Silverstein: Why the Packers moved on from safety Jermaine Whitehead

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
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GREEN BAY - On the surface, it might appear that the Green Bay Packers’ decision Tuesday to cut safety Jermaine Whitehead was meant to send a message to his former teammates that selfish, unnecessary mistakes won’t be tolerated the rest of this season.

And there’s no doubt that getting ejected for taking a swing at New England Patriots center David Andrews on Sunday night played a role in the second-year pro getting his walking papers.

Green Bay Packers safety Jermaine Whitehead (35) stiff arms Cleveland Browns defensive back Darrius Hillary (28) for a first down on the Packers' opening-drive fake punt Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, in Cleveland.

But the Packers are in desperation mode after falling to 3-4-1 and general manager Brian Gutekunst is not messing around when it comes to marginal talent with diminishing value to the team. Needing someone with true safety ability and better size, the Packers deemed Whitehead expendable.

In addition to cutting Whitehead, Gutekunst placed wide receiver Geronimo Allison – who had surgery Tuesday to repair a core muscle injury, according to a source – on injured reserve and signed practice squad cornerback Will Redmond to the 53-man roster.

He also signed outside linebacker Brady Sheldon to the practice squad.

Another move Gutekunst is expected to make is practicing receiver/returner Trevor Davis on Wednesday, thereby starting the process of returning him to the 53-man roster from injured reserve. The earliest Davis could return to action would be the Seattle game Nov. 15, but he became eligible to practice last week.

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Should the Packers finalize that decision Wednesday, they have two weeks to decide whether to return him to the 53 or leave him on injured reserve. Each team can return two players from injured reserve, but no player can return before sitting out at least eight games.

Wide receiver Jake Kumerow is eligible to return to action this week, but Gutekunst may want to reserve the second spot to see if Allison might be ready to return for the playoffs. The Packers need Davis more than Kumerow because of his return ability, which has been sorely missed the first half of the season.

Since the Packers lost to the Los Angeles Rams Oct. 28, Gutekunst has jettisoned three players: safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, running back Ty Montgomery and Whitehead.

Trading safety Clinton-Dix to Washington last week was more about getting value for a player who wasn’t playing that well and wasn’t going to be around next season than it was improving the roster.

But trading Montgomery to Baltimore last week and releasing Whitehead were more about replacing players who were no longer needed on the field and were not an asset in the locker room. It was about making room for younger players with higher upsides.

Montgomery sealed his fate when he returned a kickoff he was told not to field and then failed to accept full blame for costing the Packers a shot at a game-winning drive in the final 2 minutes. The focus should have been on Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams at the running back position a long time ago.

Whitehead sealed his when he got thrown out of the game with just over 3 minutes left in the first half at Gillette Stadium, putting defensive coordinator Mike Pettine in a bind because cornerback Kevin King (hamstring) and safety Kentrell Brice (knee) were unable to finish due to injury.

A source said Whitehead’s blunder wasn’t the sole reason he was let go, but undoubtedly it hastened the decision. Had it been done just to send a message, then Gutekunst would have also cut tight end Robert Tonyan, who committed an equally egregious roughing-the-punter penalty.

With Brice a question mark this week, Gutekunst claimed on waivers safety Ibraheim Campbell, who was cut by the New York Jets last week. The 5-11, 207-pound Campbell played for Pettine when he was head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 2015 and should have no problem fitting in right away.

According to a personnel director with another NFL team, Campbell is more of a traditional safety than the 5-11, 195-pound Whitehead, who was used more in man-to-man coverage and rarely lined up deep. If Brice can play, Campbell could start alongside him, thereby allowing Tramon Williams to return to cornerback.

King is not expected to play this week, so it may be necessary to move Williams back to corner. If Brice can’t play or Pettine decides to stick with Williams at safety, either Bashaud Breeland or Josh Jackson would start at corner opposite Jaire Alexander.

Whitehead was one of the smartest players on defense and was able to play in multiple positions, including inside linebacker in the nickel and slot corner in the dime. He was playing 41 percent of the snaps in games in which he appeared before playing a much bigger role (75 of 78 snaps) against the Rams.

However, he gave up a 32-yard completion to Rams running back Todd Gurley and was partially responsible for receiver Josh Reynolds’ 19-yard touchdown catch. For the season, he had not missed a lot of tackles nor given up any long passes and had 16 tackles with one sack and two pass break-ups.

Releasing Whitehead should open the door for the team's last two second-round picks,  safety Josh Jones and cornerback Josh Jackson, to play more, particularly in the nickel linebacker position. The 6-2, 220-pound Jones isn’t as assignment-sure as Whitehead but he’s faster, bigger and more physical, and Jackson is better in coverage.

Jones played 51 snaps against the Patriots and had six tackles, while Jackson saw action in middle in the nickel for the first time.

The addition of the 5-foot-11, 186-pound Redmond gives the Packers another speed burner at cornerback to join Alexander and Tony Brown. Redmond was estimated to have a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash coming out of Mississippi State in 2016 and was drafted with the fifth pick of the third round by the San Francisco 49ers.

He spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve with a knee injury and missed the first eight games of 2017 with an ankle injury. The 49ers released him in October of 2017 and he spent the rest of the year on Kansas City’s practice squad.

The Chiefs released him after training camp and the Packers signed him to their practice squad Sept. 11.

The 6-5, 231-pound Sheldon, a first-year player out of Ferris State, was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Oakland Raiders in 2017. He ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash and had a 37-inch vertical leap at a pro day workout and was used more as a cover linebacker in college.

He spent the first eight weeks of this season on the Browns’ practice squad.

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