Analysis: Packers show they learned QB lesson
GREEN BAY—The Green Bay Packers, caught with their pants down at quarterback last year when final cuts were made, took provisions Saturday not to let it happen again.
Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy kept three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster for the first time in six years, backing Aaron Rodgers with the enviable pairing of Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien.
Neither the general manager nor the coach was made available to answer questions, but Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly addressed the issue last week. He also kept three quarterbacks.
“You look at Green Bay last year, all of a sudden they are signing guys off the street because Aaron (Rodgers) went down,” Kelly said. “It's a tough deal.
“I don't think you can ever have too many, to be honest with you. That's the one position you'd better make sure you're pretty solid at if you can be.”
On this day a year ago, Thompson released Vince Young and then, three days later, B.J. Coleman. Tolzien was added to the practice squad Sept. 1 and Seneca Wallace to the 53-man roster Sept. 2.
Flynn was brought back Nov. 11 after Wallace suffered a season-ending groin injury.
It's likely the Packers had long, serious discussions about the chances of Tolzien clearing waivers and being re-signed to the practice squad. There he would have been available at a moment's notice and his roster berth could have been used elsewhere.
“But it's one of those deals where you'd better make sure you're 100% certain that someone is going to make it through (waivers),” warned Kelly.
On Saturday, a personnel man for an NFC team said the Packers' decision to keep three quarterbacks might have been linked to the decision made by the Seattle Seahawks, their opponent Thursday, to retain only two.
Certainly, the Seahawks wouldn't have brought back Flynn, their failed free-agent signing in March 2012. But the scout guessed that they would have put in a claim for Tolzien.
Let's say Tolzien hadn't been claimed by another team and had landed in Seattle. Just imagine the wealth of inside information someone as brainy as Tolzien could have provided the Seahawks during the week ahead.
“Obviously, with Flynn, every time he plays he performs fairly well,” said the personnel man. “They're developing Tolzien for the future, I guess.”
From 1995 to 2001, the Packers groomed and then traded young quarterbacks Mark Brunell (third and fifth-round picks), Aaron Brooks (third-round pick) and Matt Hasselbeck (third-round pick and right to draft seven slots earlier in the first round).
It's possible Tolzien, 26, might one day bring a draft choice either in trade or free-agent compensation if he continues to develop.
“They kept Flynn because they're confident with him,” another scout said. “But I don't see anything wrong with Tolzien.”
Only Minnesota had a better collective passer rating in exhibition games than the Packers' 102.9. The league average of 86.5, according to one scout, was reflective of some awful quarterbacking this summer.
“Rodgers getting hurt last year changed their thought process,” said a scout. “Flynn would be my guess as No. 2.”
In order to keep the third quarterback, the Packers' roster is lightest in the defensive line where just five remain. They've never entered a season with so few in the past two decades.
“But they're still got (Julius) Peppers and (Mike) Neal,” one scout said. “Once you start lining up to play those guys could be anywhere. Peppers can do anything.”
With the two successful rookie free agents, Mike Pennel and Jayrone Elliott, making it on defense, the Packers kept 26 defenders compared to 24 players on offense.
Four were on 2013 team
Four of the 18 released players were holdovers from the 2013 team, including wide receiver Myles White, running back Michael Hill, cornerback Jumal Rolle and safety Chris Banjo.
The list of 11 rookie free agents on the cut list were tight end Justin Perillo, tackle Jeremy Vujnovich, guards Jordan McCray and John Fullington, running back LaDarius Perkins, defensive ends Carlos Gray and Luther Robinson, outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard, inside linebacker Jake Doughty, cornerback Ryan White and safety Tanner Miller.
Two “street” free agents, wide receiver Alex Gillett and center Garth Gerhart, and wide receiver Kevin Dorsey, a seventh-round draft choice that spent all of 2013 on injured reserve, also were waived.
Placed on injured reserve were two veterans, tight end Jake Stoneburner and linebacker Nate Palmer; tackle Aaron Adams, a “street” free agent; and defensive end Khyri Thornton, a third-round pick.
The hamstring injury suffered by Thornton on Thursday night will give the Packers the chance to make a player out of him for 2015.
None of the cuts could be considered a major surprise. Of the 90 players that began practice July 26, none of the top three at any position were released.
Rolle lost out to Demetri Goodson, a sixth-round draft choice.
“Rolle had a nice game against Kansas City,” said one scout. “He showed burst to the ball and played OK on special teams. But you can only keep so many, and one guy's a draft choice and one isn't.”
Banjo, who played 191 snaps from scrimmage last season and was a stalwart on special teams, didn't make it, either.
“That's not really a surprise,” another scout said. “He's serviceable. Nothing special.”
Dorsey, White and Gillett had their moments in a corps of wide receivers that offensive coordinator Tom Clements labeled the best in his nine seasons with the Packers. White possessed the best speed, Gillett made the most spectacular catches and Dorsey contributed on special teams.
They just couldn't measure up to rookie Jeff Janis, a seventh-round draft choice from Saginaw Valley State.
“Janis played like he went to the University of Michigan or Michigan State,” one scout said. “He's not afraid of the bright lights. That's a heck of a pick.”
Line moves possible
The Packers might not be finished in the offensive line, where seven are healthy and center JC Tretter (knee) is out indefinitely. Having cut the scrappy though limited Gerhart, either Josh Sitton or T.J. Lang would be forced to move inside from guard if center Corey Linsley went down.
“There are centers around,” one scout said. “But the reality is they need somebody that knows that system.”
One player fitting the description is Ivy Leaguer Greg Van Roten, a center-guard who was cut Wednesday by Seattle. He was on the Packers' 53-man roster in 2012 and '13 before being released Feb. 11.
“Now with the practice squads up to 10, it's really going to be hard to find available linemen,” said one scout. “There's just not enough guys who have enough experience to not get somebody hurt back there.”
Personnel men across the NFL were to work into the wee hours Saturday night and into this morning watching tape seeking players on the waiver wire better than their own.
Teams have until today at 10 a.m. to make waiver claims, and then will be notified by the league office within an hour if they were awarded a player or players.
The Packers' decision to retain rookie Carl Bradford as the 11th linebacker was noteworthy. Unable to overcome his height and short arms at outside linebacker, the fourth-round selection offered a glimpse of promise during his four-day crash course on the inside.
“He didn't have a real good camp,” one scout said. “That might be another reason they kept 11 linebackers. Just because he's too high of a pick to give up on so fast.”