Packers Add Former Raiders WR & Backup CB to 2022 Roster

Kiondre Thomas Packers

Getty Defensive back Kiondre Thomas #3 of the Kansas State Wildcats brakes up a pass intended for wide receiver Ezra Naylor II #11 of the Kansas Jayhawks, during the second half at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium on October 24, 2020 in Manhattan, Kansas.

The Green Bay Packers have officially added their first new faces for 2022.

According to Bill Huber of Sports Illustrated, the Packers signed former Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Rico Gafford to a reserve/future contract on Tuesday night, adding the 25-year-old wideout to a position group that is set to have the majority of its personnel become free agents when the new league year begins on March 16.

The Packers also signed former Los Angeles Chargers backup cornerback Kiondre Thomas to a futures deal on January 26, which Thomas’ agent — Paul Sheehy of Pro Star Sports — announced on Wednesday morning. Both Gafford and Thomas had roster workouts with the team on Tuesday, per the NFL’s transaction wire.

Gafford and Thomas are the first true outside signings the Packers have made since their season ended with a divisional-round loss to the San Francisco 49ers on January 22. The Packers have also inked futures contracts with 10 free agents who spent time on their practice squad last season, including quarterback Kurt Benkert and placekicker JJ Molson.

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Thomas Limited to Special Teams in L.A.

Thomas, a 6-foot, 186-pound outside cornerback, played his first three collegiate seasons at Minnesota, notching 75 total tackles over 25 games and recording seven pass deflections and an interception in his final two years with the Gophers. He then transferred to Kansas State for his final year of eligibility and added another 25 tackles and four pass deflections over just six games.

Unfortunately, Thomas didn’t draw much attention coming into the 2021 NFL draft and went unselected, eventually signing as a UDFA with the Cleveland Browns. He competed for a backup corner spot throughout training camp, but things went downhill after he suffered a hamstring injury in the Browns’ preseason opener against Jacksonville. While the Browns initially placed him on injured reserve, he was waived a week later with an injury settlement that allowed him to move on to another team.

Once final roster cuts passed on August 31, Thomas found a new home in L.A. and spent the entire 2021 season on the Chargers’ practice squad, earning elevation opportunities on four occasions. While his promotion was rooted in the Chargers’ need for cornerback depth, he ended up playing exclusively on special teams, logging 28 total snaps in his four games and tallying one assisted tackle.

The Packers will most likely want to see if Thomas can offer more than special teams reps as they craft their 2022 roster over the next seven months, but it is possible he could impress as a weapon in the third phase given how the Packers struggled on special teams this season. First, though, the Packers will need to make a decision on first-year special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton — who many are expected to be dismissed after a bad season for his unit and a horrible finish against the 49ers.

Packers Ink Rookie DL to Futures Deal

While the Packers have turned their attention to outside free agents available for futures signings, they evidently haven’t stopped evaluating some of their own former players for a role on their 2022 roster.

According to a report from Huber on Wednesday night, the Packers are retaining undrafted rookie defensive lineman Jack Heflin on a reserve/futures contract for the 2022 season. Heflin was the only undrafted rookie to make the Packers’ 53-man roster coming out of training camp and appeared in four games, playing on 17 defensive snaps and another 13 special teams snaps. He was released, however, along with cornerback Isaac Yiadom just before the Packers’ first playoff game to create room on the roster for Za’Darius Smith and Whitney Mercilus.

Heflin could face an uphill battle to make next year’s roster given his minimal playing time in 2021, but it works to his advantage that the Packers’ coaching staff has spent a year developing him. Green Bay will also have some holes to fill on their defensive line with Kingsley Keke recently released and Dean Lowry facing the possibility of becoming a cap casualty in 2022. Kenny Clark and fifth-round rookie Tedarrell “TJ” Slaton are the only other defensive linemen locked in for next year, as Tyler Lancaster is due to hit unrestricted free agency in March.

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