Meeting with the media on Wednesday, Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson was asked a number of questions, ranging from what he looks for in evaluating players during training camp, to his retirement timetable.
However, there was another question that left a bit of mystery. This year, the NFL has abandoned a long-time rule that required teams to cut down the roster to 75 men prior to making the final 53-man roster cuts. When asked if there was anyone that stood out to him when making cuts down to 75 men on the roster in years past, Thompson replied:
“I’ve never made a mistake (smirking). No, there were a couple close calls on the final roster, but I don’t specifically remember anyone from the 75-man that was that way.”
In true Thompson fashion, he was vague and did not elaborate further, and there wasn’t a follow-up question asked of him.
But what were some of those close calls from Thompson’s Packers tenure beginning in 2005? Here are some thoughts.
2007 - Cut FB Brandon Miree and TEs Clark Harris and Spencer Havner
Heading into the 2007 season, the Packers’ backfield was in a state of disarray with Ahman Green leaving for the Houston Texans and the Packers’ young running backs also looking for a lead blocker. Rather than holding on to the more proven veteran Miree or young H-back/tight end hybrids Harris and Havner, the Packers kept converted linebacker Korey Hall as its starting fullback. What was a minor move at the time paid dividends long term as Green Bay then signed John Kuhn, fresh off being released by the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the end, Hall was a Super Bowl fullback and Kuhn was a long-tenured cult hero in Green Bay - a win-win.
2009 - Cut QB Brian Brohm and RB Tyrell Sutton
A second round pick in 2008, Brohm was a major bust in Green Bay and lasted just a year and a half with the Packers. Cut after preseason and signed to the practice squad, Brohm eventually signed with Buffalo and was out of the league by the end of 2011. But it was a bold move at the time, considering the Packers were only one year in to Aaron Rodgers’ reign as the starter and the only real option for a backup was fellow second-year pro Matt Flynn. During two stints in Green Bay, notably the 2010 season, Matt Flynn proved himself to be a serviceable backup and fill-in starter for Rodgers. And, of course, a starting quarterback battle would have never developed between Rodgers and Brohm after the former’s second season as a starter.
Sutton had as productive a preseason as an undrafted rookie can have after signing with the team out of Northwestern. After a 2008 season in which Ryan Grant averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, the Packers were looking for help with its running game. Instead of keeping the scatback Sutton on its final roster, the Packers stuck with Grant and 2007 draft picks DeShawn Wynn and Brandon Jackson. Although Wynn would go on injured reserve in October, Grant returned to form with 1,253 yards and 4.4 yards per carry, minimizing any second thoughts about cutting Sutton.
2010 - Kept OLB Frank Zombo; Cut RB Kregg Lumpkin
A bit hysterical was an early assessment of Zombo making the roster from Greg Bedard of the Journal Sentinel.
“Frank Zombo is not ready to play this season, one year removed from being a college DE. He does, however, have good potential that should be developed. Could it have been done on the practice squad? Maybe. Like at DE, the Packers could have probably used some outside help at outside linebacker because if Clay Matthews or Brad Jones gets injured, Brady Poppinga and Zombo aren't going to provide the kind of help a Super Bowl contender needs. Seems like Cyril Obiozor was left out because, while he is a much better athlete than Zombo, Obiozor didn't have a high football IQ.”
Contrary to Bedard’s opinion, Zombo went on to post four sacks that season, including the Packers’ only sack as a Super Bowl starter when called upon in the midst of injuries. While he battled his own injuries the next few seasons, Zombo made a significant impact in a title chase and Obiozor was never heard in NFL headlines again.
If looking at close calls, then Green Bay’s decision to cut Lumpkin at the end of preseason was certainly one of them after Grant went down for the year in Week One. At the time, Green Bay was left with just Jackson, electing to wait for James Starks to be activated off the PUP list. Jackson turned out all right that season with 790 yards and a 3.7 yard average, but Starks was the savior of the playoff run. Cutting Lumpkin could have spelled doom for Green Bay, but the Packers recovered.
2013 - Kept K Mason Crosby
After a very down 2012 season in which Crosby made a career low 21 of 33 field goals and was struggling with his confidence, the Packers hosted an open kicking competition between Crosby, Giorgio Tavecchio, and Zach Ramirez. Early in camp, the second-year Tavecchio seemed to have a leg up (pun intended) on the job, making 86% of his field goals in practice compared to Crosby’s 80%, but was cut in late August just a few days before Ramirez. Rather than bringing in another kicker to compete with Crosby after the 75-player cutdowns, Thompson and company stuck with Crosby when finalizing the 53-man roster and were rewarded with his best statistical season in 2013 (89%). In addition, the four seasons following that decision have made up the most accurate stretch of Crosby’s career, becoming one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL in that timeframe.
2016 - Cut G Josh Sitton & MLB Sam Barrington; Kept QB Joe Callahan
Just one year removed from these cuts, Green Bay still seems to be in good shape. Sitton’s release was a bit of a surprise, but Lane Taylor proved more than capable as a durable starting left guard last season and going forward. The Packers surely could have used Barrington at times as Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez missed a combined five games, but Green Bay was able to get by with Joe Thomas and the experimentation of safeties Kentrell Brice and Morgan Burnett, a strategy expected to be utilized again this season and beyond.
Callahan made the team initially, but was released and placed on the practice squad in October. Much to the ire of Mike McCarthy, Callahan was claimed off the practice squad by the New Orleans Saints soon after, saying at one point that “the plan was for Joe to be here.” At the Combine, McCarthy drew a bit more on the decision to promote Callahan to the final roster in December after ultimately gaining him back from the Saints and Cleveland Browns.
“This isn’t just chess or checkers. I mean, Joe Callahan earned that spot, and quarterback is an important position. If you think a guy can play quarterback in this league, you want to keep him in your program....Now, could we have put Joe on the practice squad? No. I mean hell, we tried that and he got picked up.”
Judging from McCarthy’s glowing praises for Callahan before and after the season, the circus around Callahan may be one of those most recent close calls and one that plays a larger role this season.
Any more close calls? Share them in the comments!