Packers Sign New Specialist to Challenge Current Starter

Joe Fortunato Signing

Getty Head coach Matt LaFleur of the Green Bay Packers walks onto the field prior to the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on January 19, 2020 in Santa Clara, California.

Another Green Bay Packers specialist will have some competition throughout the 2021 offseason.

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst announced Wednesday the signing of free-agent long snapper Joe Fortunato, who will have an opportunity to challenge returning starter Hunter Bradley for his job throughout the offseason and training camp. Fortunato is the first outside free agent the Packers have signed in 2021 free agency.

The 26-year-old Fortunato originally signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent coming out of Delaware in 2017 and spent a portion of 2020 with the Dallas Cowboys, but he has never played an NFL snap. The Packers had hosted Fortunato for a tryout last October when they were working out players on a weekly basis (in case an emergency signing was needed for COVID-19 reasons).

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Fortunato Should Push Bradley in Camp

The Packers got an ugly third season out of Bradley in 2020 with a stream of snapping mistakes that inspired little confidence for the future. One of his worst errors occurred during the NFC divisional round against the Los Angeles Rams when his horribly inaccurate snap led to a missed extra point — and got veteran kicker Mason Crosby tackled and banged up.

The procedural mistakes aren’t entirely new for Bradley, but his overall cap number is only going up with three full seasons under his belt. Fortunato gives the Packers the opportunity to see how Bradley responds to a challenge and, if he underachieves, a possible replacement long snapper for the 2021 season.

At the very least, a good camp performance from Fortunato could buy him some good favor as a practice-squad candidate (or an emergency replacement if a COVID-related issue strikes throughout the year).

Packers Challenging All Specialists in 2021

With Fortunato signed, the Packers now have two kickers, punters and long snappers in place for the 2021 offseason. They also added kicker JJ Molson and punter Ryan Winslow to their 90-man offseason rosters in late January right before they officially promoted Maurice Drayton to special teams coordinator.

Drayton should have a solid understanding of what makes the Packers’ returning specialists tick as an in-house hire who has spent the past several seasons with the team. He has been a Green Bay assistant since before Bradley or punter JK Scott were drafted in 2018, but he also knows the special-teams unit has been underachieving.

“They both know that they have to be more consistent in the things that we need them to do to be successful,” Drayton said earlier in March during his first media availability. “They have a prescription that we’ve written for them to work on. They also have their own personal, what I cal, kick doctors or specialist doctors that they’re working with who I’ve fostered a relationship with. They’re getting better, and they will be better, and they understand that their backs are against the wall.”

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