As the 2011 Packers were preparing to take to the field for their first practice of training camp, General Manager Ted Thompson paused to say goodbye to veteran players he released on Friday.
“We understand the fans feeling nervous about the way things are going,” Thompson said at a late-afternoon press conference on Saturday.
He was referring to having released seven players on Friday and the potential for losing a major chunk of an 11-man unrestricted free agent class that features headliners such as Cullen Jenkins and James Jones.
Among the seven players released on Friday were veteran offensive lineman Mark Tauscher, linebackers Nick Barnett, Brandon Chillar and Brady Poppinga, and defensive lineman and former first-round draft choice Justin Harrell.
Thompson took time to touch on each player.
Tauscher—“He is a true professional, always has been. I told him you’re probably a first-ballot Packers Hall of Fame guy,” Thompson said.
Barnett—“He really appreciated his time here.”
Chillar—“He was the kind of player I wanted to be.”
Poppinga—“Hard-nosed, tough guy.”
Harrell—“A guy that never really got it going. He had some injuries. He did everything we asked him to do. If there’s blame to be had, it should be pointed at me, not Justin,” Thompson said.
With that, Thompson cleared the air for the start of training camp practices. His roster isn’t at the 90-man limit, which means he has the flexibility to add a player or two or more in free agency.
Will the Packers be a player in free agency?
“We’re always a player in free agency, mostly with our own players. We keep our eyes open,” Thompson said.
The information he was willing to pass was limited by the strategy he will employ, but he assured fans that “we’re doing everything we can to be a good football team.
“It’s just reality. These things are going to happen,” he said of the changing face of the Packers roster. “We have to make tough decisions. That’s our job to do that.”
Some would say Thompson and all NFL personnel directors are facing an especially difficult task this year in that they will have to make decisions based on fewer practices than ever before. Beyond that, contact in training camp has been greatly reduced, which raises the obvious question: Will undrafted free agents have the same opportunity to win a roster spot based on their willingness to be physical?
“I think it was inevitable,” Thompson said of the elimination of two-a-day practices. “I think you can evaluate in one practice a day as well as in two. I’m new-school, not old-school.”