Packers' cornerback jobs up for grabs
Fourth in a series looking at the Packers’ key issues entering organized team activities Monday.
GREEN BAY - It’s easy to forget now, but Davon House walked away from a likely starting cornerback job in the Green Bay Packers' secondary two years ago.
Spring 2015 also was the same offseason the Packers let Tramon Williams sign with the Cleveland Browns. That turned out to be prescient. Williams, who’d just turned 32, had one interception in 15 starts during 2015, started only seven games in 2016 and was released this spring.
Letting House walk in free agency was more difficult.
With the decision to move on from Williams, House — the top perimeter corner backup in 2014 — was in position to be promoted as a starter opposite Sam Shields. Instead, general manager Ted Thompson and chief negotiator Russ Ball exercised the same fiscal restraint they’ve shown countless times before. For House, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offer of four years and $24 million — including $10 million guaranteed — was impossible to decline.
Now, House is back in Green Bay, released by Jacksonville midway through his contract. This time, he’s walking into what should be a starting cornerback job in the Packers' secondary.
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For all the need to improve defensively, cornerback is the only defensive position that might undergo a complete makeover atop the Packers' depth chart.
At safety, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett are locked in as starters. Ditto for Clay Matthews and Nick Perry at outside linebacker. Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark figure to be the two interior defensive linemen in the Packers' nickel. And though inside linebacker could have a lot of moving parts, Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez figure to be starters in the Packers' base 3-4 as well as on running downs.
Cornerback presents a much murkier picture, a position where every job is up for grabs. Those battles start Monday when the Packers open the organized team activities portion of their offseason schedule, and likely won’t end until well into training camp.
House, who signed a one-year, $2.8 million contract, should be one of the Packers' starting cornerbacks when they host the Seattle Seahawks to open the season in September. In the ideal scenario, rookie Kevin King would start on the perimeter opposite House. King’s quick transition will be especially important. At 6-foot-3 and running a 4.43-second 40, King is expected by the team to be an immediate starter and eventual No. 1 corner.
With House and King on the perimeter, Damarious Randall could move full time to a slot role that better suits his skill set. Remember, Randall was a college safety; he’s comfortable playing in the middle of the field.
LaDarius Gunter might be a backup on the depth chart, but he could have an important role not unlike House’s in 2014. With House as a top perimeter backup that season, the Packers were protected against injuries in a way they weren’t the past two seasons.
The depth House provided — and the Packers hope Gunter now provides — was a valuable piece to what was one of the NFL’s best secondaries that season. The Packers finished seventh in the league in opposing passer rating (82.1) and also were top 10 in several other categories.
No cornerback on the roster has more to prove this offseason than Quinten Rollins.
The Packers drafted Rollins in the second round despite limited experience because of his ball skills after he tied for third in the nation with seven interceptions in his lone college season. He flashed the same skills as a rookie, finishing with two interceptions and six defended passes in 322 snaps. With more than double the playing time, Rollins had one interception and eight defended passes in 702 snaps last season.
It’s too early to give up on Rollins, but he’ll have to earn his snaps this fall. With a good offseason, he figures to be a dime corner, backing up Randall in the slot.
But no positions are cemented in May. That’s what this time of year is for. When the Packers start their OTAs on Monday at Clarke Hinkle Field, the battle for jobs begins.