Last in a series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ free agents in advance of the start of the 2016 league year Wednesday.
Casey Hayward did whatever the Green Bay Packers asked of him last season.
He was an outside cornerback when the defense needed him to be and a slot cornerback when rookie Damarious Randall proved capable of working on the perimeter in sub-packages. Hayward worked interchangeably at both spots and never chirped publicly about having to move.
Inside the Packers’ locker room, the former second-round pick assumed the leadership role Tramon Williams vacated when he left for Cleveland in free agency a year ago. Now, Hayward could face a similar fate if a deal between him and the Packers isn’t reached in the near future.
Things have been quiet so far between Hayward and the Packers, according to an NFL source with knowledge of the situation.
In previous years, Hayward likely would have been one of general manager Ted Thompson’s primary targets going into unrestricted free agency, which began at 11 a.m. Central Time on Monday with the legal negotiating period that runs up to the official start of the new league year at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
A finalist for NFL defensive rookie of the year in 2012, Hayward has 168 tackles, 35 passes defensed and nine interceptions in 51 regular-season games. He didn’t have an interception in 2015, but led Green Bay’s cornerbacks with 65 tackles and 908 defensive snaps in the regular season.
The problem is the Packers are loaded at his position. Sam Shields missed four games, but appears to be coming into his prime as a top cornerback. Randall and 2015 second-round pick Quinten Rollins showed promise as rookies, and Micah Hyde has played extensively in the slot during his first three NFL seasons.
Although talks between Hayward and the Packers could heat up in the coming days, a similar situation played out last year prior to Williams and Davon House’s departures.
House, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound cornerback who was 25 at the time, signed a four-year, $24.5 million contract with Jacksonville on the first day of free agency despite starting only 14 games in his four seasons with the Packers. The 32-year-old Williams then agreed to a three-year, $21 million deal with Cleveland a week later.
Hayward is widely considered the Packers’ top free agent and stands among the top cornerbacks who could hit the market alongside Janoris Jenkins, Sean Smith, Prince Amukamara and Adam Jones. Hayward, who won’t turn 27 until September, is the youngest of the lot.
The NFLPA confirmed Monday morning that the Packers’ cap number for 2016 will be $163,439,289 after factoring in adjustments and carryover room from 2015. That leaves them around $20 million to address their free agents, sign draft picks and entertain any possible outside acquisitions.
Where that leaves Hayward, only time will tell. The cornerback said he was prepared for whatever lies ahead when asked about his situation during the Packers’ final locker room Jan. 18. He reiterated how he’d like to be back with the Packers, but acknowledged the organization may want to press on with its young, developing core.
“You just never really know,” Hayward said. “Those young guys are going to be pretty good. Once they detail some of the little things, those young guys are going to be pretty well off. Like I said, that could be the case, but you just never know. I’ll take it day by day and when the time comes and they offer me, me and my agent will look at it and say yay or nay.”
The Packers have one more day to exclusively negotiate with their 12 unrestricted free agents. They used the buffer zone to finish deals with receiver Randall Cobb and quarterback Scott Tolzien last season. They got an early start on that process this year in reaching agreements with defensive lineman Mike Daniel in December, Letroy Guion last month and kicker Mason Crosby last week.
Thompson also must address the team’s two restricted free agents (offensive guard Lane Taylor and outside linebacker Andy Mulumba) and two exclusive right free agents (tight end Justin Perillo and safety Chris Banjo) between now and the start of the new league year Wednesday.
The Packers have held those conversations close to the vest, though it’s expected both Perillo and Banjo will be issued minimum third-year tenders. The organization could be enticed to issue a right-of-first-refusal tender worth $1.671 million to Taylor, who held his own in two spot starts last season.
Casey Hayward, fifth-year cornerback
The skinny: Unrestricted free agent
The snaps: 1,173 total (1,042 defense, 131 special teams)
The stats: 65 tackles, seven passes defensed
2015 salary: $846,812
UPCOMING NFL DATES
Today-Wednesday: Teams are permitted to negotiate with unrestricted free agents.
Wednesday (3 p.m. CT): New league year/opening of free agency. Teams can sign free agents.
March 20-23: Annual league meeting, Boca Raton, Fla.
April 18: Teams with returning head coaches can begin offseason workout programs.
April 28-30: NFL draft, Chicago.