As we move through the pre-season, many of our thoughts turn towards the make-up of the Packers final 53 man roster and who will or won’t make that final cut. What can be a spanner in the works for our prognostications though is the surprising roster move that nobody knew was coming…here are just a few of those involving the Packers through the years…
1. 1985 – The Cade Trade
Three days before the 1985 regular season started, the Packers sent their 1986 first round draft pick and their 1987 fifth round draft pick to the San Diego Chargers for cornerback Mossy Cade. Cade had been the first round choice of the Chargers the previous year, but never came to contract terms with them and ended up playing a year with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL. The Chargers retained his NFL rights, but after the USFL folded, they were still unable to get Cade to come to a contract agreement (despite an offer on the table for around $1.6m over 4 years – a very nice deal at the time). The Chargers were able to convince the Packers that Cade would solve their secondary problems and extracted a big price from them. But unfortunately for Green Bay, Cade never panned out – firstly turning up out of shape and then falling foul of serious legal issues the following year…his Green Bay career was over after a little over a year.
2. 1986 - Forrest Gregg has a Clear Out
The Packers entered 1986 off the back of three straight 8-8 seasons – a team not quite sure of its identity. Forrest Gregg had replaced Bart Starr as head coach after the 1983 season, with the Packers looking to Gregg to assert his personality on the franchise…and in the summer of 1986 he did just that. Gregg’s view was that it was time to clear house – unfortunately, he did so without the draft pick compensation he should have. Out went LB George Cumby, starting DE Mike Butler (former 1st round pick, with 87 starts for the Packers) and then starting OT Greg Koch (133 games for the Packers and a player who would be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2010). Koch would be picked up by Miami and later traded by them to Minnesota for two 5th round draft picks. But the release of Cumby, Butler and Koch was not the end of matters. Veteran QB Lynn Dickey (still the best QB on the roster) was released in the summer over a contract dispute, but re-signed in training camp and expected to play a major role in 1986. But it wasn’t to be, Dickey was released for the second and final time on 1st September.
Then, in the biggest shock of all, three-time Pro Bowler Paul Coffman was let go. Coffman was still a very productive player having caught 49 passes in 1985 and to release him outright with no draft pick compensation was surprising to say the least. Coffman’s replacement on the Packers roster was Dan Ross, a TE from Seattle for whom the Packers gave up a 1987 12th round draft choice.
Not really a pre-season cut, but Gregg also released star OLB Mike “Mad Dog” Douglass (7 year starter and inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2003), earlier in the summer. It really was clearing house time in Green Bay. The 1986 Packers would go on to break the 8-8 record streak – by dropping to 4-12.
3. 2016 – The Sitton Shocker
Entering the 2016 season, guard Josh Sitton was regarded as one of the best at his position in the league. At this stage in his (then) 8 year career, Sitton was already a 3-time Pro Bowler, a 1st Team All-Pro (2014) and a 2-time 2nd Team All Pro (2013, 2015). As the Packers approached their final roster cut down on September 3rd, there was little (no?) indication that Sitton’s position was anything other than secure…but in a shocking move, Sitton was cut. Stories then surfaced about his locker room attitude and his supposed criticism of Mike McCarthy but whatever the truth, there is no doubt that Sitton’s release was, at the time, one of the most surprising pre-season roster moves.
4. 1959 – Swapping a 4th Round Pick for a Future Hall of Famer
Between the 5th and 6th pre-season games in 1959 (yes, the pre-season was 6 games back then), the Packers made an under-reported trade with the Cleveland Browns for a defensive lineman named Henry Jordan. Green Bay gave up a fourth round draft pick for the lightly regarded Jordan who was entering his third NFL season. But the Packers head personnel man Jack Vainisi believed that Jordan could do a job for a franchise that was 1-10-1 the previous year. And did he ever? 9 seasons later, the Packers had won 5 NFL Championships including the first two Super Bowls and Henry Jordan was now rated as one the best players ever to play defensive tackle. Jordan was All-Pro 6 times and inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. Surely one of the best value trades that the Packers ever made.
5. 1977 – Starr Cashes in on McCoy
Mike P. McCoy was the Packers 1st round draft pick (the 2nd overall selection – the pick behind Terry Bradshaw) in the 1970 NFL draft and quickly burst onto the scene upgrading the Packers' defensive line immediately. He led the team in sacks (unofficial) in 1973 and 1976 – a fine achievement from his defensive tackle spot. McCoy was huge for his day (6-5, 284) and was equally adept at stopping the run as well as rushing the passer. But after coach/GM Dan Devine orchestrated a number of trades, most notably for John Hadl and Jim Del Gaizo (no.8 on this list), in which he gave away a large number of early picks, the Packers were left with little to work with in the draft for a few years. When Bart Starr took over from Devine, he decided that he needed to freshen up the team and make it younger and McCoy became trade bait. Just before the 1977 regular season started, the Packers traded McCoy to the Super Bowl Champion Oakland Raiders - getting a 1978 1st round draft pick, a 1979 4th round pick and DL Herb McMath in return. With that 1978 1st round pick acquired from the Raiders the Packers selected LB John Anderson and with their own 1st round pick they selected James Lofton – making that 1978 draft one of the best in Packers history.
6. 1998 – To Carolina and Back Again – Mike Flanagan
The Packers drafted C Mike Flanagan in the 3rd Round of the 1996 draft – the Packers seeing him as the long term replacement for Frank Winters. But on the very first play of the 1996 pre-season, Flanagan broke both bones in his lower right leg – injuries, coupled with nerve damage, that kept him out for both the 1996 and 1997 seasons. As the 1998 pre-season came to a close, Flanagan was surplus to requirements in Green Bay and was traded to the Carolina Panthers on 31st August…the Packers getting an undisclosed draft choice as compensation. However, Flanagan failed his physical in Carolina which nullified the trade and he returned to the Packers two days later. Green Bay found a roster spot for the UCLA grad and eventually in 2001 he won the starting center soot for the Packers. Flanagan went on to become a solid starter for the Packers, earning a Pro Bowl spot in 2003. For Green Bay, this was very fortunately a pre-season transaction that never quite happened.
7. 1991 - Tomczak and Kiel beat out Anthony Dilweg
In the 1990 season opener, second year QB Anthony Dilweg started in place of hold-out Don Majkowski and led the Packers to a 36-24 victory whilst throwing 3 touchdown passes. Dilweg’s performance hastened the end of Majkowski’s hold-out and showed that Dilweg had the ability to be a starter in the NFL. So when the Packers entered the 1991 pre-season with four quarterbacks on the roster - Majkowski, Dilweg, free agent signing Mike Tomczak and 1990 third stringer Blair Kiel - it seemed a sure fire bet that Kiel would be the odd man out and not make it through the final cut. But, in a move that still doesn’t make sense all these years later, the Packers inexplicably cut Dilweg and kept Kiel. To compound this strange decision, the Packers also cut three starters from the previous year – CB Mark Lee, G Billy Ard and OT Keith Uecker. Unfortunately, this roster turnover didn’t have the desired effect and the Packers' 1991 season degenerated into a bit of a shambles (not least at QB where they bounced from one starter to another) as they recorded a 4-12 record.
8. 1973 – All The Wayzo with Jim Del Gaizo
Amongst many other problems, Packers' coach of the early 1970s Dan Devine had difficulty in finding and settling on a starting quarterback for his team. The Packers had won the NFC Central Division in 1972 led by QB Scott Hunter and also had 1972 1st round draft choice Jerry Tagge on the roster, but by the 1973 pre-season Devine was far from satisfied with what he had under center and decided to engineer a trade for another passer. On August 22nd, Devine sent his 2nd round draft picks for both 1974 and 1975 to the Miami Dolphins for Jim Del Gaizo. By week 3 of the regular season, Del Gaizo was the starter and the fans were so excited that he even had his own chant - “All the wayzo with Jim Del Gaizo”…unfortunately he met with less success than either Hunter or Tagge. In his first two starts, Del Gaizo completed a total of 5 passes from 18 attempts and quickly lost the starting job. He did start 1 more game and saw limited action in 5 others but Del Gaizo wasn’t the answer Devine had been looking for, finishing the season with a 43.5% completion rate and just 2 passing touchdowns against 6 interceptions. He never played another regular season game for the Packers – being traded during the 1974 pre-season for a 3rd round draft choice.
9. 2017 – Taysom Hill out, Joe Callaghan In
The Packers entered the 2017 pre-season with four quarterbacks on the roster – starter Aaron Rodgers, well regarded back-up Brett Hundley and two unknown entities, Joe Callaghan and Taysom Hill, battling for a possible third QB spot. Both Callaghan and Hill had their moments in the pre-season but Hill in particular stood out with excellent performances including leading the Packers to victory over the Redskins, a week after he excelled in the 4th quarter against the Eagles. Hill’s excellence came as much with his legs as with his arm and perhaps this influenced the Packers decision to try and sneak him through waivers at the final roster cutdown. Callaghan, not as impressive as Hill, was also waived. Unfortunately for the Packers, Hill never cleared waivers – being picked up by the New Orleans Saints…Callaghan did clear waivers and was signed by the Packers to the Practice Squad and later moved to the active roster when Rodgers was injured. We’ve no way of knowing, but suspicions abound that Hill was really the guy that the Packers wanted to keep.
10. 2008 - Favre traded to Jets
Ok, it wasn’t quite pre-season but I couldn’t leave this one out (and it did happen in August – so close enough to the pre-season). Having retired earlier in the year, Brett Favre officially un-retired on 4th August 2008. This left the Packers – namely Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy - in a difficult position having already handed Aaron Rodgers the starting job. The organization decided that they had moved on from Favre and two days later traded him to the New York Jets for a conditional 3rd round draft choice. The move didn’t come without a lot of angst though and Thompson in particular took a lot of heat from many fans, however Rodgers’ performances soon silenced the critics.
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