A Player's Last Chance

The Packers are pulling onto their team players who have talent but also have off-the-field histories. Players like Grady Jackson (pictured) and T.J. Slaughter have pasts which might be cause for concern. Packer Report editor Todd Korth offers details and his own thoughts on the Packers' recent player acquisitions...

During the off-season, especially around the time of the NFL draft, Packers coach and general manager Mike Sherman will often speak on how he tries to shape the character of his team for the upcoming season. One of the reasons the Packers selected linebacker Nick Barnett last year was because of his high character on and off the field. As it turns out, Sherman was right on the money.

In fact, the majority of players on the Packers and most National Football League teams have high character. They understand the opportunity in front of them and make the most of it. But there are always a few bad apples. Sometimes a team is forced to deal with them because of a contract situation, like Randy Moss. Sometimes the cancers get placed on the waiver wire quickly.

As a season progresses and injuries set in, character becomes a little less important than winning football games. Because of injuries and ineffective play, it seems like Sherman has looked the other way on character in recent weeks by signing linebacker T.J. Slaughter and defensive tackle Grady Jackson. In a way, the Packers are in a win-win situation with these players and a few other players on the team with checkered pasts, like Antonio Freeman.

The Packers are straddling a fine line here but willing to do so in an effort to improve depth and win games.

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Todd Korth

Slaughter was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars a day after he was arrested for pointing a gun at two men in a passing car while he was driving on Oct. 27. Slaughter and his attorney reached a plea bargain agreement with state prosecutors to surrender his gun and make a $500 charitable donation in exchange for dropping the charges.

The men said they pulled alongside Slaughter to admire the tire rims on his car. Slaughter told police he carried a gun in the center console of his vehicle, but that he never pointed it at anyone, according to reports.

"I didn't lose my head. I didn't do nothing," Slaughter insists. "I got cleared of all charges. I didn't lose my head."

The Packers did a thorough check on Slaughter's situation and were satisfied with the results. Sherman called other coaches, even former linebacker Hardy Nickerson, and got a thumbs up on the player. A few days prior to the Packers Nov. 10 game against Philadelphia, the Packers completed a deal with Slaughter, then announced it on Nov. 11.

The Packers signed Jackson, a defensive tackle, Nov. 4 after he was placed on waivers by the New Orleans Saints. The Saints were unhappy with his conditioning, attitude, and performance on the field, so they released him.

The Packers have nothing to lose with each player. Both have talent to be as good as they want to be, but apparently tripped over their own character with their former teams. If they trip again in Green Bay, Sherman will kick them out the door with virtually no monetary loss.

"We explain to them pretty quickly how we do things," Sherman said. "‘If you want to stay here, this is how you have to do it. If you don't do it this way, you won't be here.' They understand when they come in what the challenge is. Obviously, they want to hang onto a job so it's important to them, so you have a leg up on them. I'm not compromising anything. I believe in our team. I believe our team can handle and absorb players, and get them going in the right direction with our football team."

Both Jackson, whom the Packers pursued heavily during the off-season of 2002, and Slaughter will be up for new contracts after this season. So, both are basically receiving extended auditions for next season. In the meantime, the Packers are hoping Jackson can improve the team's interior pass rush. Slaughter was signed to provide better blocking and tackling on special teams, and depth at the middle and weakside linebacker positions.

"That 53rd (roster) spot, you always want to bring people in and take a look at them," Sherman said. "We've found some guys that way. Here's a chance to look at a guy and see if he can impact us in some way. I've heard a lot of good reports about him as a player and what he can bring to your team. He's a physical player and you can't have enough guys like that."

Credit Sherman with making the moves, as desperate as it appears. Maybe Jackson and Slaughter will make the most of their second chances. Maybe they won't. Signing players with questionable character is nothing new. It can pay off. Freeman has been a model player on and off the field since the Packers re-signed him in September, and he has contributed. Terry Glenn, cast off from the Patriots, helped the Packers last year. Gilbert Brown got a second chance to revive his career in 1993 and is still a Packer. Andre Rison is a classic example of helping a team in a pinch despite character flaws.

The Packers, like other teams, will do what they need to do to get through the season. When it is over, they will re-assess each player, weed out the bad apples and start over. All in an effort to win football games.

Todd Korth is managing editor of Packer Report. Comments or story ideas are welcomed. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.


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