GREEN BAY - Six seasons and a Super Bowl ring were not enough to scratch former Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay’s itch for football.
He will turn 30 in March. A young man in punting years. The NFL’s best punter, former Indianapolis Colts All-Pro Pat McAfee, unexpectedly retired at the same age earlier this month.
Masthay said he wants back in.
“Just trying to train and stay ready,” Masthay said before the Packers' trip to Atlanta for the NFC championship game last month, “in case I get phone calls. It’s kind of a train-and-wait type game for me.”
Masthay’s phone didn’t ring much last fall after the Packers released him in August before their final exhibition game.
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He had a tryout with the Arizona Cardinals in September after punter Drew Butler was released with an injury settlement because of a strained calf, but they signed Ryan Quigley instead. The Cardinals released Quigley after six games when Butler’s calf healed, but released Butler a second time in December and promoted Matt Wile from their practice squad.
Otherwise, Masthay faced a lack of potential suitors. He kept plenty busy in his first year outside of football. Masthay and his wife, Amanda, have three children (daughter Emory, son Paxton and daughter Darcy) ages 4 and under, a natural full-time job.
“They keep me on my toes,” Masthay said.
It was enough for Masthay to keep his focus off the Packers this past season. He watched their playoff run, including long-time teammate and friend Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal in Dallas, but it wasn’t easy. The suddenness of his release was hard to stomach, even if Masthay knew it was a possibility.
The Packers made it clear last offseason Masthay would have to compete for his job. They signed former Minnesota punter and Green Bay native Peter Mortell immediately after last spring’s draft. Masthay outpunted Mortell in camp, but the Packers claimed Jacob Schum off waivers two days after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released him.
“I knew there was a chance I was going to get cut,” Masthay said, “but I don’t know. It was kind of weird how it all happened. That was all so sudden that it was actually probably good I’ve had a little time to digest that.”
Masthay didn’t utter a disparaging word about Schum. But it couldn’t have helped to watch his successor rank near the bottom of the league in key categories during the regular season.
Schum ranked 27th in the NFL, averaging 43.2 yards per punt. His 39.1-yard net average ranked 24th. Both were less than Masthay’s 43.9-yard punt average (25th in the NFL) and 40.2-yard net average (14th) in 2015, though the Packers' coverage units also were better that season.
Regardless, Schum delivered in the area the Packers might have wanted most. That the loft under Schum’s punts carried more air than Masthay’s turned into a valid evaluation. Schum’s 4.25-second hang time last season was better than Masthay’s 4.09 in 2015, according to stats compiled by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
It’s uncertain what the Packers will do at punter this offseason. Schum is an exclusive rights free agent, meaning the Packers can sign him to a low-priced offer no team can match. He gave himself a fighting chance with his postseason improvement.
Schum averaged 47.6 yards on 11 punts in the playoffs, with a 43.5-yard net. Four of his five punts in weather-controlled climates at Atlanta and Dallas traveled 50 yards, including a mammoth, 66-yard punt in the fourth quarter of the Packers' divisional-round win in Dallas.
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With temperatures barely into the teens, Schum also punted well in the Packers' wild-card win over the New York Giants at Lambeau Field. Of his six punts, half were placed inside the 20-yard line. Schum's six punts averaged 42 yards, with a 41.3-yard net, proving that he possessed an important attribute for any Green Bay punter.
“Weather is not a big deal to him,” special teams coordinator Ron Zook said.
Schum, a Buffalo, N.Y., native, enters the offseason with the type of momentum that eluded Masthay a year ago. Despite a fine regular season and good production in a wild-card win at Washington, Masthay struggled in a divisional-round loss at Arizona. His four punts averaged 35.8 yards, a 32.8-yard net that set the stage for his release in August.
Masthay hopes he gets another chance in the league, but he’s also preparing for his future.
When he wasn’t training this past season, Masthay studied. After graduating from Kentucky with a degree in economics, Masthay said he’s taking an online course through Missouri for a masters degree in what he called positive coaching. If the NFL doesn’t call by the time he completes his masters, Masthay said, he might go after a third degree.
“I do plan on staying in sports in some regard,” Masthay said. “I haven’t really nailed that down exactly. I like school, so right after I finish this masters, I’ll probably go for another one.
“I’ve definitely got some ideas.”