GREEN BAY — General manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy always say how hard final roster cuts are, and they seemingly mean it. This year, though, the Green Bay Packers’ final cutdown will be different, even if it’s no more difficult.
After an offseason rule change that eliminated the intermediate cutdown from 90 players to 75, the Packers will have to make 37 roster moves to get down to the NFL-mandated 53-man roster limit on Sept. 2.
Complicating matters, as it frequently does with the perpetually young back half of the draft-and-develop Packers’ roster, is the team has a host of young players they’ll have to project long-term. With 10 rookie draft picks, a handful of intriguing undrafted rookies and a bunch of second-year guys making their cases to stay, Thompson’s decisions won’t be based solely on how players performed this summer and in the final two preseason games — tonight in Denver and next week against the Los Angeles Rams.
“The common sense part of the evaluation is where they are now. How much can they contribute now?” Thompson said. “Part of the evaluation is how much can they contribute a month from now, two months from now, two years from now. So, all that stuff, you’ve got to project. You’re not necessarily right all the time, but you do have to make a little bit more projection for those players that haven’t necessarily played as much football in their lifetime as other players.
“With each individual player, you go, ‘Player A, he’s this, he’s this, he’s this.’ And you go down the list. And you go, ‘Player B, he’s this, he’s this, he’s not this, but he’s this.’ You can’t imagine how difficult these decisions are. … You have to be a little bit of a soothsayer.”
With that in mind, here’s a look at how the Packers’ roster looks entering tonight’s third preseason game at Denver:
Quarterbacks (2 or 3)
In: Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley.
On the bubble: Joe Callahan, Taysom Hill.
Life is good when your biggest quarterback worry is who’ll be your No. 3. Ever since Rodgers’ broken collarbone in 2013, McCarthy has wanted a third QB on the 53. Heading into Denver, Hill had seemingly taken a slight lead. But this one likely will come down to a duel in the preseason finale.
Running backs (4 or 5)
In: Ty Montgomery, Jamaal Williams.
Looking good: Aaron Ripkowski.
On the bubble: Joe Kerridge, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays, Kalif Phillips, William Stanback.
Through two preseason games, the run game has gone nowhere. And beyond Williams, the rookies have done little to stand out thus far. Kerridge has made a convincing argument to keep two fullbacks, but that’ll mean going lighter elsewhere. One intriguing possibility: What if Seattle decides not to keep ex-Packers starter Eddie Lacy? Would the Packers, who tried to re-sign him this spring, claim him?
Wide receivers (6 of 7)
In: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams.
Looking good: Geronimo Allison, Jeff Janis.
On the bubble: Trevor Davis, DeAngelo Yancey, Malachi Dupre, Max McCaffrey, Michael Clark, Montay Crockett, Colby Pearson.
Behind the obvious top three, Allison will start the season serving a one-game NFL suspension but is clearly the No. 4. Janis’ special teams work should be plenty to keep him around. Thompson hasn’t outright cut a draftee from the fifth round or higher since 2009 (tackle Jamon Meredith), and Yancey and Dupre have each had their moments. Davis must rebound from last week’s fumble. McCaffrey will be hard to cut. Clark is tailor-made for the practice squad.
Tight ends (3 or 4)
In: Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks, Richard Rodgers.
On the bubble: Emanuel Byrd, Aaron Peck.
The top three might be the league’s best trio. It’ll be interesting to see how McCarthy utilizes them. Byrd and Peck are likely battling for a practice-squad spot.
Offensive line (8 or 9)
In: David Bakhtiari, Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, Jahri Evans, Bryan Bulaga, Jason Spriggs.
Looking good: Kyle Murphy.
On the bubble: Don Barclay, Kofi Amichia, Thomas Evans, Geoff Gray, Justin McCray, Lucas Patrick, Adam Pankey, Robert Leff.
The starting five is set, and despite his struggles in Washington, Spriggs isn’t going anywhere. Murphy is a safe bet, too. No one has revealed the extent of Barclay’s ankle injury, so his status is unclear. If healthy, he’s on the roster. Amichia, a rookie sixth-round pick, hasn’t done much to distinguish himself from the other young roster candidates.
Defensive line (5 or 6)
In: Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Ricky Jean Francois.
On the bubble: Montravius Adams, Christian Ringo, Brian Price, Izaah Lunsford, Calvin Heurtelou.
Adams’ foot injury could land him on injured reserve to start the year, and he could be one of the two players the Packers are allowed to bring back later in the year. Price has impressed the coaches and is likely the fifth defensive lineman if Adams goes to IR. Ringo remains in the mix, though, as does Lunsford. Heurtelou arrived this week.
Linebackers (9 or 10)
In: Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Jayrone Elliott, Kyler Fackrell, Joe Thomas.
Looking good: Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez, Vince Biegel.
On the bubble: Jordan Tripp, Reggie Gilbert, Johnathan Calvin, Cody Heiman, Josh Letuligasenoa, Derrick Matthews, David Talley.
Biegel hinted in an interview this week he’ll avoid the in-season PUP and be activated for the opener. Ryan and Martinez are close to sure bets, too. Tripp has become a key special-teamer but was still in the concussion protocol as of Friday. Gilbert is the next outside linebacker up if Thompson keeps five there.
Defensive backs (10 or 11)
In: Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Kentrell Brice, Josh Jones, Davon House, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Kevin King,
Looking good: LaDarius Gunter, Josh Hawkins, Marwin Evans.
On the bubble: Demetri Goodson, Donatello Brown, Daquan Holmes, Lenzy Pipkins, Raysean Pringle, Aaron Taylor, Jermaine Whitehead.
Gunter, Hawkins and Evans could be vying for only two roster spots if the Packers only keep 10. But all three seem to be in the team’s plans. Hawkins has come on of late and was great in Washington. Goodson (knee) is on PUP and figures to start the year there.
In: Mason Crosby.
Looking good: Brett Goode.
On the bubble: Derek Hart, Justin Vogel.
Goode hasn’t shown any sign of tapering off, so he’ll likely get the long-snapping nod after being re-signed earlier this month. Vogel has been hot-and-cold without any head-to-head competition in camp. He needs to kick well in the altitude of Denver.