Cornerbacks could have made difference
Thompson let three playmakers get away
Green Bay — On March 10, 2015, former Packers cornerback Davon House signed a four-year, $24.75 million contract with Jacksonville that contained $10 million in guaranteed money.
Eight days later, Tramon Williams — another ex-Packers standout corner — signed a three-year, $21 million deal with Cleveland that also included $10 million in guaranteed money.
Finally on March 13, 2016, cornerback Casey Hayward left Green Bay and signed with San Diego for three years and $15.3 million. Of that, $6.8 million was guaranteed.
In a matter of just 368 days, the Packers lost three of their top four cornerbacks from a unit that ranked 10th against the pass in 2014 and seventh in opposing quarterbacks rating.
“Those guys, they’re athletic guys and they’re great corners,” Packers safety Morgan Burnett said. “And you see they’re doing great things for their respective teams.”
In each situation, Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson made little or no effort to re-sign the players. Today, it’s costing the Packers dearly as the play of their wretched secondary is at the forefront of their miserable season.
Thompson gambled that 2015 top draft picks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, along with 2014 sixth-rounder Demetri Goodson, could pick up the slack. It’s remarkable how badly Thompson read the situation.
Today, a combination of injuries and a lack of growth from Green Bay’s young corners has sent the Packers spiraling to a No. 31 ranking in opponent’s quarterback rating (105.5) and a No. 24 mark in opponent’s passing yards per game (265.6).
“I tell my guys as long as the quarterback plays well and the cornerback plays well, we’ll win here at the Green Bay Packers, and I firmly believe that,” Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “Well, we have to play better, and I don’t care who goes out there, and I have to coach better. I’m not going to make any excuses. It’s time to make plays. It’s time to get it down. We can do it, and if we want to have the success that we’re going to have, we better do it. It’s as simple as that.”
Individually, Green Bay could have survived without one or two of the Hayward-House-Williams trio. But losing all three was a blow that left the 2016 Packers without the necessary depth and experience to hold up in back.
Randall, Green Bay’s top pick in 2015, played well at times during his rookie season and led the Packers with four interceptions. But Randall was also beat far too often, then was the primary culprit on Larry Fitzgerald’s 75-yard reception in overtime that allowed Arizona to eliminate the Packers in the NFC divisional playoffs.
Randall had an up and down start to 2016, then missed six games with a groin injury. Right now, the verdict remains out whether or not he can be a high level corner.
Rollins, the Packers’ secondround pick in 2015, showed toughness and a ball-hawking ability as a rookie that led Green Bay to believe his future was remarkably bright. But Rollins also missed three games this season with a groin injury, and when he’s played, he hasn’t been nearly as effective as 2015.
“If you don’t feel that you’re capable of putting on a winning performance, don’t be on the field,” Whitt said of Rollins. “I think Quinten has felt he’s capable of giving us winning performances; that’s why he’s playing. I’ve got to do a better job of getting some of his technical things correct.”
Goodson suffered a devastating leg injury in Washington in Week 11. And second-year man LaDarius Gunter has been up and down.
Granted, Green Bay’s secondary would be substantially better had Sam Shields not suffered his fifth documented concussion in Week 1, an injury that now threatens his career. But after Shields missed four games late in the 2015 season with the fourth concussion of his career, Thompson and team doctors had to know his career was in jeopardy.
“He’s meant a lot to me over the past couple of years,” Whitt said of Shields. “He’s a good guy to be with, and he brings so much to this team.”
So did Williams, House and Hayward — and any of them could have provided a lift during this tumultuous year for Green Bay’s secondary.
Hayward has had a sensational season in San Diego, emerging as one of the NFL’s top corners with six interceptions and 16 passes defensed. For comparison’s sake, Green Bay had just seven interceptions through its first 10 games.
Hayward began the year as the Chargers’ No. 2 cornerback. But after top cornerback Jason Verrett suffered a season-ending ACL injury, Hayward took over his spot and has shined.
How much do you think Whitt would give to have Hayward back in green and gold?
House surrendered a passer rating of below 80.0 during his first year in Jacksonville. This season, House struggled and was replaced in the starting lineup after four games. But his size, athleticism and knowledge of Green Bay’s system would have been valuable assets.
Williams, 33, was undoubtedly on the downside when he left Green Bay. But Williams has started 20 games during his two seasons in Cleveland and might have been able to stop the bleeding during this miserable stretch.
“We really appreciate those guys and what those guys did for our team,” Burnett said of the three departed corners. “But now we have a new group, new wave of players and everyone has to be held accountable.” Especially Thompson. As of Monday, Green Bay was $10.086 million under the NFL’s salary cap. The Packers finished 2015 with $7.175 million of salary cap space.
In both years, the Packers had plenty of room to pay one of their former cornerbacks. Instead, Thompson let all three walk.
Perhaps Thompson should be the next one doing the walking.
San Diego Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward, formerly with the Packers, has six interceptions this season.