Chris Banjo once waited a full year after college to sign his first NFL contract, so honestly what's another three months?
Sure, the wait lasted longer than he may have originally anticipated, but the second-year safety signed back onto the Green Bay Packers' active roster Saturday after the team placed linebacker Jamari Lattimore (ankle) on injured reserve.
Banjo attended two tryout camps as an undrafted free agent in 2012, but didn't actually sign a contract until the Packers brought him in at the start of training camp in 2013. He ended up making the roster and played in all 16 regular-season games.
Lightning didn't strike twice, though. The Packers cut him at the end of this year's camp, but signed him onto their practice squad as one of their two allotted veteran exemptions. That's where he spent his first 15 weeks before Saturday's promotion.
"It's definitely been bittersweet," said Banjo earlier this week. "Obviously as a competitor, you want to be at the highest level you can possibly be at – be able to compete and play every week. But at the same time, to still be able to be so blessed to have the opportunity to be part of something so great.
Coach McCarthy talks about how it takes all 63, and the fact that he acknowledges guys that aren't necessarily in the limelight, that means a lot, just being able to have this opportunity to be part of something so great, it's means a lot."
Although he wasn't active on game days, safeties coach Darren Perry viewed Banjo like he was on the 53-man roster. The pop quizzes he was given were the same as Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Micah Hyde and Sean Richardson.
The paychecks were a little different. After earning $420,000 as a rookie last season, Banjo was making the same $6,300 per week salary as the Packers' other nine practice-squad players.
During road games, the Packers select a practice player of the week to travel with them. Banjo earned the distinction twice.
"I'm still trying to get used to it, to be completely honest," Banjo said when asked about the change in game-day preparation. "It was definitely worse in the beginning, but I'm just trying to get used to just … watching moreso than not playing. I mean, I forgot what it's like to go through a pregame routine – just little stuff that you don't think of. It's weird. But like I said, just to be part of something this special is great."
Lattimore injured his ankle two weeks ago against New England. McCarthy originally said he didn't anticipate it being season-ending, but the presence of four other inside linebackers and Clay Matthews' shift inside made Lattimore expendable.
The 6-foot-2, 228-pound linebacker and special-teams standout will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, but will continue to make his full $1.4 million salary on injured reserve. He had a career-high 38 tackles and an interception in 11 games with five starts.
The Packers remain stacked at safety, but Banjo may have a chance to reclaim his spot on special teams. He was second on the team with 10 special-team tackles during his rookie season.
"I have a lot of respect for Chris Banjo," Packers safeties coach Darren Perry said last week. "He's even-keeled. He doesn't get too high with the highs or too lows with the lows, but still very prideful. He wants to contribute in any way possible and he does that.
"He probably doesn't realize it, but what he's doing on the look teams and giving the offense a look at what it's going to look like on Sundays. Those things are little things people don't notice, but he's helping. He's still contributing although it might not be on Sunday afternoons."
Now, he'll finally get the chance.
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