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GREEN BAY - Within hours of signing a contract with the Green Bay Packers in-season, the clock starts ticking.
Actually, two of them do.
First, there’s the job. A late free-agent signing, or waiver claim, is thrown into the playbook and meeting rooms, trying to make up months of conditioning, practice and study in just days. They’re playing catch up professionally. To a degree, they’re expendable. Mistakes can’t be made. They have to be up to speed – now.
Then there’s another clock: the personal one.
They’ve got two weeks in a team-provided hotel room to find a place to live. Fourteen days seem adequate, but the first clock they live by consumes so much of their attention that second one can quietly quit counting. And once out of the hotel, they’ll need non-team-issued clothing, meals and other essentials.
Quite suddenly, there comes the realization that there just isn’t any toilet paper.
“That’s a part a lot of people don’t get to see in this profession,” Packers linebacker Antonio Morrison said. “They see us playing on Sundays. We’re people, too. We’re people, too.”
Getting into town
Bashaud Breeland’s eyes widened as reporters packed into a half moon around his locker, which still had “Green Bay Packers” across the placard above him. Signed on an off day, the new Packers corner was closed in upon, television camera “sun guns” projecting a soft, yellowish glow on his forehead.
Like Morrison, Darius Jackson, Korey Toomer and Deante Burton before him, Breeland was asked about how he physically arrived in Green Bay. The answer is standard: You get a call and a flight time, so you pack and go.
“It’s just new,” Breeland said. “So I gotta adjust to it and get used to it. You can’t get no more stressed than what I’ve been through all offseason.”
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Whether you’re traded like Morrison, a waiver claim like Burton or a free agent like Tony Brown, Jackson, Toomer and Breeland, there is always the expectation that they’ll be around for a bit. So sufficient toiletries and clothes are packed up. But being prepared to jet off at a moment’s notice doesn’t mean it isn’t stressful, however.
“When you’re a kid, you’re like, 'oh man, I’m going trade him to this team and he looks sweet in those colors.' That’s really what people really think in real life,” Jackson said. “They’re like oh man yeah, go play. They don’t understand your whole life changes. At least temporarily.”
After the contract
For players who sign, they’re put up by the Packers in a nearby hotel to help the transition. The team also provides some information to help them find a place to live, but the players are left to their own devices away from Lambeau Field. Normally that wouldn’t be an issue if they were signed in March, as there is ample time to not only learn the playbook, teammates, coaches and how to get around – but the six players the Packers acquired since Aug. 26 (five since Sept. 3) were jumping right into a game plan.
During game weeks, especially if there is a road trip in there, those days can tick by. Quickly.
“It is pretty much how you think it is – no time to handle your personal stuff,” said Jackson.
He signed Sept. 3 and had until Sept. 18 to move out of the hotel.
“All of a sudden I looked down and I’m like man, the 14th, I gotta find a place to live! That’s what happened. I found a place three days before I moved out.”
Jackson at least had experienced it before, having bounced from Dallas to Cleveland and back to Dallas before the Packers signed him.
For Breeland, who spent his entire career in Washington, his first move coming on Sept. 29 made it all the more challenging.
“It is a tough process coming in in the middle of the year. People aren’t really renting homes during this time. It’s hard. I ended up finding something,” Breeland said. “I had to get my life here. My agent and business manager helped me from a distance, but I’m here by myself so I had to do all the legwork of looking around, going to scout places. It’s not that bad, to be honest.”
Breeland had some issues locating a place that matched his time frame for staying in the city, and short-term rentals can be hard to find. Jackson and Morrison, for example, made the decision on where to live within a few hours in one day.
“It was really difficult, man. It was really difficult,” Morrison said of his transition after being traded for on Aug. 26. “Trying to balance your off the field with the on the field. It’s a tough task.”
The actual moving process from the hotel to their rental property is fairly painless since it’s usually just the bags they packed weeks earlier. But after that, real life has to resume.
“You’re like oh, I’m good, I don’t need anything,” Jackson said. “Then, man, I need toilet paper. Paper towels. I need towels!
“No pots and pans. I was having popcorn and I’m like man, I don’t have a bowl.”
But Jackson kept anything he purchased or had sent to the bare minimum. He learned that lesson the first time he moved and it was a good one – he was released by the Packers on Saturday.
Amazon Prime and leased furniture are a big help. But the trips to Dick’s Sporting Goods for hoodies, Walgreens for mouthwash and Walmart for socks need to be made. The players said the fact Green Bay is a small town has made their transitions easier, but they still had to find out Younkers is closed, where the good dinner spots are and which way to go on a traffic circle so as not to drive away from Lambeau Field on your way to a meeting.
It does get easier, though.
Linebacker Toomer acknowledged this with a sigh. He has moved seven times in his seven-year career, signing in Green Bay on Sept. 3.
“You gotta get comfortable being uncomfortable sometimes,” he said. “You got your team outside of here, mom, dad, wife, they all kind of just throw their pitch in when they get time to talk to you. It’s kind of like five-minute conversations; hey, you need something? What do you need? I’m sending you this here. It’s not bad. If you do it the right way.”
It is a real stressor and one they have to learn to massage out while trying to excel in their job. The hope, of course, is they’ll earn a longer-term contract. In the end, however, it’s up to them to make sure both of those clocks run harmoniously.
“It’s a battle doing it but at the same time, you’re a professional,” Morrison said, a phrase echoed by each of the teammates who have also moved to Green Bay in the last two months.
“You gotta get your job done. That’s the approach you gotta take towards that – whatever it is, get your job done. Whatever it takes to do, makes sure you can get your job done.”