GREEN BAY — Vince Biegel still appreciates everything the Green Bay Packers did for him — including blindsiding him by cutting him at the end of training camp.
The ex-University of Wisconsin linebacker has landed on his feet with the New Orleans Saints, where he’s contributing on special teams and working toward being part of the defensive rotation. But he looks back on his time with the Packers — the team he grew up cheering for as a kid in Wisconsin Rapids — with gratitude for several reasons:
- For selecting him in the fourth round of last year’s NFL draft.
- For giving him the chance to play nine regular-season games in front of family and friends in his home state.
- For teaching him that the NFL is a harsh business, not a touchy-feely local-boy-makes-good fairy tale.
- And for putting a sizable chip on his shoulder pad going forward with his football career.
“For me, the way I look at it, I’m thankful Green Bay brought me into the league,” Biegel said in an interview with ESPN Wisconsin this week. “In a way, that was a gift from the Lord because that was a year I got to enjoy with my family and friends and that’ll always be etched in our minds as a great year. From this point on, it’s a business now. I’m playing for the New Orleans Saints, I love it down here, but I have to understand that it’s truly a business.
“Did I have anger, animosity? Did I feel fired up when I got cut? Of course I did. But for me, there’s two ways of transitioning that energy. Am I going to let it defeat me? Or am I going to use it in a positive way to push me forward? So I took that energy and I put a chip on my shoulder. Now, when I play this game of football, there’s an added chip that, ‘There’s a team that doesn’t want you out there.’ I’ve had the feeling of not having a job before. I know that’s going to help drive me moving forward the rest of my career.”
Having missed all of his rookie offseason program and training camp after surgery on both feet in May 2017, Biegel’s growth was certainly stunted last season, when he started the year on the physically unable to perform list and didn’t make his season debut until Nov. 6 against Detroit. In nine games, he finished with 13 tackles (eight solo), one tackle for loss, three quarterback pressures and one quarterback hit while adding six tackles on special teams, tied for second-most on the team.
Even coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged at the NFL meetings in March that Biegel had been put in a tough spot, saying, “To have both feet operated on after the first week of being here, I knew it was going to be a long road for him. I look for him to make a jump.”
Despite a quiet training camp, Biegel was feeling good about his chances of making the 53-man roster, knowing he still had plenty to prove but feeling like he’d shown promise — especially after a strong showing in the third preseason game in Oakland.
Instead, while he was working out at Lambeau Field in the weight room, his iPhone rang in his locker. When he returned, he knew bad news was coming.
“You don’t want to get a phone call on the final cut day. When you don’t get a phone call, it means you made the team. If you do get a phone call, that means you’re out the door,” Biegel said. “Some of the scouts walked me upstairs, talked to some of the personnel guys, talked to coach McCarthy, talked to my position coach (Winston Moss), and they were almost in a way as surprised as I was by the decision.
“That was definitely a tough time for me because I grew up rooting for the Packers and I had settled down. My wife (Sarah) had a job in Green Bay, we were definitely comfortable in Green Bay. To get that news was tough.”
Biegel said the Packers offered him a spot on their practice squad, but when the Saints called with the same offer, he decided a fresh start made more sense because he didn’t think first-year general manager Brian Gutekunst and first-year defensive coordinator Mike Pettine were necessarily fans of his.
“At the end of the day, Ted Thompson was the general manager when I got drafted. Dom Capers was the defensive coordinator,” Biegel said. “When new people come in, they want to start bringing their own guys in. That’s the nature of the football. That’s just how it is. And that’s why you saw so many roster changes.
“I kind of had a feeling that I wasn’t in Green Bay’s long-term plans. If they don’t believe in you, you want to go to a place that believes in you. Whether that’s on the practice squad or the active roster, you want coaches who are pulling for you and want to bring you along. And I felt that in New Orleans, that was the better opportunity. And that’s why I uprooted my family, all my belongings and came down to New Orleans.
“It would have been a comfortable decision to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to swallow my pride, sign on the practice squad in Green Bay and move forward.’ But being the competitive guy that I am, I said, ‘No, I’m going to be a great player in this league for a long time, and I want to go to the opportunity that’s going to help get me on the field as soon as possible.’”
Biegel spent two weeks on the Saints’ practice squad before being called up to the 53-man roster before New Orleans’ Week 3 game against Atlanta. The Packers, meanwhile, have four outside linebackers in their defensive rotation (starters Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, and backups Kyler Fackrell and Reggie Gilbert), and while the foursome has 7½ sacks on the season, five came in the team’s 22-0 shutout of Buffalo in Week 4.
“It’s been fun to enjoy the journey — the ups and the downs, the new experiences, the sights and the sounds,” Biegel said. “That’s what it’s all about. My wife and I, we’re really enjoying it down here, and we’re looking for, hopefully, more years to come down here as well.”