After trading Damarious Randall to Cleveland, Green Bay has added old friend Tramon Williams to the secondary. The Packers needed to redo the secondary after having one of the worst pass defenses in the league the past few seasons. Williams is not THE answer, but he is part of the solution. Secondary will still be a need for the team heading into the draft, but signing No. 38 back certainly helps. Now, the Packers can look at the top player on their board, regardless if it is corner or pass rusher.
The 35-year-old Williams, who spent last season in Arizona following two seasons in Cleveland, had a tremendous year last season for the Cardinals. According to Pro Football Focus, he was ranked the ninth best cornerback in the league last season. Despite being in his mid-30s, Williams held quarterbacks to just a 58.4 passer rating when thrown at, and a 1.0 passer rating in man coverage. To put it in perspective, Randall was ranked the Packers top corner by PFF last season at was 70.9, which was 81st.
Even with the signing of Williams, that is only a short-term solution. If the season started today, it would likely be Kevin King pairing with Williams and…..maybe Lenzy Pipkins or Quinten Rollins playing the slot. Ouch! King and Williams are fine, but the others are inconsistent. Maybe Pipkins turns into something, but he is not ready to be a starter quite yet. Even if General Manager Brian Gutekunst or Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine has faith in players like Pipkins and Herb Waters, they need more time to develop.
When you look at what’s in free agency, there are not many (or any?) long-term options out there. However, short-term options are certainly fine, if they really like Pipkins and Waters, as well as a few draft picks.
A player to look at to play along with King and Williams is Bashaud Breeland. The 26-year-old agreed to a 3-year/$24 million contract with Carolina last week, but he failed the physical and will not be able to sign with another team for another month or two. When he comes back, Green Bay should look at giving him a contract similar to the one he signed with the Panthers. Breeland had a decent PFF rating of 79, and has plenty of time to improve.
Even with the signing of Williams, the Packers brought in wide receiver Jordan Matthews for a visit. Matthews had a poor year in Buffalo after being brought over in a trade, playing only 10 games and catching 25 passes for 282 yards. However, in his first three seasons, he caught 225 passes for 2,673 yards with the Eagles.
During his time in Philadelphia, Matthews was tops in the NFL in receiving yards from the slot, ranking just ahead of Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb. Matthews is arguably the top receiver remaining on the market, so if Green Bay misses out on him, I’d look to the draft. If the Packers were to sign Matthews and Breeland, free agency would be a giant success.
If they were to sign Breeland to go along with Williams, it would be big for the team heading toward the NFL Draft. That would let Gutekunst draft whoever is atop his board, even moreso than before. Without a free agent signing or two at cornerback, it would almost force Gutekunst to use pick No. 14 on a corner. Now, they can either take a corner or a pass rusher. Options for him are available.
During the draft, there are several possibilities. If a player like Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick or Ohio State’s Denzel Ward were to fall, I could see Green Bay trading up a few spots to grab one of them. But if everybody they like at 14 is gone, trading down a few spots and picking up another pick is not out of the question. And, like what happened when Dom Capers was first in charge of the defense, I could see them trading back into the first and grabbing a player who they like at the end of the first round (like Raji, Matthews).
One cornerback I could see them trading back in for is Iowa’s Josh Jackson. It looked like he could be a top 10 pick before the combine, but did not have a great showing in Indianapolis. Jackson and his ball hawking ability seems like a Packers pick. When targeted in 2017, opposing quarterbacks only had a 31.3 passer rating when targeting Jackson. His PFF grade of 95.1 is the tops at his position of draft eligible players. Green Bay still needs a playmaker in the secondary, and Jackson could be that player.
It is refreshing to move to Gutekunst after years of Ted Thompson. Gutekunst has not spent crazy money, but he has improved the football team so far this offseason, They still have a bit of cap space and 12 draft picks, so he has plenty of ammo to improve the team even more.——————
Jonathon Zenk is a writer for PackersTalk.com. He is a huge Packers fan, and a graduate of The University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. You can follow Jonathon on Twitter at @jzenk42