The Green Bay Packers have a couple of new openings on their practice squad after one player was promoted and another was poached on Tuesday.
The Packers signed third-year wide receiver Juwann Winfree to their 53-man roster on December 14 as they continue to grapple with injuries to their receiving corps. Winfree had already spent three games on the active roster as a temporary game-day elevation, but the move now makes him a full-time member of their receiving rotation.
Mike McCartney, Winfree’s agent, broke the news of his client’s promotion on Twitter. The Packers formally announced the move later Tuesday evening.
The Packers also had outside linebacker/defensive end Nate Orchard swiped from their practice squad on Tuesday. They had added the former Cleveland Browns second-round pick on Thanksgiving to bolster pass-rushing depth, but the Washington Football Team was able to sign him away because Orchard was not a protected member of the Packers’ practice squad and they offered him a spot on their 53-man roster.
Orchard — who was the No. 51 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft — is already familiar with Washington after spending portions of the past two seasons in their ranks. Now, instead of being injury insurance biding his time on the Packers’ practice squad, he will have a chance to help Washington out amid a COVID-19 outbreak.
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Winfree May Have Landed Golden Opportunity
The Packers’ decision to promote Winfree seemed inevitable given how badly injuries have impacted the back half of their depth chart over the past several weeks.
Randall Cobb is currently on injured reserve with a core-muscle injury that may leave him sidelined for the remainder of the 2021 season. Equanimeous St. Brown (concussion) and Malik Taylor (abdomen) are also both dealing with injuries that kept them from finishing Week 14’s win over the Chicago Bears. Without all three of them, the Packers would have had just four healthy receivers in their rotation, including an unproven rookie in Amari Rodgers with just five targets over 13 games.
Now that Winfree is on the active roster, though, there may be a golden opportunity for the 25-year-old receiver to finally factor into the equation for the Packers.
Winfree, a 2019 sixth-round pick for the Denver Broncos, generated a modest amount of hype during offseason workouts earlier this year, getting extended looks on the practice field while the Packers’ starting wide receivers were all absent. If not for a shoulder injury keeping him out of all three preseason games, he might have also had a chance at pushing Taylor for his spot as the sixth receiver on the initial 53.
While Winfree ended up settling for a practice-squad role, the Packers elevated him to the active roster three times in their first 11 games, twice as a COVID-19 replacement. His biggest performance came in Week 8 against the Arizona Cardinals when he caught the first four passes of his career for 30 yards while Adams, MVS, Lazard and Taylor were all missing from the lineup. He did have an uncostly fumble, but he also nearly snagged his first NFL touchdown on a slightly inaccurate throw from Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers Holds Returner Edge Over Winfree
Amari Rodgers’ lack of involvement in the Packers’ receiving game wasn’t too surprising early on in his rookie season. He was a new player learning his first NFL system and was mostly charged with being a second-string slot receiver behind Cobb on offense. Unfortunately, Rodgers hasn’t been able to seize a bigger slice of the production pie throughout the barrage of injuries the Packers have endured throughout 2021.
Rodgers has gone completely untargeted in 10 of the 13 games he has played this season. His first reception was 19-yard grab in the season opener against New Orleans after Jordan Love had taken over at quarterback in the fourth quarter. Otherwise, he caught one pass for 14 yards in the first matchup with Chicago and added another in the game against Arizona where Winfree was more involved.
In that specific matchup against the Cardinals, there was no comparison between Rodgers and Winfree. Winfree was clearly the greater priority in the passing game, catching four of his six targets while Rodgers hauled in just one of the three balls thrown his way. Rodgers’ versatility, however, could be something that gives him an edge over Winfree when it comes to divvying up the playing time.
Despite some issues, Rodgers is still the Packers’ primary punt returner and has size (5-foot-9, 212 pounds) and speed to work effectively as a rushing option on jet sweeps. The Packers have also made a third-round investment in Rodgers and might be more inclined to give him a greater share of the receiving reps — even if it means finding out some things they don’t like about his long-term future for their team.