year. Matt Forte is not expected to be re-signed by the Chicago Bears  and will be an unrestricted free agent.

Starks played well at times for the Packers in 2015, as he rushed for 602 yards and had two scores, plus had 43 receptions for 392 yards and three more touchdowns. But No. 44 also coughed up the ball five times on fumbles and lost three of them.

The Packers needed a good performance by Starks, as Lacy certainly had an off year, as he rushed for just 758 yards and three touchdowns, plus caught just 20 passes for 188 scores and two more scores.

No. 27 was hampered by the fact that he was overweight in 2015 and was most likely north of 260 pounds. The Packers have told Lacy that he needs to lose thirty pounds going into training camp this upcoming summer. Plus, remember that Lacy will be an unrestricted free agent in 2017.

That’s why I believe Forte could be the wild card in this particular situation. Granted, Forte is 30 years old and has already played eight years in the NFL, but he would be a great one-two combination with Lacy, plus he catches the ball better than any running back in the NFL.

The Packers know all about Forte and his skills, having faced him twice a year every season. In his career, Forte has rushed for 8,602 yards and 45 touchdowns, plus has a whopping 487 receptions for 4,116 yards and 19 more scores.

Julius Peppers

The Packers have already brought on a discard from the Bears when they signed Peppers back in 2014, and No. 56 has definitely been worth the signing. In two years in Green Bay, Peppers has had 17.5 sacks, forced six fumbles and picked off two passes, both of which were returned for touchdowns.

Peppers could serve as a recruiter to help the Packers snag Forte via free agency. My guess is if the Packers do indeed dip their toes into the “pure” free agency waters, it will be Forte who they will go after.

If that Packers do indeed sign Forte, Starks would be the odd man out.

In terms of the other potential 2016 free agents that the Packers have, I only expect a few of them to possibly come back.

One would be fullback John Kuhn, but only if he accepts a minimum contract again. No. 30’s cap number in 2015 was just $635,000.

Although the offense played well below it’s normal efficiency in 2015, it did improve after Kuhn was given more of a role in it later in the season.

Brett Goode was one of the best long snappers in the NFL during his tenure with the Packers over the seven-plus seasons he played with Green Bay. But after he suffered a torn ACL, he was replaced by Rick Lovato, who did a good job in his absence.

Goode’s cap number was $976,250 in 2015, while Lovato’s was just $450,000. Based on the pay differential, the Packers may side with Lovato in 2016.

James Jones had a great year for the Packers in 2016, after he was picked up after being first discarded by the Oakland Raiders and then the New York Giants.

The Packers brought Jones back to the team just prior to the beginning of the regular season after Jordy Nelson suffered a torn ACL in the preseason. No. 89 led the Packers with 50 catches for 890 yards and eight touchdowns.

Jones did all that with a cap hit of just $585,000 in 2015.

Even with that, its a long shot that Jones will be back in 2016. Why? Nelson will be back, plus the team still has wide receivers like Randall Cobb, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis coming back.

Montgomery showed flashes of being very good before he injured his ankle in Week 6, which eventually put him on injured reserve. Plus, both Janis and Abbrederis showed how good they can be in the playoff game versus the Arizona Cardinals.

Looking at the other free agents, I don’t see any of them returning to the Packers.

Quarless is probably the best blocking tight end the Packers have on the roster, but with Richard Rodgers on the roster, and the expected drafting of a tight end fairly early in the 2016 NFL draft, I see No. 81 moving on.

Barclay flamed out out both right and left tackle when given a chance to perform there in 2015. Yes, he was coming off an ACL tear just the year before, but his performance was not very good, as he gave up nine sacks in limited playing time.

The only way the Packers would even consider signing Barclay is if they decide to play him strictly at guard, which was what they planned to do when they first signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012.

The Packers also need to look at the ramifications of No. 67’s cap hit, which was $1,542,000 in 2015. No way the Packers will offer Barclay anywhere near that figure if he does come back.

I see Tolzien moving on to find a job as a potential starter at quarterback for some team in 2016.

Hayward is a talented cornerback, especially in the slot, but the Packers have enough depth at the position to allow him to leave.

I see Richardson retiring after suffering his second neck injury.

In terms of the restricted free agents, I would expect that Packers to try and keep both Taylor and Banjo. Taylor was much improved in 2015 when he got his opportunity to play guard, while Banjo was probably the best player on special teams, next to Janis.

Perillo will also probably come back as an exclusive rights free agent.

Matt Forte

Bottom line, expect more of the same in terms of how the Packers approach free agency, except there may be minor shock wave if the Packers make a run and sign someone like Forte.

Forte would help the team in a number of capacities. His skills would certainly help the Packers achieve the No. 1 goal of the team each and every season.

That is, winning the NFC North. By adding Forte, that would definitely tilt the odds in their favor, plus it would also increase the chances of advancing farther in the postseason overall.