BACKUP PLAN

Trad­ing for QB DeShone Kizer gives Pack­ers another op­tion be­hind Aaron Rodgers

Packer Plus - - Front Page - RYAN WOOD AND TOM SILVERSTEIN

In his first ma­jor trans­ac­tion as Green Bay Pack­ers gen­eral man­ager, Brian Gutekunst traded cor­ner­back Da­mar­i­ous Ran­dall to the Cleve­land Browns last Fri­day and re­ceived quar­ter­back DeShone Kizer, sources said.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port from NFL Net­work, the trade also in­cluded the Pack­ers and Browns swap­ping their fourth- and fifth-round picks. The Pack­ers will now draft at the top of both rounds.

Ran­dall’s de­par­ture likely forces the Pack­ers into a cor­ner­back makeover this spring. Kizer’s ar­rival gives the Pack­ers another young quar­ter­back to com­pete with Brett Hund­ley for the backup job be­hind Aaron Rodgers.

With the trade, the Pack­ers have $21 mil­lion in salary-cap room with less than a week un­til free agency be­gins. They cleared the $1,428,263 that Ran­dall counted against their cap while adding $689,928 from Kizer, a net gain of $738,335.

The Pack­ers have long stud­ied Kizer, a sec­ond-year quar­ter­back out of Notre Dame who started 15 games last sea­son for the win­less Browns. Hours be­fore the NFL draft’s sec­ond round last spring, a source said the Pack­ers were tempted to draft Kizer with their 33rd over­all pick, which they even­tu­ally used on cor­ner­back Kevin King.

At the NFL scout­ing com­bine in In­di­anapo­lis last week, it was ap­par­ent the Pack­ers were search­ing for more quar­ter­backs.

“It’s about op­por­tu­ni­ties (to add depth),” Gutekunst said. “Whether it be in free agency or through the draft. Who be­comes avail­able? You look at all av­enues.”

Hund­ley’s fu­ture with the Pack­ers is un­cer­tain. If he re­mains, cou­pling Kizer with Hund­ley re­moves any need for the Pack­ers to draft a de­vel­op­men­tal quar­ter­back this off-sea­son.

Even be­fore Fri­day, it was clear Hund­ley would have to fight for his job. The Pack­ers were 3-7 in games Hund­ley played ex­ten­sively, in­clud­ing his nine starts. He fin­ished 30th in the league with a 70.6 passer rat­ing, 31st with 5.81 yards per pass al­lowed, and 23rd with a 60.8 com­ple­tion per­cent­age.

Ran­dall’s de­par­ture leaves plenty of work for Gutekunst at the cor­ner­back po­si­tion.

It was not a smooth third sea­son for Ran­dall, the Pack­ers’ first-round pick in 2015. Af­ter a dis­mal sopho­more slump two years ago, Ran­dall still showed plenty of room for im­prove­ment last fall. The low point came in Week 4 when Ran­dall was benched and later sent to the locker room mid­way through a win against the Chicago Bears.

By sea­son’s end, Ran­dall re­bounded enough to be­come the big­gest play­maker in the Pack­ers’ por­ous sec­ondary. With the Pack­ers out of play­off con­tention, he did not play in the fi­nal two games be­cause of a knee in­jury. Ran­dall still led the team with a ca­reer-high four in­ter­cep­tions. He had one in­ter­cep­tion in each of his three games fol­low­ing the bench­ing.

Af­ter openly crit­i­ciz­ing coaches at the end of this past sea­son, Ran­dall might have fallen out of fa­vor in Green Bay. Two days af­ter a loss at Detroit in their fi­nale, Ran­dall said coaches needed to hold play­ers ac­count­able for their mis­takes. It was an odd ob­ser­va­tion, since Ran­dall led Pack­ers cor­ner­backs last sea­son with 717 snaps (68%) de­spite in­con­sis­tent play.

Gutekunst has former col­leagues in Cleve­land, in­clud­ing Browns gen­eral man­ager John Dorsey. While Gutekunst was an area scout, Dorsey served as the Pack­ers’ col­lege scout­ing di­rec­tor.

Whether Gutekunst got the bet­ter end of this deal de­pends not only on whether Kizer gives the Pack­ers a bet­ter backup op­tion than Hund­ley, but how he builds the cor­ner­back po­si­tion this spring.

Ran­dall fig­ured to be a starter in the slot. Now, the Pack­ers are down to just one solid starter on their ros­ter in King, who’s com­ing off sea­son-end­ing shoul­der surgery.

Ran­dall’s de­par­ture puts the cor­ner­back po­si­tion in play both in free agency and when the Pack­ers are on the clock with their 14th over­all pick.

They still need to build their edge rush as well. But mul­ti­ple top de­fen­sive backs said they had for­mal in­ter­views with the Pack­ers in In­di­anapo­lis, in­clud­ing Ohio State’s Den­zel Ward and Florida State’s Der­win James.

“I think it’s a strong sec­ondary group,” Gutekunst said at the com­bine.

SCOTT R. GALVIN / USA TODAY SPORTS

Former Cleve­land Browns quar­ter­back DeShone Kizer will now chal­lenge Brett Hund­ley for the backup spot in Green Bay. The Pack­ers con­sid­ered draft­ing Kizer last year.

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