The Green Bay Packers have taken the first steps toward getting their rosters ready for the NFC divisional round of the playoffs.
On Monday, January 10, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst released backup offensive lineman Ben Braden from the 53-man roster and restored veteran wide receiver David Moore to the practice squad from the practice squad’s reserve/COVID-19 list. He also waived second-year wideout Chris Blair from the practice squad.
Braden had been on the Packers’ active roster since November 23 when they signed him up from the practice squad after placing Elgton Jenkins on injured reserve. Over the past few weeks, the 27-year-old has been fulfilling a key role as the primary backup at both guard and tackle for the team with David Bakhtiari, Josh Myers, Billy Turner and Jenkins all unavailable. With Bakhtiari and Myers both returning in Week 18, though, the need for Braden to take up a 53-man roster spot has essentially disappeared.
The Packers have completely emptied their COVID-19 reserve list after Monday’s activation of Moore. They also activated starting right tackle Billy Turner to start the week; although, he was granted a one-day roster exemption that will expire on Tuesday, January 11, and has not officially returned to the 53-man roster.
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Could Braden Return to Practice Squad?
The Packers releasing Braden isn’t all that surprising considering their offensive line is getting healthy at the perfect time. Regardless of how the starting lineup looks when they take the field for their divisional-round playoff game, the returns of Bakhtiari and Myers mean they have two more high-quality frontmen for their protection crew and plenty of good backup solutions to consider instead of Braden.
Will the Packers consider bringing back Braden for the practice squad, though?
Braden has banked quite a bit of familiarity with the Packers and offensive line coach Adam Stenavich over the past three seasons. After an initial two-month stint with their practice squad in 2019, Braden was brought back for a practice-squad role last October and ended up seeing action in six games before the postseason was over. He was then given the chance to compete for a starting job during this past summer’s training camp.
“I’m actually really excited about Ben to see what’s going to happen with him because I think he gets a whole offseason under his belt, a couple of preseason games, I think he’s gonna really compete for a starting job at guard or tackle,” Stenavich said back in June prior to the team’s mandatory minicamp.
While Braden missed the initial 53-man roster cut and landed back on the practice squad to start 2021, he was elevated three times in the Packers’ first eight games before finally getting signed to an active-roster contract in November. By the end of the regular season, he had been active in nine of 17 game days for the team and played a total of 71 snaps on special teams along with four rotational snaps on offense.
Even if the Packers are reluctant to trust Braden with significant reps on offense, re-signing him to the practice squad would seem like a wise choice given how much time they have put into developing him. And if another injury or COVID-19 issue strikes during the postseason, it could prove valuable having a familiar talent to lend a hand.
Will Moore Take Over as Return Specialist?
The Packers went back to third-round rookie Amari Rodgers on punt returns for their regular-season finale against the Lions, and the results were suspect enough to suggest a re-evaluation is in order before they take the field in the playoffs.
While Rodgers fielded his only punt for a season-best return of 23 yards against the Lions, his inconsistent hands created problems for him as a receiver during his most significant offensive snaps (31) of his rookie campaign. He caught just one of the three passes that Jordan Love threw his way against the Lions with one of them bouncing right off his hands and into the arms of a Detroit defender for an interception.
Rodgers also had a few instances where it looked like he failed to pick up a block for one of his teammates, giving him next-to-no value for an offense that could be needing another receiving weapon after Sunday’s injury to Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Fortunately, Moore has the potential to help out the Packers in both realms. He is an experienced receiver who hauled in 78 receptions for 1,163 and 13 touchdowns over his first four seasons in the league with the Seattle Seahawks. He has also returned 25 punts throughout his career, including three for an average of 11 yards in his debut for the Packers in Week 17 against the Minnesota Vikings.
Maybe Packers special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton will stick with his guy moving forward into the postseason, but he has enough problems to worry about with his unit. Ben Kotwica, a former NFL special teams coordinator, ranked the Packers dead last in his annual, end-of-season ranking of the league’s third-phase units.