Packers Transactions: The Graham Harrell Story All Green Bay Packers All the Time

As a staff writer at, I did my own 53 man roster prediction and as I said at the beginning of that article, I am wondering what the hell I was thinking now.

I thought Chastin West and Tori Gurley had too good of a preseason and one of them would make it onto the team as the 6th wide receiver; neither made the team (but both were signed to the practice squad).  I thought Caleb Schlauderaff would make the team based on his draft status and the lack of depth of the interior offensive line; he was traded to the Jets, but not before being informed that he was going to get cut anyways. Finally I thought Graham Harrell would definitely make the team.

With West, Gurley, Schlauderaff, I wasn’t all that surprised that thing hadn’t turned out the way I predicted; but with Harrell it just didn’t make any sense.  Harrell was supposed to be the insurance policy for an Aaron Rodgers concussion and a Matt Flynn trade.  He had a memorable win against the Colts in week 3 of the preseason and had a good enough training camp that many (including myself) assumed he was good enough to be a backup with the majority of teams.

So when Graham Harrell was first cut by the Packers, then cleared waivers and then re-signed to their practice squad, I met each event with a little disbelief.  How could someone who looked so good at football’s toughest position in the preseason not only get cut, but also not even get claimed?  I would look at the San Francisco 49ers depth chart and wonder, how could Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick be so bad during the preseason and still be on the team, but why no love for Graham Harrell?  What had happened?

My only conclusion was that every other fan, the media and myself had got overzealous.  During the Ted Thompson era, we’ve come to expect a ridiculous amount of depth at all positions.  One prime example was that last year 5 players, an inordinate amount, were signed to 53 man rosters after getting cut by the Packers. (ironically this year no players were claimed by other teams after being cut by the Packers)  Fans and the media a like love to tell stories of how unheralded backups up stepped up and helped win Super Bowl XLV.  But really, in the free agency era, it simply isn’t possible to stockpile good players; there simply isn’t enough money.

We wanted Graham Harrell to make it on the team because we would all feel better if he did, we saw his successes during the preseason and immediately saw them translate to the regular season.  But if it wasn’t blatantly apparent already, fans and the media think quite differently from front offices and coaching staffs.

  1. We overrated Graham Harrell: As fans we wanted to know that there was an insurance policy should Rodgers get hurt in 2013 and with only one other quarterback at training camp, all eyes turned to Harrell.  We wanted Harrell to be good because if he wasn’t what would happen next year? Good quarterbacks take a lot of time to develop (see Aaron Rodgers) and if Harrell was no good, what would the team do next year with Flynn presumably leaving?  Teams on the other hand apparently did not feel the same way; whether because of his limited arm strength, the history of Mike Leech quarterbacks or simply because he isn’t that good (yet), no team put a waiver claim on him which is interesting since in essence it means all 32 teams were in agreement that Graham Harrell wasn’t roster worthy.
  2. We overrated Matt Flynn: Flynn was considered hot trade bait for many Packers fans during the offseason, with many hoping as high as a first round pick in exchange for Flynn’s services.  The same fans thought that he had played well enough against the Patriots to warrant such a trade and were hopeful that when that happened Graham Harrell would be ready to step in as the backup quarterback (which of course snowballs into all the hype that Harrell received).  Obviously this didn’t go down and now I have my doubts if any team even put in a realistic offer for Flynn, if at all.  The Packers willingness to bet on Harrell has implications for Flynn’s talent as well, maybe he isn’t as good as we all had thought (certainly not high draft pick sort of good).  My reasoning is that if the Packers had thought that Flynn was 100% gone next year I think they would have had to handle Harrell the way that fans imagined.  My impression now is that the Packers aren’t as high on Flynn as the fans were and don’t see a huge rush for Flynn’s services next offseason.  Obviously if Rodgers goes down and Flynn lights it up in his stead things will change, but the Packers are probably hoping that Flynn doesn’t see the field other than on mop-up duty and then re-signs with the Packers to a team-friendly contract.  Just like what happened to James Jones this year: I thought that Jones was as good as gone as well but when the market turned a cold shoulder, he ended up back with the Packers.  If the market ends up turning a cold shoulder to Flynn as well it makes a lot of sense for him to re-sign with the Packers; for one Rodgers has an injury history and having 4 years of experience in the system is bound to make you a better player (and hopefully more money in the future). 
  3. The new rule change made 3rd string quarterbacks obsolete: The quarterback position is a highly protected position and it’s not unusual to see quarterbacks play ever snap of a season (or at least the vast majority).  Compared to everyone other position save maybe kickers, the quarterback position simply doesn’t need many backups.  Also, the NFL changed the rules slightly this year abolishing the “emergency” 3rd string quarterback rule (i.e. the Caleb Hanie rule) in favor of a 46 man active game day roster.  Teams are given the freedom to use the extra spot however they see fit and as Tyler Dunn mentioned, head coach Mike McCarthy has stated that its unlikely that Harrell would have ever been active, which defeats the purpose of having an extra backup quarterback.  Was the risk of losing Harrell bigger than having to carry him inactive over every game?  Apparently the Packers didn’t think so and other teams seem to be following suit with only two quarterbacks on the roster.  Ironically, this might have been part of the reason why the Packers were willing to bet that no one would claim Harrell since it would force them to keep one inactive player on the roster for the entire season. 
  4. Harrell was not one of the best 53 players: As a west coast quarterback, Harrell is rather limited in his role (paradoxically).  Harrell won’t be covering kickoffs, blocking extra points or blocking for punters.  And when it gets down to 2nd and 3rd string players, the ability to play on special teams is a huge factor and Harrell simply is a non-factor in that regard.  That’s not a knock on him, but the quarterback position as a whole.  Just like a kicker is essentially useless on offense, so is a quarterback on special teams.  The Packers historically have had enough trouble on special teams under Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy and the more players that they can have on the roster who can play on special teams, the better the chances for the special teams unit.

So really, fans were already hyping for Graham Harrell before he even threw a pass this preseason.  The chain of events unfolded basically like this: fans were surprised to see Matt Flynn play as well as he did against the Patriots and the media was quick to echo that sentiment.  From that one game, many people thought that Flynn was the next Matt Cassel and would become a very good starting quarterback.  Obviously Aaron Rodgers isn’t a very good starting quarterback, he might be the best quarterback and it was then logically assumed that Flynn would leave for greener pastures next year.  Because of that everyone put high hopes on Graham Harrell since there was no one else competing for Flynn’s job and when he won the game against the Colts at the last minute that solidified his spot in the minds of many.  That all leads to me (like many) being utterly confused about why Harrell was not only cut by the Packers but somehow managed to land back on the practice squad.

Again more reason why we’re fans and not running the team.


Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s


26 thoughts on “Packers Transactions: The Graham Harrell Story

  1. Couldn’t disagree more on Matt Flynn.

    The Packers DO value Flynn as much as the fans do.
    I think your logic is flawed in your base assumption that if the Packers believe that Flynn will be a hot commodity at the end of his contract and likely will not remain a PAcker, it somehow means that the Packers would assuredly trade Flynn away now while he’s so valuable and get something for him instead of just letting him walk.


    What you are missing is this: The Green Bay PAckers are the leading contender to win the Superbowl.. The Packers value a super bowl win more than they value a late 2nd/early 3rd round draft pick. Period.

    If Rodgers misses a game or two (or god forbid, more), the value that Matt Flynn holds for the Packers is in his command of the offense and ability to step in and execute in a pinch. I know the old cliche’ is “if your starting QB gets injured, your team is done”, but that’s horribly over simplified. Flynn stepped in against a NE Juggernaut and nearly won the game.. Vs. the best team of 2010.

    Trust me, Flynn is gone after 2011.

    And trust me, the Packers won’t see much value in a couple of draft picks while Aaron Rodgers is out concussed for a couple of games at a critical point in the season while Matt Flynn is wearing burgundy and gold (or whatever) as the Packers narrowly miss the playoffs..

    Ted loves draft picks. But Ted isn’t an idiot. In the past, the Packers gambled on keeping inexperienced back up QB’s on the roster. If anything, I think that reflects that Ted didn’t believe they had a Superbowl team just yet. Now they do, and they aren’t going to jeopordize that.

    1. I have to agree with Oppy that your points on Flynn are a little off, at least in my opinion.

      Flynn’s not being traded due to a lack of value. I just don’t think they want him gone this year. He’ll get value out of being a FA loss and thus a compensatory draft pick.

      Plus, the lockout really screwed over any opportunity for the Packers to sell him to another team. They had to make quick, alternate plans for QBs just before training camp started, and some probably settled on drafting a QB back in April. I don’t see any of the teams giving up much for a guy like Flynn who might not even play for them this year, especially since he would need to be trained in their offense.

      As for the rest of your points, I was thinking about writing about this last week and calling it the “Graham Harrell Effect.” We as fans are so locked in on our own team that we don’t really take the time (if we even have it) to check out what other teams are holding on their rosters. We overvalue our own players and also have no concept of what other players with similar value/skill are already out there.

      Something to keep in mind for the future.

    2. I think you are missing the point of my article a little. First off I agree Flynn is far more useful than a reasonable draft pick. What my article was about wasn’t the ability of Flynn or Harrell, it was more about the misconceptions that we the fans have. Everyone thought that Harrell was a lock to make the team, and yet he managed to get back onto the practice squad. Why? Because “we the fans” (which I am included in), have a different opinion than every front office in the NFL. Why is that? Because I think we went overboard on how good Flynn and Harrell really are, they are still good players, but not as good as we think I bet.

  2. I think it comes down to this. You don’t keep someone on your 53 man roster for the next year. You keep 53 man rosters for this year. Keeping someone on a roster that is going to be inactive all year, and where you’re unlikely to ever use them in depth, is just bad business.

    Plus Ted Thompson probably made a calculated gamble that ended up working in his favor.

    Perhaps the reason that no one picked him up had to do with the chaos of the non-existent off-season and the hectic training camps. It’s one thing to bring in a kicker or a punter or even a D-lineman on your team at the end of camp, but to bring a QB, whom has to run your offense – and a QB that’s still somewhat raw and is way more “developmental” than he is “NFL-ready” – I can see why he was not picked up.

    1. I agree with your first point, however Thompson did just that last year with Newhouse and McDonald. Bothe were on the 53-man roster all year. McDonald was not once active. Newhouse I’m not 100% sure on but if he was active for any games, it was only a few.

    2. I’m pretty sure that Thompson in not only looking at this year, but builds his roster with the future in mind also. Jersey Al’s point is a good one. And there are many others. Why would TT put guys like MD Jennings and Jamari Lattimore on the roster? Surely, there are veterans out there who could potentially offer more in 2011. Lattimore and Jennings are on the roster to potentially contribute in the future. McDonald was on last year’s roster to potentially replace Wells.

    3. I would argue that all 3rd string type quarterbacks are developmental projects. The idea isn’t that another team would pick Harrell up and ask him to be the backup, the idea is that they would see his potential, sign him and develop him themselves, so that next year he will have the experience to potentially be a back-up or heaven forbid be the starter.

  3. Oh C’mon Thomas, give some credit where credit is due! Each paragraph of your article somewhere blames “We as Fans” for our misconceptions. But nowhere did I see any responsibility for these misconceptions placed sportswriters like yourself who come up with Bulls**t headlines and ‘blown out of proportion articles’ about such players.
    For Christ sakes Thomas, my 87 yr old mother, who still lives in GB’ thinks everything you guys write is “Gospel”! Each time I speak to her by phone I’m told “what IS going to happen” according to some sportswriter. She doesn’t consider the fact that your opinion is just that, an opinion, cuz “it’s in today’s paper, I can send it to you”.
    You are correct in saying “Fans WANT to believe”, because we do, it’s human nature. Therefore the less ‘seasoned’ fan, will take what you write as reinforcement to their own beliefs ,(or to what they’ve read elsewhere)and run with it as fact.
    Either way, what “We as Fans” believe and/or think is quite often the sprouts of seeds planted by some article AND some sportswriter.
    So Thomas, be a man, stand up and show yourself, and stop hiding behind your “Fan” moniker!

    1. First of all, there’s a difference between being a sportswriter and being a fan blogger.

      Second, I do believe Thomas included himself in every admission of error that was made.

      Calm down a bit…

      1. Calm Down???? Who’s excited? That the best you got? As a Packer fan living in California the only info I get is supplied by sportswriters that claim to be attending practices daily during training camp. If I, or anyone else who’s detached is drawing the wrong conclusions on what’s happening in camp, based upon what’s in print, who’s to blame? I guess, according to you, it would be my fault for reading it!

        1. “As a Packer fan living in California the only info I get is supplied by sportswriters that claim to be attending practices daily during training camp.”

          So then why are you ranting about it here? This is a blogger site. None of us on here attend practices or have media access to anything. Not to mention the fact that I live in PA and Jersey Al lives in New Jersey.

          Attacking Thomas like that is baseless and ignorant. He is no more a sportswriter than you or I. We get our information the same place that you do.

          You might want to try some of the humility that Thomas displayed in admitting he was wrong about who the Packers would cut.

        2. Bubaloo,

          First of all, if you’re saying your 87 yr old grandmother reads, you’ve got one cool Gramma…

          As for the other points, yes, as Chad said, we are not the sportswriters you are railing against, although I appreciate your putting us in that class. We don’t have the access real sportswriters do, so much of what we write is opinion and based on sentiment.

          Thomas expressed some opinions, which you can agree with or not, but no reason to be disrespectful in your approach (although it was mild compared to what I see on other sites – so I’m not overly bothered by it). But as Oppy said in his comment, we don’t do trash talk here, so let’s keep it civil. I appreciate your reading and commenting.

        3. Just as comparison, I live further away from Wisconsin than you and I don’t attend practices, go to press releases, or get any real special treatment from the team or the press. I get all my information from the same places you do. I have the privilege of writing on this blog but other than that I’m just a fan as well. All I am saying is that I made a mistake in judgement on Flynn and Harrell and I wrote about why I think that happened.

  4. I think the term “Fan,” short for fanatic, kinda gives us license to believe and espouse just about anything under the sun – look at the religious fanatic. The lack of interest in TT’s castoffs this year could just be because every team had a glut of untested talent and didn’t want to make room for someone else’s. OR…all the GM/HC’s got together and made a blood pact with each other to leave each other’s practice squads alone (for now.) I’m sure I read that somewhere.

    1. “I think the term “Fan,” short for fanatic, kinda gives us license to believe and espouse just about anything under the sun…”

      Anyone can believe whatever they want. But the smarter fans will be critical of their own opinions if they value them.

      1. “But the smarter fans will be critical of their own opinions if they value them.”

        Ha, “the smarter fans”? Just where does that leave you, Chad?

        1. This is not some adolescent war board where we take swipes at one another and make personal attacks.

          We’re passionate Packers fans who, while we may disagree strongly with one another from time to time, tend to respect one another and discuss things without becoming offensive or obtuse in tone.

          The way you’re going about things is brutish and not much appreciated. Nothing good can come of it. Please think about what you are trying to accomplish with your comments before posting. I’m sure you have plenty of great Packers talk to share, let’s keep it to great Packers discussion and skip the personal attacks and unnecessary comments.

    2. I wouldn’t be all that surprised that there is a working business relationship between the teams i.e. don’t steal our PS quarterback and we’ll do the same. Also keep in mind that working in the NFL is a pretty closed circle, people get hired and fired from tons of teams in the careers and you know that they have friends that they don’t want to screw over.

  5. I have a PS question for ya’ll out there. After Harrell was released could another team have signed him to their practice squad? In other words, would it have been possible to acquire Harrell to your oranization without putting him on the 53. SF might have been a more attractive place for someone like Harrell, even if it meant being on their PS.

    Also, as the season rolls on don’t be surprised to see either West Gurley or Borel being claimed by other teams as injuries start to pile up. I heard N.O.’s Colston is out for awhile. The PS is like a shared pool of reserve players (roughly 256 if my math is correct). Outside of the comfort of being with one organization I can’t see why a PS player wouldn’t go where the best opportunities lie.

    1. To answer your question, yes. Once a player clears waivers, they can sign onto anyone’s practice squad. Whether Harrell got any offers, we don’t know.

      I think most practice squad guys guys feel their best opportunity for getting on a roster is to stay with the team they’ve spent a bunch of practices with, instead of starting with a whole new team.

      I wouldn’t be surprised to see West or Gurley plucked from the PS and I think is the reason the Packers kept 3 wide receivers on it.

  6. Here’s what I never got: Flynn’s arm is barely adequate enough to run this offense for this team and Harrell’s was another step back. Why would anyone pay starters money when you can draft better every year?

    1. Known Product vs. Potential.

      There’s tons of kids with all the tools (they are the “better” you can draft every year) who never pan out in the pros.

      There’s always a few guys who shouldn’t make it who just have “it” and rise to the occasion.

      Matt Flynn’s arm is adequate, not elite. But last I checked, you actually CAN improve you mechanics and strength. What Flynn does have over drafting a “Better” kid every year? He’s done it vs. NFL competition, and he looks like he’s got that “it”.

    2. I will say that Flynn has a good enough arm to keep the team in the game, it may not be enough to win a game by himself, but he can be a good “game manager” as they call it. For your second point, teams could go out and draft a quarterback, Flynn is probably a safer bet unless you want to draft a quarterback early and that’s a huge risk (see…well just about every quarterback that’s a bust)

  7. Thomas,

    Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel just posted an article that states that Graham Harrell is being paid more than double the salary of every other Practice squad player. He’s receiving about $12,000/week (about $212,000 for the season if he remains on PS the entire year) compared to all other PS players’ $5,700/week (About $96,000).

    Graham states that he was looking around at other clubs with “less stable QB situations” than GB, but he likes GB, feels he’ll only get better learning from Rodgers, Flynn and Clements, and that when the Packers offered this kind of salary, there was no reason to look elsewhere.

    The undertone is pretty clear to me- I would be shocked if the Packers did not tell Graham- “Hang tight this season. Matt will be going to greener pastures and we want you to be our #2. Here’s some cash to show you we’re serious.”

    If that wasn’t the case, I can’t imagine a young player buried at #3 QB and not even on an active roster passing up a chance to be perhaps a #2 elsewhere.

    Here’s the link- I think anyone can view it, but not sure- it might be an Insiders subscription only.

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