Green Bay Packers cut linebacker Jaylon Smith and move on from long snapper Hunter Bradley

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
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GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers made a low-risk gamble signing veteran Jaylon Smith to a minimum-wage deal Oct. 7, hoping to see if he had anything left and could help strengthen the defense and the locker room culture. 

Four weeks later, the Packers have pulled the plug on the tryout. 

At the same time, the Packers made the decision to part ways with long snapper Hunter Bradley, whose struggles this season have been evident but rarely acknowledged in public by coach Matt LaFleur and special teams coach Maurice Drayton. 

They are replacing Bradley on the 53-man roster with practice squad long snapper Steven Wirtel. 

The Packers announced both moves Tuesday. ESPN reported earlier in the day that Smith had been released and the Athletic was first to report the Bradley-Wirtel transaction. 

Wirtel, who had been signed to the practice squad Sept. 2 and worked out daily in practice with the kicking team, was a logical choice.  

The 6-foot-4, 228-pounder signed with the Detroit Lions in May 2020 as an undrafted free agent. After being released at the end of training camp, he signed to Detroit’s practice squad and spent the year there. 

After the season, he wasn’t re-signed and joined the Los Angeles Rams, where he worked with Packers punter Corey Bojorquez. After Bojorquez was traded to the Packers and Wirtel was released, the Packers signed Wirtel to the practice squad Sept. 2. 

The Packers had concerns about Bradley throughout his three years with the club, and it showed in the way they groomed Wirtel as a possible replacement. For all eight weeks Wirtel was with the team, the Packers used one of their practice-squad protections to prevent him from signing with another team. 

By league rule, teams had to sign Wirtel to their 53-man roster by 3 p.m. Tuesday of that particular week in order to pry him from the Packers. After that, he could not be signed by another team. 

It’s a sign that they liked Wirtel and wanted to keep him as insurance. 

It turned out they did need him. 

Bradley’s snapping was wildly inconsistent, especially on place kicks where Bojorquez, the holder, would often have to spin the ball to get the laces pointing forward. Kicker Mason Crosby missed four kicks against Cincinnati and had a field goal blocked against Washington and some of the misses could be blamed on the snap not getting to the holder with the proper rotation or in the proper place. 

Against Arizona on Thursday night, Bradley, a seventh-round pick in 2018, had three snaps that Bojorquez had to work to get placed down where Crosby likes it. On his final two extra point snaps, one was high and the other was low and inside. On a 21-yard field goal Crosby made, the snap was up near Bojorquez’s right shoulder. 

Bojorquez spoke fondly of Wirtel when he was introduced. 

“Great guy,” he said Sept. 6. “I had a lot of fun working with him. He’s a good snapper, good at protection. When I found out he was coming here, too ... it's pretty cool to have a familiar face coming in with me. So, I’m excited to see what he does.”

Packers linebacker Jaylon Smith (9) misses a tackle on Bears running back Khalil Herbert (24) during their Oct. 17 game.

As for Smith, in the four games in which he was on the 53-man roster, he played in two of them and logged a total of 27 snaps. When he was inactive for the Arizona game, it raised questions about whether the Packers had given up on him. 

The Packers have been doing well with De’Vondre Campbell as their No. 1 inside linebacker and Oren Burks and Krys Barnes sharing the No. 2 spot. Burks is better spreading out in space either to cut off outside runs or drop into coverage and Barnes is better playing between the tackles and defending against inside runs. 

Besides probably feeling secure at the position, the Packers may soon need Smith’s roster spot. 

With his release, they are at 50 players. It’s almost a certainty that wide receiver Davante Adams will be activated off the COVID-19 list this week, and it’s possible that left tackle David Bakhtiari will come off the physically unable to perform list and wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling will be activated from injured reserve. 

If all those things happen, the Packers will be at the roster limit of 53. 

Valdes-Scantling (hamstring) practiced Monday for the first time since the injury and Bakhtiari (knee) has been practicing for the last two weeks. The Packers don’t have to decide on whether to activate them for the Kansas City game until Saturday. 

The Packers are still waiting to find out whether cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith will be able to return this season. Both are on injured reserve.

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Alexander has been rehabbing and while the Packers are pleased with his progress, they won’t know for sure about his status until he is healed. Smith is coming off back surgery and after rehabbing at home rejoined the team this week. However, his return isn’t imminent and he will have to be cleared by the medical staff before he can start practicing again. 

Trade deadline passes quietly

It’s not known how hard general manager Brian Gutekunst pursued anyone leading up to Tuesday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, but as has been the case most years with the Packers, nothing happened before it expired. 

There wasn’t much action around the NFL either as teams mostly stayed pat. 

Gutekunst has been able to add help through free-agent signings, waiver claims and practice-squad poaching. Among those he has brought in are outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, cornerback Rasul Douglas, tight end Tyler Davis and Smith. 

There have been trades, however. 

Gutekunst acquired receiver Randall Cobb from Houston, cornerback Isaac Yiadom from the New York Giants, and maybe the best trade of his career, Bojorquez from the Rams.

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