Thompson Provides Peek at Gut-Wrenching Time

No matter how often he's part of the process, selecting the final roster remains a "gut-wrenching" process for Ted Thompson. On Tuesday, the general manager provided an inside look at what's to come between the end of Thursday's game and the final cut to 53.

Ted Thompson has been a part of scores of cutdown days during his career as a player, scout and general manager.

They haven't gotten any easier.

"It's awful," Thompson said on Tuesday. "I've talked about this in the past. Sometimes, often times, most of the time I get physically sick, like I get this huge cold or something."

"It's not you guys' fault, but sometimes from the public standpoint, I think it's a little too much fantasy football," he continued. "This is a hard thing to do, to come in and compete against grown men and make a roster in the NFL. Sometimes, the almost flippant way of reporting that ‘so-and-so got axed' or something like that, I think that's a little harsh. Maybe I'm a little bit sensitive to it because once upon a time I ‘got axed.' But, yeah, it's hard. Sometimes you're saying goodbye to old friends and they've been here for a number of years. Sometimes you're saying goodbye to young 21- and 22-year-old young men that did everything asked. It's a hard time."

The Packers reduced their roster to 75 players on Tuesday and have to be to the regular-season limit of 53 by Saturday evening. Thompson, who almost never says anything of substance about an individual player, provided a revealing glimpse into what's to come.

It starts immediately after Thursday's game, with evaluations from the game and several meetings with the coaches and scouting department. Like during the draft process, the team has a board with its projected 53-man roster, which is updated throughout training camp.

"It moves constantly," Thompson said. "Everything has an effect on everything else. If somebody surprises you and plays better than you thought, then all of a sudden that changes the equation a little bit. You keep evolving and keep changing and work it out. It generally works itself out."

As with every general manager, Thompson knows the strengths and weaknesses of his team and the strengths and weaknesses of the other 31 teams. That leads to a steady stream of trade talk. Thompson likened most of them to "fishing expeditions" that go nowhere.

"It's a zoo out there," he said.

On a rare occasion, however, those talks are fruitful. In 2009, they acquired safety Derrick Martin from the Ravens for tackle Tony Moll. In 2007, they landed Ryan Grant from the Giants for a sixth-round pick.

"A lot of these right this second are what-ifs depending on how the next game goes and that sort of thing," Thompson said.

After the fishing poles are put away and the games of phone tag come to an end, Thompson's challenge is juggling the different opinions from within his building and deciding who stays and who goes. McCarthy and the coaches are measuring their players against their players. The scouting staff is measuring their players against players around the league who might become available.

Talent — both proven production and long-term potential — are taken into account, as are depth at a position and a player's special-teams value, medical history, age, salary and locker room presence.

"It's a cumulative effort on the part of Mike and his guys and then the personnel side of it," Thompson said. "It's an interesting time. We work it through. Sometimes, there are disagreements but it winds up working itself out. As long as we stay centered and focused on trying to do the right thing by the Packers, we usually make the right decision. You don't always know what the thing to do is. I would like to stand up here and say, ‘I'm all-knowing and I know exactly what to do all the time,' and it's just not. It's gut-wrenching and you're anxious to do the right thing and you have responsibility for the rest of those players in that locker room to make the right decisions. We don't do any of this lightly."

By Saturday's 5 p.m. deadline, the Packers must be to 53 players. That means for 22 players, the news will be crushing.

"It's so hard to say goodbye," Thompson said, adding after a pause, "And this is not fantasy football."

For some of the players the Packers wind up releasing, they'll be told to hang tight. If they're not claimed by another club, the Packers would like to bring them back to the eight-man practice squad. That signing process begins at 11 a.m. on Sunday.

"It's a combination of a lot of things," Thompson said of putting together the practice squad. "First and foremost, we try to decide things based on who we think the best players are. There are some considerations for numbers in terms of what you need to practice efficiently and that sort of thing. All of our practice squad guys are told at the beginning and told continuously throughout the season their job is to get ready to play, to help us win games. Over the course of the last several years, maybe three-quarters of them will wind up on the varsity. They have to try to get ready to play."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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