Four Thoughts on the Antonio Morrison Trade
Even as we are just days away from the final preseason game, the Packers are still making roster moves, trading promising cornerback Lenzy Pipkins for Indianapolis Colts linebacker Antonio Morrison. This was a straight player for player-for-player trade, the first move of its kind since 2009, when the Packers shipped offensive lineman Tony moll to Baltimore in exchange for safety Derek Martin.
This kind of move is obviously not a common occurrence, but it shows you yet again that the Packers are not afraid to pursue every avenue in trying to improve their roster, and I believe there are four main things to consider about this trade.
1 - Brian Gutekunst is working every angle
First, it’s interesting that the Packers have continued to explore whatever options are available to them to improve the roster before we arrive in the regular season, which is just over a week away. This trade probably wouldn't have happened a couple years ago, and not just because Ted Thompson was in charge and pretty much liked to set his roster the start of the summer and just see what worked out over the course of camp. But in the not too distant past, we were still in the era of multiple roster cuts, reducing the roster from 90 to 75 to 53 over the course of a couple weeks. Now teams cut all the way from 90 to 53, and since there are more roster spots to go around, there’s more time to evaluate these guys that may be sort of fringe players. And make no mistake, I think Morrison is a fringe player. It’s still very much a question as to whether or not he’ll make the 53-man roster and what sort of role he’d have to play even if he does.
But for now, he’s in contention and he’s in convention mostly because of the way that rosters are constructed now.
2 - Lenzy Pipkins was fighting a losing battle
Second, I’m not sure this trade is really about Lenzy Pipkins at all. While there was potential that he could have played a role this year, it wouldn’t have been much. Realistically, he’s probably no higher than fifth on the cornerback depth chart right now. Even assuming that he was that high, the Packers didn’t have tons of incentive to keep him when they had a chance to flip what was probably an under-utilized asset for a guy who could actually be able to help the team. Pipkins did have a lot of upside, but ultimately the realities of the depth chart did him in.
3 - Antonio Morrison is a two-down linebacker
Third, Morrison not coming to the roster to fill in for Oren Burks while he works back from injury, which isn’t expected to be a very long time anyway. Morrison is in Green Bay to be Jake Ryan, a guy that's going to come on the field on first and second down to play hard against the run. He’s a stronger, thicker linebacker than Burks, but they’re in different worlds athletically.
The Indianapolis Colts’ next boom-or-bust prospect won over his future employers by running the 40-yard dash four days after a catheter was taken out of his chest. Before that, Antonio Morrison spent six weeks on antibiotics, fighting off a staph infection that caused him to miss the NFL Scouting Combine.
His doctors begged him to skip his pro day. Morrison shook his head.
“I’ve never not done something,” he told them. “I don’t care what I run.”
So his time that day wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, but that was never the point. That was never how he was going to win over over Colts coach Chuck Pagano and General Manager Ryan Grigson. With some players, the measurables never matter. Pagano and Grigson couldn’t shake the feeling they had about the Florida linebacker who couldn’t stand to miss his pro day, the kid whose tape popped with an on-field fury they rarely stumble across. This kid was different. This kid played different.
Even if he won’t be expected to fill in for Burks, there are still concerns about Morrison's athleticism. Legitimate concerns, but maybe not as worrisome as some have suggested. A lot has been made of his pro day numbers, which to be fair weren’t great. But there’s a good reason they weren’t great, as the Indianapolis Star reports:
So clearly, Morrison’s lack of good numbers at his pro day had an underlying cause, but the people who made him a fourth-round pick in 2016 weren’t concerned about them. You probably shouldn’t be either.
4 - The overall linebacker picture is murky
Finally, the big picture. How do you evaluate Morrison’s role on the 53-man roster? I’m not really sure. Morrison will have one practice and one game to make an impression, but can you get him up to speed enough to get any kind of decent look at him in the final preseason game? I don't know. I kind of tend to think not, but obviously, that’s not a huge deal to the Packers otherwise they wouldn’t have made this trade. The clearly have some kind of idea what they’re getting here.
In addition, you have to think about what this means for guys like Ahmad Thomas and Greer Martini, two other players in the conversation at inside linebacker. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Packers would keep four inside linebacker types, but the smart money wouldn’t put a whole lot of stock into that idea. If you're keeping one of the two, I would probably lean towards Ahmad Thomas. He seems a little bit more versatile than Martini, who does have some special teams value of his own and also made some good plays against the Raiders.
But regardless of who’s leading between Thomas and Martini, I don't think you can read this trade as much of a vote of confidence in either of those guys. The Packers clearly weren’t convinced that either of them was the answer, otherwise, Morrison would still be in Indianapolis.
This post is an adapted transcript from episode 97 of Blue 58, a Packers podcast from The Power Sweep. Listen to the full episode below, and don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, CastBox and more to stay on top of the best in Packers news and analysis.