Free agency is underway in the NFL and crazy money is already flying around. The Green Bay Packers, surprising to no one, have not participated in the "funny money" portion of the program. But there are still areas that the team and general manager Ted Thompson have to address. Some pretty big areas, in fact.
With the release of Sam Shields, the loss of Micah Hyde, and regression in the play of both Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, cornerback has become a position of greater need than previously hoped. There is always the chance that Randall and/or Rollins both make a leap in year three, but that's not a sure bet.
There have been talks between the Packers and Davon House to bring House back after two years in Jacksonville. That's fine for depth, but after a dismal 2016 season, it's not certain that House is enough to shore up the corner position.
So what other options do the Packers have to add talent at cornerback?
Let's remember that the Packers also have other needs. Despite the re-signing of Nick Perry, they still need another pass rusher or two and they may be quite thin on the offensive line with J.C. Tretter already gone and if they don't bring T.J. Lang back. With one pick in each of the top three rounds, it's going to be hard for Green Bay to assuredly land an immediate starter or impact player who might replace one or more of those areas. It's fair to expect that of a first rounder, but beyond that is a big gamble.
With that in mind, the Packers and Thompson would be wise to minimize both the needs and the risk of adequately addressing them. One crazy idea that will have most of you rolling your eyes immediately involves a scenario that is possibly the most unlike Thompson that we have seen in his 12 years in Green Bay.
The New England Patriots recently placed a first round tender on cornerback Malcolm Butler. That means that Butler will earn at least $3.91 million for the 2017 season, assuming that New England doesn't sign him to a longer deal. It also means any team who were to sign Butler would have to forfeit a first round pick to New England if the Patriots decide not to match the contract.
It was reported yesterday that former Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore will be signing a five year, $65 million contract with the Patriots. The deal includes $40 million in guarantees and reports were that Butler wasn't happy about the signing. New England had previously indicated to he and his agent that they wouldn't be spending that type of money on a cornerback.
With Butler seemingly unhappy, he could be on the move via a trade. The latest rumor is Butler to New Orleans for receiver Brandin Cooks. Another scenario is that a team (say, oh, the Packers, for example) signs Butler to a deal and the Patriots pass on matching and opt for the first round pick. New England has put themselves in a good position to extend Butler or be well-compensated.
It seems absurd to think that Thompson would part with any of his precious draft picks let alone a first rounder, right? It's also likely going to take a multi-year deal and some big money for the Packers to woo Butler away and for the Patriots to decline to match. None of those factors make this very realistic. Who would do such a thing? The Patriots would.
Bill Belichick is always wheeling and dealing. His team just won a Super Bowl but he's not content to just bank on a slew of rookies and guys who were making sandwiches yesterday. He's out signing one of the top free agents on the market and looking to trade for one of the league's better receivers. He's not afraid to let good players go when he can maximize return and he's not afraid to take risks. If Belichick were the one tasked to address the Packers cornerback position, we can already see how differently he would do it than will Thompson.
The Packers will likely use one of their first few picks on a defensive back and hope that a rookie can come in and be a strong contributor right away. That's not a sure bet, especially picking late in each round. Or they can go hard after a guy and spend a first round pick (nearly an early second) on a player who is still young (Butler is 27) and proven. A player already known to be worth that high of a pick. That's a better bet.
This entire idea makes me sound like I don't know or understand Ted Thompson at all. Believe me, I do. I know this thought process alone is enough to get me fitted for a straight jacket. But I have reached the point where I don't see the Packers getting over the hump and back to a Super Bowl until they do something big and different.
In 2009, the Packers switched to a 3-4 defense and they traded back into the first round (a trade made with the Patriots) to select Clay Matthews. A year later, they were Super Bowl champions and Matthews was a key part of that 2010 team. Those changes and different approaches got the Packers a better result.
The Packers aren't likely to do this (even though I know they regularly read our site) but it's at least an idea to shore up a big area of need and minimize the risk of an early round bust. With a deep class of pass rushers, they can likely still find a pass rusher or two later on. I know, I know. I'll keep dreaming.
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