Late Season Moves Nothing New for Packers
by Mike Conklin
December 6, 2013
Ted Thompson may not be the most verbose general manager in the league, but he and his staff are always quietly looking for ways to improve the team. For evidence of that, look no further than the fact that the Packers always seem to be tinkering with the bottom of the roster in December. This appears to be by design.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and NFL Players Association (NFLPA) allows for a provision that is often overlooked but is likely very much a consideration for Thompson and the Packers front office as they shape their roster. If a player is on an active NFL roster for fewer than six games, then he is not credited for an "accrued season" of service. This may be an important distinction, as described on the NFLPA website:
Earning an Accrued Season entitles a player to advance through the free agency system which governs a player's negotiating rights once his contract has expired. In a capped year, a player with four or more Accrued Seasons becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent once his contract expires. A player with three but less than four Accrued Seasons when his contract expires becomes a Restricted Free Agent.
This means is that if a player is added to the roster at the tail end of the year and the team decides they want to keep him for the long term, then those few weeks on the roster essentially become a trial run. By signing a player so late in the season, it effectively ensures that the team will maintain control over the player's rights for a full extra year. (In other words, the team could conceivably get the player at a low cost for one additional year.)
This may sound like a minor consideration, but for a team that places such a premium on developing young players it is certainly not lost on the Packers.
Last year the team signed DuJuan Harris to their practice squad in October, and he made an impression right away. He turned heads in practice regularly, and a handful of other players and coaches went on record that Harris had made them take notice immediately.
Even so, Harris wasn't promoted to the active roster last year until December 1. He played very well, and McCarthy gave every indication that the team had a very important role in mind for him as they planned for this season. Because of the rule outlined above, even though DuJuan Harris had proven himself down the stretch and into the playoffs he was still considered a first-year player going into this year.
The Packers did the same thing with Jeremy Ross, who is now with the Lions. Ross was promoted late last season, and showed some intriguing ability as both a returner and wide receiver. He made Green Bay's opening day roster this year before losing confidence and eventually being cut, but he is still listed on the Lions roster as a first-year player. Ross may not have panned out for Green Bay, but if he had realized his potential the Packers would have held more of the bargaining chips when negotiating future contracts.
The practice of promoting fringe players with promise late in the season is nothing new for the Packers. They signed Graham Harrell to the active roster at the tail end of both the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and when he finally made the opening day roster last year he was still considered a first-year player.
In recent years the Packers also promoted defensive linemen Jordan Miller and Anthony Toribio late in the season. Even though neither of these players remain with the team, the Packers saw something they liked in each of them and seemed to think they had some long-term potential. (Toribio went on to play with the Chiefs for parts of three seasons.)
Within the past two weeks the Packers quietly promoted linebacker Victor Aiyewa to the regular roster. It remains to be seen whether or not he will put himself in a position to contend for a roster spot next season, but if the past is any indication he will likely not be the last rookie Ted Thompson will sign to the Packers roster before the the season is over.
This practice of signing players to the roster during the final five weeks of the season seems to be a deliberate strategy that takes place every year. It also makes a lot of sense for a team like the Packers that prefers to build from within.
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