Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers History: Finding Treasure on Cutdown Day

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As the Green Bay Packers cut-down day nears (it’s Sept. 5 this year), they will be figuring out which players to keep on their 53-man roster and which to try and get onto the practice squads. With the number of players moving to and from different rosters, this time is also an ideal one for NFL teams to swing trades.

After all, if a general manager is able to get compensation for a player they would have otherwise released, then a swap makes sense. Similarly, if injuries or underperformance leaves a team’s depth thin at a certain position, a GM can make a trade for a player they like without having to hope no other team puts in a waiver claim or get into a bidding war with other squads for a higher-priced veteran.

Many times, the players or picks involved in these trades may not pan out. However, in some instances, a team can hit it big with a diamond in the rough.

Here are some notable end of training camp trades in Green Bay Packers history.

1958: Training Camp Trade Leads to Hall of Famer

In one of the leanest decades in team history, defensive lineman John Martinkovic was one of the team’s few bright spots. In six seasons, the Hamilton, Ohio, native didn’t miss a game and was named to three-straight Pro Bowls from 1953-55. So it came as somewhat of a surprise when Lisle Blackbourn traded Martinkovic to the New York Giants for a third-round draft choice.

While Martinkovic played one season in New York before retiring, the Packers made the most of that draft pick, selecting Ray Nitschke from Illinois. Of course, Nitschke would go on to a Hall of Fame career that needs little explanation.

1959: Lombardi Fleeces Paul Brown

Having reworked a good chunk of the roster in his first offseason, Vince Lombardi wasn’t done turning over the roster when training camp was wrapping up in 1959. On Sept. 15, 1959, the Green Bay Packers acquired little-used defensive tackle Henry Jordan from the Browns for a fourth-round draft pick.

While he had minimal opportunities in Cleveland due to Paul Brown’s preference for large linemen, Jordan flourished in Green Bay. In 11 seasons, the Virginia alum was a five-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler as a key cog in the Packers’ 4-3 defense. Jordan was also one of the NFL’s first penetrating defensive tackles, as his explosiveness off the line endeared him to a disruptive role rather than the typical gap-control role most defensive tackles played at that time.

Jordan, who passed unexpectedly in 1977 at age 42, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995.

1997: Green Bay Packers Get TE Tyrone Davis from the Jets

With Keith Jackson retiring following Super Bowl XXXI, the Green Bay Packers’ depth at tight end was relatively thin heading into the 1997 season. Mark Chmura had emerged as a favorite target of Brett Favre’s in the previous two seasons, but only journeyman Jeff Thomason provided any NFL experience behind the Pro Bowler.

GM Ron Wolf reached out to long-time friend Bill Parcells, who had taken over as head coach and GM of the New York Jets in the offseason. While his offense utilized tight ends quite frequently (think Mark Bavaro and Ben Coates), Parcells’ Jets had plenty of depth at the position with Kyle Brady, Fred Baxter, and Tyrone Davis all with multiple years of NFL experience.

So, Wolf swung a deal with Parcells to acquire Davis for “past considerations.” Davis didn’t contribute much on offense that first season (2 catches, 28 yards, 1 TD). However, the former Virginia Cavalier emerged as an additional receiving threat for Favre in the ensuing seasons, putting up 631 yards and 11 touchdowns on 57 receptions from 1998-2000. Davis played in Green Bay through 2002 before becoming a training camp casualty in 2003.

1998: Small Trade Drives Big Future

With the loss of Desmond Howard to free agency, the Packers’ return game struggled through the 1997 season. Not only did the team drop from first to 18th in the league in punt returns, but the Packers cycled through multiple kick returners (five had at least four returns) through the year.

To fix the issue, Green Bay sent a seventh-round draft pick to Detroit for return specialist Glyn Milburn days after the NFL Draft. Once in training camp, though, fellow return specialist Roell Preston outshone Milburn. Now expendable, Milburn was shipped off to another NFC Central rival, as the Packers sent him to Chicago for a seventh-round pick.

While Milburn excelled in Chicago (three return TDs in 1998 and first-team all-pro honors in 1999), the seventh-round pick arguably netted something greater for the Packers. The pick – the 213th overall in the ’99 draft – was used to select Alcorn State wide receiver Donald Driver. Of course, Driver went on to play 14 seasons in Green Bay and eventually set franchise records for career receptions and receiving yards.

2000: Two Weeks, Two Trades, Two Big Contributors

Just months prior to his retirement, Wolf pulled off two more trades that paid big dividends in the future.

The first came midway through training camp, when the Green Bay Packers sent a fourth-round draft pick to Denver for reserve linebacker Nate Wayne. For Green Bay, the departure of George Koonce and nagging injures to Brian Williams left them woefully thin at linebacker, with Bernardo Harris and K.D. Williams the lone individuals with extensive NFL experience. Just 11 days later, Wolf shipped off a fifth-rounder to Philadelphia for returner Allen Rossum, looking to stop the revolving door of returners that made up the 1999 season.

With Wayne, the Packers got plenty of immediate returns. The Mississippi alum led the team with 105 tackles for the 2000 season, while also chipping in seven tackles for loss, two sacks and a fumble recovery. Wayne continued to be a tackling machine in the next two seasons (197 combined), while also recording six interceptions, eight sacks and four fumble recoveries before departing in free agency for Philadelphia in 2003.

Meanwhile, Rossum provided an instant spark to the Green Bay Packers’ return game, as the team’s rankings in punt and kickoff returns improved from 28th and 29th, respectively, in 1999 to 20th and third in 2000. Additionally, Rossum had five games with a 27-yard or greater kick return average, plus an additional three contests with punt return averages of 11 yards or greater. While injuries slowed him in 2001, his 55-yard punt return with three minutes left gave the Packers a 21-20 midseason win against Tampa Bay.

2007: Green Bay Packers Get Grant for a Sixth

With Ahman Green signing a lucrative deal with Houston in the offseason, the Green Bay Packers’ running back situation entering the 2007 season was less than ideal. Other than third-year veteran Vernand Morency, the backfield consisted of three rookies (Brandon Jackson, DeShawn Wynn, and fullback Korey Hall), plus a second-year player in John Kuhn with just nine games of NFL experience.

Thus, on roster cutdown day, Green Bay found a team with the exact opposite problem: the New York Giants. With New York having Brandon Jacobs cemented as the starter and Reuben Droughns, Derrick Ward and promising rookie Ahmad Bradshaw providing depth, the Packers procured undrafted rookie Ryan Grant from the Giants for a sixth-round pick.

Grant played sparingly over the season’s first six weeks. However, the Notre Dame alum broke out after the bye week. In the Packers’ 19-13 overtime win over the Broncos, Grant piled up 104 rush yards on 22 carries, then eclipsed the century mark four more times to close out the regular season. In the divisional playoff contest against Seattle, Grant shook off two early fumbles to set franchise postseason records for rushing yards (201) and rushing TDs (3) in a 42-20 rout of the Seahawks.

Grant continued to produce in the following seasons, surpassing 1,200 rush yards in both 2008 and 2009. Yet, a season-ending ankle injury in the 2010 season opener at Philadelphia combined with the emergence of James Starks slowed his career.

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