Tight end Mitchell Henry, cut by the Packers, talks about being claimed by the Broncos before leaving Green Bay for Denver. (Sept. 6, 2015) Weston Hodkiewicz | Press-Gazette Media
Mitchell Henry woke up Sunday morning fully expecting to sign a practice-squad contract with the Green Bay Packers.
Little did the 6-foot-4, 252-pound tight end know he'd finish his day in Denver.
Henry, among the Packers' final cuts Saturday, was waiting inside the Lambeau Field cafeteria when some of the team scouts informed him that he'd been claimed off waivers by the Broncos. Henry was one of only two tight ends who were assigned to a new team over the weekend.
In a matter of hours, Henry had packed up his belongings and was off to his new home.
"It's been pretty crazy," Henry said. "You go from hoping to be on the 53 to getting cut to practice squad to back onto another team's 53, it's a roller-coaster ride. It is crazy."
Henry, 22, didn't expect a team to claim him Sunday and neither did the Packers, who hoped to sneak him onto their practice squad and get by with only three tight ends on their active roster. He showed pass-catching ability during the offseason program, but was slowed by a broken finger that forced him to wear a club for most of camp.
The Packers thought the injury would stymie outside interest in Henry, but Denver had been eyeing him for a while. He started 22 of his 47 games at Western Kentucky, catching 78 passes for 1,094 yards and 12 touchdowns. Henry impressed scouts with his ability to pull down contested passes and his toughness in the seam.
Henry, who took a pre-draft visit to Green Bay, chose to sign with the Packers for a $5,000 signing bonus over a similar offer from the Broncos after he went undrafted in May.
It's difficult to get bent out of shape about losing an undrafted rookie on the waiver wire, but the loss comes at one of the Packers' weakest positions. Second-year tight end Richard Rodgers has significant upside as a pass-catcher and represents their closest thing to certainty at tight end. Still, his deficiencies as a run blocker make it hard for him to be on the field in any situation.
Veteran Andrew Quarless played well down the stretch last season, but is coming off a lackluster preseason. The Packers could lose him to possible suspension after his July 4 arrest in Miami Beach for allegedly discharging a firearm in public. He has a court date scheduled for Sept. 21.
As general manager Ted Thompson so often does, he chose one of the team's draft picks -- sixth-rounder Kennard Backman -- to fill the No. 3 spot over Henry and 2014 undrafted free agent Justin Perillo, who since has returned to the practice squad.
It follows a predictable pattern. Thompson has cut only 16 of his 102 draft picks during their rookie year. Only three of those cuts were players taken in the fifth round or earlier. Twelve of those 16 released wound up beginning their careers on the Packers' practice squad, while one (guard Caleb Schlauderaff) was traded during cuts.
The release of Henry and Perillo means the Packers will take fewer than four tight ends into the regular season for the first time since 2009, but that's the price you pay for keeping 11 defensive backs, nine offensive linemen, five running backs and three quarterbacks.
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The decision to stick with Backman over Henry is reminiscent of last summer when the Packers went with sixth-round pick Demetri Goodson over practice-squad holdover Jumal Rolle, who not only had outperformed Goodson but also had one of the best preseasons of anybody on the Packers' roster.
The gamble paid off at first. Nobody claimed Rolle and he returned to the team's practice squad. However, the 6-foot, 188-pound cornerback left a month later for Houston, where he had three interceptions in the final 10 games. Goodson has yet to play a defensive snap in an NFL game.
Backman got off to a quiet start in Green Bay and was plagued by dropped passes in the opening week of camp before starting to turn things around near the end of the preseason. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound tight end caught a 4-yard touchdown against the Eagles and grabbed a highlight-reel pass in traffic in the finale vs. the Saints.
Overall, Thompson has a pretty good track record with his cuts. Camp darlings who have been let go over the years haven't really come back to haunt the Packers. Two of the most popular, running back Tyrell Sutton (2008) and receiver Chastin West (2010), went on to play in only a combined 28 regular-season games elsewhere.
Tie doesn't always go to the draft pick, though. There have been five instances in which Thompson cut a pick to keep an undrafted rookie. The most recent cases resulted in keeping tackle Don Barclay over Andrew Datko in 2012, linebacker Jamari Lattimore over Ricky Elmore in 2011 and offensive lineman Evan Smith over Jamon Meredith in 2009.
The Packers lost two players to waivers Saturday in Henry and 2014 third-round pick Khyri Thornton, who was claimed by New England. Time will tell what happens with either player, but you can be certain some in the Packers' organization will be keeping a close eye on Henry from afar.
Henry steps into the third-string role in Denver, where he will get a chance to develop behind veterans Owen Daniels and Virgil Green. In Green Bay, the Packers still have a pressing need at tight end and they will be counting on Backman to help fill it. For now, Henry is the one who slipped out of their grasp.
"I loved it here," Henry said. "One day I may be back here. You never know. I made a lot of friends. I love the coaches. Made some lifelong friends here. It was a great experience and a great opportunity."
» Myles White cleared waivers Tuesday and is free to sign with any NFL team.
White, 25, made the Packers' initial 53-man roster for the first time in three attempts Saturday, but was let go Monday after the team re-signed veteran receiver James Jones. It doesn't appear White will be returning to Green Bay. The Packers filled their 10-man practice squad with rookie receiver Ed Williams, who was given White's No. 19.
The Packers also reached an injury settlement with receiver Jimmie Hunt, making him a free agent.
» It appears increasingly likely the Packers will turn to second-year defensive lineman Mike Pennel to fill Letroy Guion's void at end in the base defense.
The Packers listed Pennel ahead of third-year veteran Josh Boyd on their initial depth chart. An undrafted rookie in 2014, the 6-foot-4, 332-pound lineman is coming off a impressive preseason. Guion, the presumptive starter, was suspended for the first three games because of his felony arrest for possession of marijuana on Feb. 3 in Starke, Fla.
The team also listed defensive back Micah Hyde as their punt returner and rookie receiver Ty Montgomery as their No. 1 returner on kickoffs.
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