GREEN BAY - Thirty years ago, quarterback Lynn Dickey and tight end Paul Coffman were sent packing on the same early September morning.
Since then, the Green Bay Packers had never even come close to matching those decisions for pure shock value on a final cut day.
On Saturday, the Packers stunned their followers once again by releasing Josh Sitton, one of the greatest guards in franchise history.
News of Sitton’s release leaked about 2 p.m., one hour before the 3 p.m. CST deadline to meet the 53-man roster limit and four hours before the Packers announced their moves.
Once again, general manager Ted Thompson didn’t make himself available to explain the team’s decisions.
Sitton, 30, was entering the final year of his contract and has battled back issues for years. His base salary of $5.9 million went off the books.
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Last year, Sitton probably didn’t play quite as well as he had. Nonetheless, he was voted to his second straight Pro Bowl and made the All-NFC North team for the seventh straight time.
“I’m somewhat surprised but not totally surprised,” a personnel man for an NFC team said Saturday night. “Yeah, he’s good, not great. You can see signs of slippage.
“Maybe they asked him to re-do something (contractually) and he didn’t do it. I’m guessing that had something to do with it.”
Now Sitton is free to sign with any team.
“At this stage I think something short-term would be appropriate,” an AFC personnel director said. “You just want to be careful about committing years and guarantees. I know what guys are getting paid now but at the age he’s at I think maybe he gets a little bit less than that ($5.9 million).”
The best guess is that the Packers will keep their other four starters in the same positions and plug in Lane Taylor, 26, at left guard. He had some rough moments in four exhibition games, but the team thought enough of him in March to sign him to a two-year, $4.15 million deal with $600,000 guaranteed.
“They obviously feel like it’s his time,” the NFC scout said. “They’ve been kind of bringing those young guys along for the last couple years.”
Teams have until Sunday at 11 a.m. to claim players, and within an hour or so will know which players, if any, they were awarded. Up to 10 players can be signed to the practice squad starting at mid-day.
Safety Marwin Evans, a rookie free agent from Utah State and Oak Creek High School, was one of six safeties surviving the last cut.
Every player near the bottom of the roster can ill afford to relax because the Packers were without a long snapper after waiving Rick Lovato. According to the NFL personnel release, Brett Goode was in Green Bay for a tryout Saturday.
Goode, 31, underwent reconstructive knee surgery Dec. 28. If the Packers determine he can play slightly more than eight months after surgery, there’s little doubt he will be signed.
If not, a candidate might be rookie free agent Ryan DiSalvo, who worked out in Green Bay on Wednesday after snapping in three exhibition games for Miami. One NFL scout said DiSalvo was impressive this summer.
“It went pretty well,” said DiSalvo. “They told me they’d keep in contact and let me know. We’ll see.”
Either way, the Packers would need to cut a player to add a long snapper. One personnel man said the Packers hoped to buy time by delaying the roster move until maybe Tuesday in order to sneak a player onto the practice squad because most teams would then be content with their rosters and less likely to make a waiver claim.
Inside linebacker Sam Barrington and cornerback Robertson Daniel also were among the four players released that spent at least one game on the 53 in 2015.
Barrington, a seventh-round draft choice in 2013, missed the first eight practices of training camp in his recovery from major foot surgery last September. He played 68 snaps in the last three games but made little impact and appeared to have lost a step.
“I thought he lost range,” said an NFC scout. “I don’t think Barrington played at the same level. Maybe he’s not all the way back where he was quite yet.
“It was somewhat of a surprise because they’re getting a little thin, and that means (Clay) Matthews is close to having to be that guy (inside) again.”
Barrington’s departure leaves rookie Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan and JoeThomas at the position.
“Yeah, well, that’s something to see in the first couple weeks how they hold up under pressure because they haven’t really proved it yet,” one scout said. “Those guys played OK in the preseason. I don’t think any of them are world-beaters, but with that front being as big and physical as they are they just need to be sound.”
Two scouts said Carl Bradford, who was cut for a third straight summer by Green Bay, clearly showed improvement.
Evans was one of a whopping six undrafted free agents, including four defensive backs, to find berths on the 53. That’s three more than the previous high under Thompson set in 2010, ’11 and ’12.
Nine rookie free agents were cut, including wide receiver Geronimo Allison, guard Lucas Patrick, quarterback Marquise Williams, fullback Alstevis Squirewell, nose tackle Brian Price, outside linebacker Reggie Gilbert, inside linebacker Beniquez Brown and cornerback Warren Gatewood.
Three “street” free agents were released, including tight end Casey Pierce, running back Brandon Ross and safety Jermaine Whitehead.
Two rookie free agents, center-guard Kyle Steuck (ankle) of West De Pere High School and nose tackle Tyler Kuder (knee), were placed on injured reserve and probably will receive injury settlements.
Tackle Josh Walker (knee) and tight end Mitchell Henry (hand) this week were waived off injured reserve with injury settlements.
Defensive lineman Mike Pennel and cornerback Demetri Goodson begin their four-game suspensions, and center Corey Linsley (hamstring) remained on the physically unable to perform list.
The Packers kept a record 12 defensive backs. In contrast, they have just 13 linemen.
“Part of that is the evolution of what’s going on in the game right now,” one scout said. “And I think they were trying to protect guys numbers-wise. I assume they’ll let the dust settle with the roster moves between today and tomorrow and then they can make that move for the snapper. I don’t know who they’re trying to protect.”
Besides Evans, the undrafted rookies on the 53 were fellow safety Kentrell Brice, cornerbacks Josh Hawkins and Makinton Dorleant, running back Brandon Burks and quarterback Joe Callahan.
“Not a lot to say about (Evans) but enough to say, ‘Yeah, let’s keep working with him,’” one scout said. “I know they liked Brice when they got him (in May). You’ve got the play-making ability and a little bit of rawness, but something to work with.
“Burks isn’t special but he changes the game because he’s different from the other two (backs). Kind of a change-of-pace guy. He’s a situational guy, not an every-down guy. That’s not normal for them.”
Callahan, from NCAA Division III (Wesley), played more snaps (183) than any of the team’s skill-position players.
“They almost had to keep him because the other guy (Brett Hundley) has been hurt all camp,” said one personnel man. “He’s very active with his feet. Not sure how that translates if he has to play with the first (team) but he’s smart, he’s active and has a live arm.”
Said an AFC scout: “He’s got a ceiling of a third-type quarterback who can manage the offense. I don’t know if you can win the game on his physical talent alone.”
The Packers’ roster also contains a record number of wide receivers. Seven made the cut but Allison, a rookie free agent, did not.
“I liked him a little bit but he’s still pretty raw,” said one scout. “He does have height and that jumping ability but he’s raw as far as his overall play. I can see a practice-squad spot for him.”
As offenses pass more and more, the Packers’ need for quantity in the defensive line has diminished. After having kept either six or seven in the first six years of Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense, they retained five for the second straight year.
The No. 5 berth went to 3-technique Christian Ringo, a sixth-round pick in 2015 who spent his rookie season on practice squad.
“Try-hard guy,” one scout said. “He’s not special per se but whatever they need him to do he can do.”
Back in 1986, coach Forrest Gregg explained his decisions on the same day that he whacked Dickey and Coffman.
“We just feel the best thing for this football team is to make a clean sweep,” said Gregg. “If it does not work out, then you will be able to point the finger here and say, ‘You made a mistake.’ The finger is always pointed at this guy.”
The Packers finished 4-12 and, after a 5-9-1 campaign in ’87, Gregg beat the reaper and took a job at Southern Methodist.
WR – Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis, Trevor Davis, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis.
TE – Jared Cook, Richard Rodgers, Justin Perillo.
T – David Bakhtiari, Bryan Bulaga, Jason Spriggs, Kyle Murphy.
G – T.J. Lang, Lane Taylor.
C – JC Tretter, Don Barclay.
QB – Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan.
FB – Aaron Ripkowski.
RB – Eddie Lacy, James Starks, Brandon Burks.
DE – Mike Daniels, Dean Lowry, Christian Ringo.
NT – Letroy Guion, Kenny Clark.
ILB – Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan, Joe Thomas.
OLB – Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Julius Peppers, Datone Jones, Jayrone Elliott, Kyler Fackrell.
CB – Sam Shields, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, LaDarius Gunter, Josh Hawkins, Makinton Dorleant.
S – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde, Chris Banjo, Kentrell Brice, Marwin Evans.
K – Mason Crosby.
P – Jacob Schum.
LS – None.
RESERVE/PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM (1)
C Corey Linsley.
TE Kennard Backman, C Jacob Flores, C-G Kyle Steuck, RB John Crockett, NT Tyler Kuder.
DE-NT Mike Pennel, CB Demetri Goodson.