The Green Bay Packers have been able to keep its fantastic offensive machine so far this offseason, but the same cannot be said for its defense.
The Packers lost cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davon House, who combined with Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde were the biggest strength of the Green Bay defense. They also have not added any free agents from another team to help out the defense.
Now at a premium position on defense they are an injury away from a disaster. Of course, it’s only March 23 and the NFL Draft has not happened yet, so it’s too soon to say the Packers have taken a step back on defense. However, drafting from the 30th spot in an average at best draft in terms of talent will not be easy. The Packers will find it tougher than the past two years when they had picks in the low and mid 20s in very deep drafts.
Ted Thompson made the right choices in letting both House and Williams go, as they were both overpaid. House has all the makings of a starting caliber corner, but he has not stayed healthy for a full season and has trouble with quicker wide receivers, so him getting more money guaranteed than Bryan Bulaga is crazy. Williams also got more money guaranteed than Bulaga and is one of the oldest corners in the NFL.
Williams and House are both replaceable players who should not be overpaid like they were. However, Thompson should be doing more than just relying on a draft pick. No, this does not mean he should have gone out and gave Darrelle Revis obscene money or dip his toe in the crazy money on the corner market.
What he should have been doing was checking the bargain bin. Three cornerbacks have signed recently for peanuts who were good guys to bring in that have the potential to far exceed the deals they got. Thompson should have been all over Patrick Robinson (1-year, $3 mil), Alan Ball (1-year, $2 mil) and Sterling Moore (1-year, $1.525 mil). Moore did a pretty good job replacing the benched Morris Claiborne last season in Dallas, Ball was very solid in 2013 before landing on injured reserve with a torn bicep last year and Robinson struggled last season but has had good moments in his career. With $21 million in cap space remaining signing one of these corners should have been a no-brainer, as they are much better values than what Williams and House signed for.
Thompson was really asleep at the wheel here, and this is where he fails when it comes to free agency. It’s not that he doesn’t sign the big names for big money – which is clearly the smart thing — but he doesn’t take enough chances on the low level guys. Look at what Letroy Guion did for him last season. If Thompson had signed one of these players to go along with a high draft pick there would not be much concern about the cornerback spot.
Speaking of Guion, Thompson also missed the boat even more than the corners on defensive tackles Terrance Knighton (1-year, $4 mil) and Randy Starks (2-years, $8 mil). I have my doubts about the Packers run defense improving greatly with just Guion and B.J. Raji returning. I don’t care how out of shape Knighton is, he was a steal at that price and would have improved the Packers’ run defense in a second. He is dominant in the run game with some good moves rushing the passer for his size and will be motivated on a one season prove it contract. Starks would not be a true nose tackle in a 3-4 defense, but he and Mike Daniels would have been a deadly interior pass rushing duo.
This has been said by others before — but sometimes you wonder if the Packers employ a pro personnel department. These are not big money moves that would put the salary cap at risk, but they would have been no risk and potentially big reward decisions.
The Packers’ defense was middle of the pack last season, which is all they really need to get to the Super Bowl. However, it did collapse at the biggest moment of the season, which is often overlooked with all the other nonsense that went on in Seattle. It primarily wasn’t the defenses fault, but they certainly played a big role.
The secondary being able to plaster wide receivers in man coverage allowed Dom Capers to commit more numbers to defend the running game, which along with moving Clay Matthews was a big reason why the run defense improved throughout the season. It would be much tougher for Capers to call games without that luxury.
As a team the Packers were completely healthy last year, which helped the defense tremendously. Right now, the only place on defense the Packers can feel comfortable with its depth is at outside linebacker. At every other position an injury to a starter would be a big problem. Meanwhile, on offense the Packers have solid depth at running back, wide receiver and the offensive line where injuries could be absorbed.
Green Bay really cannot afford to take a step back on defense, as that would put them below league average. Again to reiterate — I’m not saying they have yet with the NFL Draft remaining and some free agency remaining — but Thompson has a lot of work to be done and missed out on some very good opportunities.