The NFL is a cruel business. Always has been, always will be.
But even a veteran personnel man like Ted Thompson has a soft spot in his heart for the players who poured their blood, sweat and tears into a football dream that wasn’t answered.
“This has been a really tough weekend, like it always is,” Thompson said on Saturday, about 18 hours after reducing his roster to 53 players and while taking a break from potentially tinkering with that roster and filling out his practice squad.
“I wanted to tell a little bit of a story about one of our players who we released on Friday. I patted him on the back and said, ‘How did it go last night?’ talking about the game, and he said, ‘It was the greatest time, it was the most fun he had ever had in his entire life to be able to play at Lambeau Field.’ I think sometimes, we’re so conscious about trying to win and compete on such a major level as the NFL, we forget that it’s guys playing a game. I thought that was pretty cool.”
The Packers released 18 players by Friday’s deadline, with the toughest cuts coming at wide receiver (Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel), safety (Anthony Levine) and, especially, defensive line (Daniel Muir). None were claimed on waivers; and the Packers didn’t put in any waiver claims on players released elsewhere.
“These are tough positions because we had a very strong 90-man roster, I felt,” Thompson said. “These guys competed and played hard, but eventually you have to cut down. It’s just awful, the experience of going through that, even with the staff. Talking about this guy or this guy, you say a little prayer and hope that you have the wisdom to make the right decision. Tough times.”
Thompson lessened the pain for some of them by signing Borel, quarterback B.J. Coleman, running back Marc Tyler, tight end Brandon Bostick, guard Greg Van Roten, offensive tackle Andrew Datko and defensive end Lawrence Guy to the practice squad — accounting for seven of the eight slots — according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Tyler’s Twitter feed and a Packer Report source. Coleman and Datko were the team’s seventh-round picks.
“The experience has been great,” Coleman said after Thursday’s game. “I look forward to showing up to work tomorrow ready to rock and roll. We’ll see how it all shakes out.”
The Packers had not announced any moves by 3 p.m. and Thompson indicated work was not finished. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Packers had exclusive negotiating rights with their former players. At 3 p.m., teams could begin signing to their practice squad players released by other teams.
The Vikings, for instance, signed Gurley to their practice squad, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Last season, Minnesota wanted to sign Gurley to its 53-man roster but Gurley elected to stay on Green Bay’s practice squad.
“I’m confident that I’m going to be playing football Week 1,” Gurley said after Thursday’s preseason game. “Wherever it’s at, if it’s here or one of the other 31 teams, I know that I’ve put out great film consistently throughout the past two years. I pray I’m a Green Bay Packer. That’s all I want. That’s something I’ve been working toward. That’s why I didn’t leave when Minnesota called, because I knew I was going to have my opportunity to show them everything I’ve got.”
The 53-man roster by no means is set in stone. The Packers have just seven offensive linemen, and of the two backups, only Evan Dietrich-Smith has played in a game.
“That’s where we are now, so we’ll see,” Thompson said. “There’s obviously a certain comfort level that we normally do (things) differently than that. But that’s where we are now.”
Thompson no doubt is scouring the free-agent list for a veteran offensive lineman. The veteran he signed midway through training camp, Reggie Wells, was released on Friday. Plus, first-round pick Derek Sherrod was place on the physically unable to perform list, which prevents him from practicing through the first six weeks of the season.
“It’s a guessing game, but in the end, we felt like it was best for Derek and best for the Packers long term to give him a little bit more time,” Thompson said of Sherrod, who broke a leg at Kansas City on Dec. 18. “This insures that I don’t get an itchy trigger finger and push him out there too fast. His rehab is going well. He’s got a great attitude and he’s working hard.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.