Black Saturday has come and gone around the NFL, including in Titletown, as the Green Bay Packers trimmed their roster down to 53 in preparation for their regular season opener on Thursday night.
Perhaps the most surprising move of the weekend was the Packers’ decision to place wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown on injured reserve, which will effectively end his season. Elsewhere on the roster, Green Bay decided to keep just two quarterbacks and hung on to more bodies than many anticipated at cornerback and on the defensive line as a few young players proved too difficult to release.
As the Packers prepare for a divisional tilt against the Chicago Bears to kick off the 2019 season this week, here are three observations after cut day around the league.
All new draft picks made the final roster, plus Cole Madison
Green Bay has long utilized a develop-from-within approach when it comes to roster formation (outside of the splash signings this past offseason). The organization continued to value its college scouting department’s analysis leading up to the draft by keeping all eight of its 2019 draft picks on the initial 53-man roster.
Although Dexter Williams’ issues as a receiver and pass blocker revealed themselves at times during the preseason, the Packers felt strongly enough about his long-term potential to keep him over Tra Carson. Likewise, Ty Summers made the final roster despite a loaded crew of young players at inside linebacker. A late exhibition injury to Curtis Bolton helped Summers’ chances, but the TCU product showed enough flashes to warrant one of the last spots on the roster. Despite significant competition at cornerback, the Packers also kept sixth-rounder Ka’Dar Hollman even with the late surge from Chandon Sullivan that earned him an extended stay in Green Bay.
Green Bay also gets another rookie of sorts with the return of 2018 draft pick Cole Madison, who a bit surprisingly found a way on to the roster over veteran Justin McCray. Darrius Shepherd was the lone undrafted rookie to make the roster, a somewhat abnormal outcome from past summers.
Jachai Polite was cut by the New York Jets
A number of early NFL mock drafts last spring tied the Packers to Florida edge rusher Jachai Polite with the team’s 12th overall pick. Athletic limitations and character concerns, notably Polite’s NFL Combine interviews, slowly trickled him off of many teams’ boards and well out of first round contention. When all was said and done, Polite was a third-round pick of the Jets and many experts saw him as a sleeper pick if the off-field concerns were minimized.
But Polite failed to make it even one fall in New York, being released by the Jets in final cuts and signed to the Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad. Polite’s character baggage seemingly followed him to New York, reportedly being fined more than $100,000 in a short time.
Whether or not Polite was even a candidate for the Packers at the beginning of draft season we may never know. His pre-draft interviews with the Packers surely did not help despite the reports that the Packers liked his talent. Still, all indications are that the Packers avoided disaster for the time being.
The roster should remain fluid at several positions
Overall, there were not many blindsiding roster moves made by Green Bay. Yet, there is reason to believe the Packers are not finished shaping their roster.
At quarterback, Tim Boyle had a solid preseason, completing 59% of his throws for six touchdowns and no interceptions. But the release of DeShone Kizer, Brian Gutekunst’s first trade acquisition, leaves the Packers terrifyingly thin in terms of experience and numbers behind Aaron Rodgers. A veteran free agent like Brian Hoyer has been tossed around as a potential target for Green Bay (though Hoyer signed in Indianapolis on Monday morning), and Oakland currently has four quarterbacks on the roster after signing Kizer on Sunday. The Packers should continue scouring the market for talent because Boyle and Manny Wilkins, signed to the practice squad, leave much to be desired.
The same could be said at offensive tackle. After releasing Jason Spriggs midway through the exhibition schedule, Green Bay also released Gerhard de Beer and Adam Pankey, leaving the Packers with one true tackle backup in second-year player Alex Light, who has just 26 NFL regular season snaps. In the event of injury to David Bakhtiari or Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay will be counting heavily on Light, current starting right guard Billy Turner, and possibly Madison for depth. One’s confidence has to be shaky if the Packers are in position to resort to those options.
Finally, the roster shook out as this writer expected at outside linebacker, but an extra body could still be brought in. The Packers elected to keep one more defensive lineman than many expected (Fadol Brown, who might also pitch in on the edge a bit), but the edge rusher room is light with just four men on the roster - Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Kyler Fackrell, and Rashan Gary. Although Randy Ramsey was signed to the practice squad, another veteran insurance option to keep the other pass rushers fresh like Shane Ray (or gasp, Nick Perry) could be beneficial. Green Bay lost patience with the development of Reggie Gilbert, but could another depth player be acquired?