Time finally ran out Saturday for Khyri Thornton and Carl Bradford to prove themselves worthy of a spot on the Green Bay Packers’ 53-man roster.
After allowing both players a season to develop, general manager Ted Thompson decided he could wait no longer. Thornton and Bradford were among the 20 cuts the Packers submitted to the NFL to get down to the mandatory 53-man roster limit.
Both are practice-squad eligible, though the Packers could choose to wash their hands entirely if they feel they’re only delaying the inevitable. Presently, the organization has spent more than $1.7 million on the two mid-round draft picks, neither of whom has yet to dress in a regular-season game.
Thornton was a peculiar selection from the beginning. Many scouts had him slotted as a potential late-round pick before the Packers felt good enough about his upside and quick-twitch to use their third-round pick (85th overall).
The 6-foot-2, 315-pound defensive lineman got off to a miserable start and was invisible for most of last summer, losing reps to then-undrafted rookie Mike Pennel. Thornton wound up tearing his hamstring in the preseason finale against Kansas City and spent the remainder of the season on injured reserve.
Thornton admitted this offseason that he came to Green Bay out of shape and with the wrong attitude. He vowed to make changes and was lauded by coach Mike McCarthy for the improvements he made in his conditioning.
“Khyri, it's time to take a step,” said defensive line coach Mike Trgovac in June. “Obviously, he had a setback last year and hopefully when these OTAs are over and training camp is over that he's able to take that step forward. We'll see if he's done that or not.”
Still, his motor ran cold more often than not in camp and his impact was negligible in games. He finished with three combined tackles on 69 defensive snaps, while Pennel and first-year defensive lineman Bruce Gaston asserted themselves against the run and pass.
Thornton, who’s already 25, wasn’t the only recent draft pick the Packers cut Saturday on the defensive line. Sixth-round pick Christian Ringo was the only member of this year’s eight-player draft class who didn’t survive the initial cut, but it’s expected he’ll sign onto the practice squad if he clears waivers Sunday.
If this is it, the last time the Packers got such little production from a third-round pick came in 2004 when they traded up to draft B.J. Sander, and even that infamous punter played one NFL season.
Bradford struggled during his first year with the Packers, but it didn’t appear to be due to a lack of effort. The 6-foot-1, 252-pound linebacker seemed too small to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense when the Packers drafted him in the fourth round (121st).
They shifted him inside in last year’s preseason finale and gave him an entire offseason to learn the nuances of the position. He was the only player on the Packers’ roster who was inactive for all 18 games of last season.
The Packers hoped Bradford would emerge as a playmaker at inside linebacker, one of the weaker positions on their roster. Bradford had 11 tackles (two for a loss) with a sack in the preseason, but the switch also brought on a new set of challenges.
While Bradford dropped some weight to better position himself for the inside, he still didn’t react fast enough to plays and missed a few tackles in games after over-pursuing the ball carrier. He quickly fell behind another converted linebacker, Nate Palmer, and fourth-round pick Jake Ryan for second-team reps.
Like Thornton, Bradford could return on the practice squad, but he could have competition for a spot. The Packers also released Joe Thomas, an undersized linebacker who impressed the coaching staff with his quickness and eagerness to hit. It’s possible there won’t be room for both.
Thornton’s four-year, $2,854,252 contract came with a $563,252 signing bonus. Whether or not he re-signs to the practice squad, the Packers still will absorb a $281,626 charge against their 2016 salary cap. Bradford received a $429,300 signing bonus and requires a $214,650 cap charge.
The Packers are in good standing with their salary cap. They have $15 million in space, so a $500,000 penalty for cutting Thornton and Bradford isn’t concerning. It leaves some question about what to make out of the Packers’ 2014 draft.
They appear to have four blossoming contributors on their hands with safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, receiver Davante Adams, tight end Richard Rodgers and center Corey Linsley. Four potential long-term starters out of a nine-player draft class probably makes 2014 a successful year.
The other five have left a little more to be desired. Only seventh-round pick Jeff Janis has played any offensive or defensive snaps out of Thornton, Bradford, receiver Jared Abbrederis (fifth round) and cornerback Demetri Goodson (sixth).
Janis (6-3, 219) continues to flash potential, but has yet to earn enough trust to factor into the offense during the regular season. Goodson played much better in this year’s camp than he did as a rookie, but again dealt with calf and knee injuries.
Abbrederis played in his first preseason game Thursday after missing the better part of a year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and concussion. He likely will begin the 2015 season on the practice squad with the hope of promotion at some time this season.
Uncertainty now sets in for Thornton and Bradford. Whether it’s in Green Bay or elsewhere around the NFL, the draft picks will need to revive their careers after a slow professional start.
There’s a balance to strike when determining patience with players. Earlier this month, Thompson was asked how he and his scouts know when to move on from a prospect.
“If you get to a point where you don't think a player's going to contribute to the team,” Thompson said, "regardless of how you acquired that player, I think you have to start getting comfortable with the idea that it's probably the time to move on. But you don't want to hurry that moment. There's time to do that and there's other times not.”
On Saturday, Thornton and Bradford’s time was up.
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Draft picks since 2005 who never played in a regular-season game for Packers
2nd round, 56th overall: QB Brian Brohm (2008)
3, 85: DL Khyri Thornton (2014)
4, 104: WR Cory Rodgers (2006)
4, 121: LB Carl Bradford (2014)
5, 157: WR David Clowney (2007)
5, 162: OT Jamon Meredith (2009)
5, 176: WR Jared Abbrederis (2014)
6, 179: OG Caleb Schlauderaff (2011)
6, 195: WR Craig Bragg (2005)
6, 197: OLB Ricky Elmore (2011)
7, 216: WR Charles Johnson (2013)
7, 233: DE Lawrence Guy (2011)
7, 241: T Andrew Datko (2012)
7, 243: QB B.J. Coleman (2012)
7, 243: TE Clark Harris (2007)
7, 245: LB Kurt Campbell (2005)
7, 253: DE Dave Tollefson (2006)