The Packers’ kicking job is down to Mason Crosby and recently signed Zach Ramirez, at least for now.
Coach Mike McCarthy didn’t rule out bringing back Giorgio Tavecchio, who was cut Monday after spending all offseason with the team. Also, an unspoken but more likely possibility is that if the Packers don’t stick with Crosby or Ramirez, they’ll bring in a kicker released by one of the 13 other teams that have multiple kickers in training camp after final cuts.
But before then, Crosby and Ramirez will have a head-to-head kicking period Tuesday and then kick in the preseason finale Thursday night at Kansas City. The Packers probably will keep one after final cuts Saturday and then check the waiver wire to see if there’s a kicker they’d rather have.
“We need to make some real good decisions over the next few days,” special teams coach Shawn Slocum said.
The Packers released Tavecchio before practice Monday morning and reduced their roster to 84 players. They have to be down to 75 by 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Neither McCarthy nor Slocum would go into their reservations about Tavecchio, but it’s almost a given they had concerns about his leg strength, and especially an ability to kick longer field goals when the weather gets cold and the ball deadens.
Tavecchio made 86.4 percent of his field-goal attempts in live drills and preseason games combined, so accuracy wasn’t an issue. Crosby made only 80.3 percent of his kicks.
But as demonstrated in the three-man kicking contest in practice Sunday, Crosby and Ramirez have noticeably stronger legs.
“When (Tavecchio) first started (with the Packers in the spring), he was hitting his kickoffs right to the goal line,” Slocum said, “and he continued to work on his efficiency. Mason’s got a very powerful leg. Ramirez, it looks like his leg is really strong, those guys stand out. But I think Giorgio has plenty of leg to kick field goals in this league.”
Ramirez helped push Tavecchio out the door with his strong audition Sunday. After beating out another kicker in a tryout Sunday morning, he came out early Sunday afternoon and matched Crosby’s 10-for-11 on kicks ranging from 34 yards to 63 yards.
“I thought that was impressive,” Slocum said. “I thought he competed well and he didn’t seem to be phased by the atmosphere. It was a training camp practice, the crowd’s out there and we had crowd noise going through the speakers and he stroked the ball well.”
On Sunday, the kickers had a strong wind at their backs, which increased their range by at least five yards and possibly closer to 10. Slocum said it was one of the strongest and most consistent winds he’s seen on the Packers’ practice field, and that he regretted not scripting some of their kicks against the wind. He plans to have them kick some against the wind Tuesday.
The competitive Tuesday period means the kickers will have kicked in live drills with only one day’s rest, and then will have only a day’s rest before the game.
“We’re probably pressing it to maxing it out,” Slocum said. “But that’s by design. We give them plenty of time to rest and recover. We rarely kick two days in a row, we’ve only done that once in camp.”
If Ramirez performs well Tuesday and then again against the Chiefs, it could make
for an especially difficult decision because the Packers won’t know much about him.
He’s an undrafted rookie whose only NFL experience before Sunday was a three-day tryout at the Seattle Seahawks’ rookie minicamp.
However, Crosby’s salary could be working against him if the Packers consider the call close. His salary this year is a non-guaranteed $2.4 million, so releasing him would save substantial salary-cap room. His $600,000 prorated bonus counts against this year’s cap either way, and if the Packers release him, the final two years’ proration of $1.2 million combined will count on next year’s cap.
“We’ll have to sit down and talk through it,” Slocum said. “We’ll take all the information we can obtain between now and the time to take a decision and go from there.”