Earlier this month, the Green Bay Packers caused a few double-takes when they added a veteran wideout to their injury-addled receiving corp. The confusion came as a result of the new acquisition’s name: Ryan Grant. No, he’s not that Ryan Grant. It’d be kind of strange if the Packers brought back a running back who hasn’t played an NFL snap since 2012 and made him play wide receiver. However, the Packers bringing a player back to Green Bay isn’t an altogether foreign concept.
Through the years, the franchise has made a point to welcome back ex-players in certain circumstances. Some situations found former stars returning to Titletown in reduced roles. Other instances featured athletes coming back after testing the free agent waters. Heck, there are even a couple players on the 2019 team who are on their second time through town. No matter the reason, there’s a long and impressive list of players who’ve come back to the Pack. Here are 10 of them…and no, we’re not going to include guys who “retired as a Packer” or former players who returned in a coaching capacity because that would take an eternity to compile.
Adam Pankey (2017-18, present)
From a quick glance, it appears as if the entirety of Adam Pankey’s brief and yet-unheralded career has taken place in a Packers uniform. However, the young offensive lineman has been signed, cut, re-signed, demoted to the practice squad, promoted from the practice squad, and waived over the course of his first two erratic seasons in Green Bay. Following the 2018 campaign, the Packers parted ways with Pankey once more, prompting him to wind up on the Tennessee Titans practice squad…for a few weeks. On September 21 of this season, the Packers snatched him from Nashville by putting him on the active roster.
Ahman Green (2000-06, 2009)
Say what you want about Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor, but Ahman Green is statistically the best running back in Packers franchise history. Following six 1,000-yard seasons in seven years (missing 11 games to injury in 2005 cost him the seventh milestone), Green joined ex-Packers coach Mike Sherman in Houston. He hit the wall with the Texans, compiling 554 rushing yards in 14 games spread over two injury-shortened seasons. In 2009, he was back with the Pack to serve as third string halfback and occasional kick returner. Though he had only 141 rushing yards in his second pass through Green Bay, that was enough to help him pass Taylor to claim the franchise’s all-time rushing lead.
Antonio Freeman (1995-01, 2003)
Packers fans would be hard-pressed to name a better possession receiver in semi-recent Green Bay history than Antonio Freeman. The fearless wideout never hesitated to risk life and limb (and fingers) going over the middle to catch a Brett Favre bullet. He was a huge part of the Pack both reaching and winning Super Bowl XXXI. The Pro Bowler’s three-1,000-yard campaigns and highlight reel of receptions that ranged from great to unbelievable made him a commodity on the free agent market. After a 46-catch, one-start year with Philadelphia, the temporary Eagle flew home to provide depth to a stacked corps of receivers. Free had just 14 receptions and 141 yards in his second stint with Green Bay, but after that Monday Night Football catch, nobody can say shit about him.
Davon House (2011-14, 2017-18)
Remember Davon House? If you answered “yes” to this, you were either paying close attention to the Packers’ roster between the 2011 and 2014 seasons, or from the span 2017 through last year. Either way, House didn’t really do much during either of his two stints in Green Bay. The cornerback’s best season by far came with the Jaguars in 2015, when he had four interceptions. That boost in production likely prompted his old team to take another crack at him. Sadly, it was more of the same, and House was not retained this season.
Doug Pederson (1996-98, 2001-04)
Turns out a quarterback can’t learn to play like Favre by osmosis. After serving as second string QB during the Pack’s mid-to-late ’90s dynasty, Doug Pederson was handpicked by first-year Philadelphia Eagles coach (and longtime Packers assistant) Andy Reid to start while rookie quarterback Donovan McNabb was groomed. The Eagles went 2-7 in games started by Pederson (who had an abysmal 62.9 QB rating). He fared even worse in Cleveland, going 1-7 with a 56.6 rating and only two touchdowns whilst under center. Realizing this whole “starting quarterback” thing didn’t quite suit him, he returned to his rightful place next to the durable Favre on the bench in his final four seasons. Pederson began a tradition that Matt Hasselbeck and Matt Flynn would carry on. Pederson is now the coach of the Eagles, the only team to top the Packers so far this season.
Gilbert Brown (1993-99, 2001-03)
Though his career technically started with the Minnesota Vikings (where he never played a regular season game), Gilbert Brown was a Packer through and through. Save for his rookie training camp in Minneapolis, The Gravedigger spent the entirety of his memorable professional career with Green Bay. While the hole-plugging, burger-inspiring defensive tackle is an unforgettable part of Packers history, many forget that there was a “lost season” partway through his 10-year run. Before the 2000 season, the Packers released the particularly out-of-shape DT, causing him to sit out the entire year. However, he spent his time as a free agent working on his strength and condition. Evidently, his old team liked what they saw, as they brought him back in 2001 and allowed him to stay on the roster until he finally called it a career after 2003.
James Jones (2007-13, 2015)
After being drafted in the third round of the 2007 draft, James Jones spent seven consecutive seasons with the Packers, including a 14-touchdown campaign in 2012. In 2014, the receiver signed a three-year deal with Oakland, but only lasted one season there before the Raiders cut him loose (despite Jones posting a career-high 73 receptions that year). He signed a one-year deal with the Giants the following offseason, but he was cut before the season even started. One day after New York released Jones, the Pack signed him to a one-year contract, where he and his trademark hoodie posted team-high 50 catches and a career-best 890 yards.
Matt Flynn (2008-11, 2013-14)
On the weight of two great games, Packers clipboard caddy Matt Flynn signed a lucrative three-year deal—$26M plus $6M signing bonus—with the Seattle Seahawks in 2012. We all know what happened next. Russell Wilson beat Flynn out for the starting job, Flynn was traded to Oakland in 2012, only to be beat out by eventual wide receiver Terrell Pryor, released, signed by the Buffalo Bills, then released again. In all, he started one game in that span (a loss) and made $14.5M of that huge payday in the process.
The injury-ravaged Packers took in Flynn in 2013. Here, he found his old form and led the Packers to a 2-2-1 record in Rodgers absence, including one of the biggest comeback wins in franchise history. He quickly inked a deal with Green Bay the following season. In 2015, he signed with the Patriots and was cut during training camp, only to sign with the Jets nine days later…before also being released by them before the season. Finally, he caught on with his hometown Saints that November, where he finished 2015 and his career as a backup.
Ryan Grant (2007-11, 2012)
That’s right! Despite starting this article by saying running back Ryan Grant was NOT returning to the team, we have to acknowledge that he actually DID come back to the team at one point in his career. Confused? You shouldn’t be. Okay, so after five years—including a pair of 1,000-yard seasons on the ground—with the Packers, Grant’s contract was up. Green Bay opted not to re-sign him and the veteran rusher wound up in Washington a few weeks into the 2012 season. In his new surroundings, Grant had just one carry for a paltry five yards before being released a month into his D.C. tenure. That December, however, the Packers scooped their former employee off waivers when his replacement James Starks got hurt. There, he played four games (starting one), rushing for 127 yards and what would be the last two touchdowns of his career. Two seasons later, a wide receiver named Ryan Grant was drafted. No relation.
Tramon Williams (2007-14, 2018-present)
For someone who came into the league as an undrafted free agent, Tramon Williams has enjoyed one hell of a career. After not breaking camp with the Texas in 2006, the Packers brought the cornerback in. Williams made the most of the opportunity in Green Bay, making the Pro Bowl in 2010 and helping the Packers win the Super Bowl that same season, amassing 28 interceptions, forcing six fumbles, tallying 4.5 sacks, and serving as a more-than-acceptable returner. In an effort to free some salary cap space after the 2014, Williams was released. He wound up in Cleveland for a couple years, then spent 2017 with Arizona before, thankfully, Green Bay brought the fan favorite back for another go-round. Now, 36 years old, the ageless wonder continues to make big plays and shut down receivers to this day. On behalf of many Packer fans, we’re glad he’s back.