Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Building The 53 - Finley & Barrington Out, Sherrod & Tolzien In

Whenever a roster spot on The 53 opens up, I am never shy about giving my thoughts on how Green Bay Packer general manager Ted Thompson should fill that spot.  After starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football on the same day that former Packer backup quarterback Matt Flynn was cut by the Buffalo Bills, speculation started to swirl about whether Thompson would put in a waiver claim on Flynn.  As it turns out the Packers did what they usually do and promoted a member of their practice squad to The 53, in this case quarterback Scott Tolzien, instead of putting in a claim on Flynn.

Although promoting Tolzien instead of putting in a claim on Flynn is going to grab the headlines, Thompson made a series of other important moves before that move that I thought were much more interesting.  After a few weeks of speculation, Thompson finally placed tight end Jermichael Finley on injured reserve.

Finley signed a two-year, $14 million "prove-it" deal after the 2011 season.  That contract was never about Finley's on-field potential/ability, it was all about seeing whether Finley would mature off the field enough that the Packers could justify committing a ton of guaranteed money as a part of a long-term contract.

Coming into this season it seemed like Finley was taking care of business off-the-field and was in sync with Rodgers so he looked poised for a huge year on the field.  Oh how things change in two months.  After suffering a concussion against the Bengals and spinal cord injury against the Browns, there is a chance that Finley will never play football again.

Apparently Finley took out a $10 million insurance policy on his football health.  Wise move by Finley because best case scenario doctors confirm that he is healthy enough to return to the football field so he signs a one-year incentive laden contract with the Packers.  Worst case scenario, doctors cannot give Finley a clean bill of health and he goes down as arguably the most athletic tight end in franchise history that was unfortunately forced to retire at the age of 26 due to injury.  Sure the $10 million insurance policy will serves as a nice pension of sorts if Finley can never play football again but if Finely stayed healthy in 2013 I bet he would have signed a deal that rivaled Jason Witten's seven year, $50 million contract.

Besides replacing Finley with Tolzien, Thompson made another move to The 53.  Turns out Rodgers was not the only player that suffered a serious injury against the Bears.  Rookie linebacker Sam Barrington, taken in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft, suffered a serious hamstring injury and was placed on injured reserve.  Placing Barrington on injured reserve opened another spot on The 53.

Thompson activated offensive tackle Derek Sherrod off the physically unable to perform in place of Barrington, which completed Sherrod's almost two year journey back to the football field.  For some quick background, Sherrod broke his leg on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs on December 18, 2011 in the team's only regular season loss that year.  Sherrod was not even the starter that day.  The only reason that Sherrod was in the game was because Bryan Bulaga suffered a knee injury at the start of the second half.  It will be interesting to see how Sherrod responds after such a long layoff because expectations were high for Sherrod after the Packers selected him in the first round the 2011 NFL Draft.

Just a week ago the Packers looked set at offensive tackle with rookie David Bakhtiari at left tackle, Don Barclay at right tackle, and Marshall Newhouse as each of their primary backups.  Unfortunately last week the Packers were forced to move Barclay to right guard after starting right guard T.J. Lang suffered a concussion against the Bears.  Head coach Mike McCarthy inserted Newhouse at right tackle when he moved Barclay over to right guard in place of Lang.  At this point Lang's status for next week at home against the Philadelphia Eagles is up in the air so despite having three other quality tackles ahead of Sherrod on The 53, Sherrod will most likely be active this weekend and might even play.

It makes sense that the Packers went with Tolzien ahead of Flynn since Tolzien has been on the practice squad since the start of the season so he knows the offense.  Juxtapose that with Flynn who has been a member of three other organizations (Seahawks, Raiders, and Bills) since leaving the Packers after the 2011 season.  Thompson would rather take a chance on an undrafted free agent (Tolzien) than a veteran retread (Flynn) so unless the Packers suffer another injury at quarterback, I do not expect to see them signing Flynn.

I also understand getting Sherrod back on The 53 as soon as possible because Newhouse is set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season so the Packers need to see what they have in Sherrod before deciding to let Newhouse leave via free agency.  Also don't forget that former starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga is rehabbing a torn ACL in hopes of playing in 2014 so the future looks bright at offensive tackle and that doesn't even factor in the 2014 NFL Draft when the Packers might add another offensive tackle.  At this point the quintet of Bakhtiari, Barclay, Bulaga, Newhouse, and Sherrod are all fighting for four spots on The 53 in 2014.  My early money is on Bakhtiari, Barclay, Bulaga, and Sherrod with Newhouse leaving via free agency.

I hope to attend the Packers/Eagles game in-person this weekend with Sug, still waiting to hear back whether I have a ticket aka a Phatty Miracle if you are in the parking lot of a Phish concert.  Either way, check back on Monday for a recap along with my updated player rankings that takes into account the loss of Finley and Barrington along with the addition of Sherrod and Tolzien.

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