Before playing their first game of the 2020 playoffs, the Green Bay Packers are investing in some young pieces for next year’s initial roster.
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst announced Friday the signing of three rookies — defensive back Innis Gaines, linebacker Ray Wilborn and wide receiver Chris Blair — to reserve/future contracts for the 2021 offseason.
While none of the new additions will be able to participate in the upcoming playoff run, all three players will join the Packers’ first 90-man roster of the new league year. They now have 44 players committed toward that total for the 2021 offseason, excluding however many free agents and draft picks they ultimately end up signing.
According to salary-cap specialist Ken Ingalls, the signings will take up $1.98 million of the Packers’ 2021 cap space.
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Gaines Comes With Unique Skill Package
There are interesting things about all three of the Packers’ futures signings, whether it be the small-school wide receiver (Blair) who averaged more than 21 yards per catch or the linebacker-safety hybrid (Wilborn) with abilities not unlike current Packers safety Raven Greene. Gaines, however, might have the most practical application for the Packers in 2021.
At 6-foot-1, 202 pounds, Gaines has the build and skill set to fulfill a variety of roles in the secondary, including outside cornerback, nickel cornerback, strong safety and deep safety. He played the latter two spots during his four seasons at TCU and recorded 104 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, four sacks, three interceptions, 13 pass-breakups and three forced fumbles, but the pre-draft consensus on Gaines seemed to better project him as an NFL corner.
Here’s what Gaines’ position coach, Paul Gonzales, told SB Nation about him coming into the 2020 NFL draft:
“A couple teams have asked about him at corner. They like the length and the ball skills that he has. He’s very athletic and has a great skill set. And he’s got a high football IQ. He’s very instrinctive, he has a knack for making plays and those things come out when you talk to him.”
Packers Likely to Retain Some of Practice Squad
The Packers are big believers in developing under-the-radar talent and, thus, are likely going to be bringing a good portion of their 2020 practice squad with them into the new year, but will the anticipated reduction of the league’s 2021 salary cap press them to re-sign the entire unit?
Two days after their NFC championship loss last January, the Packers re-signed 10 players from their practice squad, including backup outside linebacker Randy Ramsey (played 12 games in 2020) and wide receiver Malik Taylor (caught five of six targets for 66 yards and a touchdown). The group also included cornerback Kabion Ento, who impressed enough for a roster spot in training camp last summer but has spent the entire 2020 season on injured reserve.
A few names jump out from the Packers’ current practice-squad list, starting with cornerback Stanford Samuels. The undrafted rookie flashed promise before summer roster cuts were made and has earned a few game-day elevations to the active roster. With the future of both Kevin King and Josh Jackson in question, another year of Samuels seems worthwhile.
Dexter Williams, a 2019 sixth-round running back, is also worth monitoring for re-signing. He was trusted to step up against San Francisco in Week 9, but an injury cut his opportunity short. Much like cornerback, the Packers’ running back spot could be looking thin in 2021 with Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and Tyler Ervin all due to hit free agency.