Aaron Nagler speaks with Michael Cohen about all the latest from Orlando where the NFL is holding its annual league meeting. (March 26, 2018) USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
ORLANDO, Fla. - Two weeks after the Green Bay Packers shipped Damarious Randall to Cleveland, the former first-round pick fired back at his former employer.
“You’ll see how dumb that trade was very soon,” Randall said Friday on Twitter, adding three laughing-faced emojis.
The veracity of Randall’s parting shot will be evaluated over the next two years, assuming the Browns pick up his fifth-year option for the 2019 season. More important than the time frame, though, is the position at which Randall plans to prove the Packers wrong. After three seasons at cornerback, Randall is switching to free safety, his preferred spot on the field and one he manned in college at Arizona State.
On Tuesday, coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Brian Gutekunst fielded questions about the trade for the first time during media sessions at the annual league meeting, and it doesn’t appear Randall’s desire to change positions was a factor in the Packers’ decision to cut ties. McCarthy said the Packers were planning to use Randall in a hybrid role that catered more to his skill set moving forward. That Randall had played so much corner during his first three years was born of necessity over proper fit, with injury woes and established veterans funneling him to the perimeter.
“We were going to play him in more of a safety/nickel type role,” McCarthy said. “I think that’s his natural position. I think we all recognize that. Him playing as much corner for us was the best thing for our defense at the time, with Morgan (Burnett) and Ha Ha (Clinton-Dix) and really utilizing the players the best way we can. Obviously, we’ve had issues outside with corners staying healthy the last two years, and that’s a product of him playing out there. And he played it well when he was healthy, when he stays in the game.
“I think if he can line up and play safety — and stay in games and play games — I think he could have as big a year as anybody’s ever had because he’s got tremendous range, he’s smart, he’s got a unique skill set. But yeah, I mean, free safety is where he wants to play.”
Gutekunst said natural ties between the Packers and Browns facilitated an open dialogue about various players over the last two months. In addition to general manager John Dorsey, a disciple of Ron Wolf, the Browns also plucked a pair of high-ranking executives from Green Bay earlier this year, naming Eliot Wolf assistant GM and Alonzo Highsmith vice president of player personnel.
Together the former colleagues agreed to a trade that sent Randall to Cleveland in exchange for quarterback DeShone Kizer and a swap of fourth- and fifth-round picks.
“Just because of the closeness of the relationships we were inquiring about each other’s players quite a bit,” Gutekunst said. “When they acquired (quarterback) Tyrod Taylor (via trade), I inquired about Kizer, and it kind of went from there.
“I think he’s a young quarterback who has an athletic skill set we look for. Exceptionally bright, very smart. He’s accurate with the football. He’s able to extend plays, make things out of nothing. I think he just needs time. The things we’ve always looked for in quarterbacks from a skill set and a wiring type he had, and that was intriguing to us. Also moving up in those two rounds, the fourth and fifth rounds, was important as well.”
As was finding a way to move on from Randall, whose personality didn’t always jibe in Green Bay.
Equal parts forthright and blunt, Randall took a bold stance during the final media session of the 2017 season. When asked what went wrong for a defense that routinely imploded, Randall suggested the coaches needed to hold players more accountable for mistakes, that continuing to rely on certain individuals was doing the Packers more harm than good.
“Players weren’t executing what they were being told, and I feel like maybe (that) wasn’t being enforced enough, that we were still allowing guys on the field that wasn’t getting the job done,” Randall said two days after the season finale. “That said, it’s probably why we’ll see some changes and hopefully change is good.”
McCarthy fired back at Randall in his season-ending news conference later that week.
“I’ll tell you what I told Damarious,” McCarthy said in January. “He needs to focus on himself. He’s got to clean his own house. That’s what I look for him to do in the offseason.
“We all understand what happened in the Chicago game, but I thought from the Chicago game on he played at a very high level. He probably played his best football of his career, but then he didn’t play the last two games (with a knee injury).”
The Chicago game was Randall’s nadir. An easy touchdown by the Bears led to a sideline meltdown and, reportedly, an argument with a member of the coaching staff. McCarthy made the decision to send Randall to the locker room early, long before the game ended, and the fallout produced an awkward interview in which Randall answered nearly every question with variations of the phrase “internal matter” to describe what had taken place.
Some of the veterans grew frustrated with Randall, and it’s fair to wonder if the locker room, coaching staff and personnel department had seen enough. At his best, Randall was a very good player who averaged one interception every 3.9 games. At his worst, Randall was a subpar corner plagued by inconsistency and questionable maturity.
The Packers decided to move on, and McCarthy took the high road when asked if Randall wore out his welcome in Green Bay.
“Wear out his welcome?” McCarthy said rhetorically. “At the end of the day you make decisions on what’s best for your football team, and Brian felt that as far as the trade opportunity, we felt like obviously you don’t make a trade you don’t feel you’re getting the best of. So this is the best thing for Damarious and this is the best thing for our football team.”