GREEN BAY – Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst might appear to be selling off players with the intention of building something big for the 2019 season, but the two deals he made at the trade deadline Tuesday had a lot to do with this season.
If the Packers are going to salvage anything out of 2018, they can't have players who don't want to be in their locker room or whom others don't want in their locker room.
Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix fell into the first category and running back Ty Montgomery probably fell into both.
And so, Clinton-Dix was shipped off to Washington for what an NFL source said was a fourth-round pick and Montgomery was jettisoned to Baltimore for what NFL Network reported was a conditional seventh-rounder in 2020.
It’s not exactly a king’s ransom for a starting safety and a part-time running back and returner. But it also isn’t a fire sale.
Clinton-Dix hadn’t played well all season, missing way too many tackles, abandoning the middle too often in the red zone and giving up too many completions in coverage. He did have four turnover plays, including an important forced fumble in the San Francisco victory, but his good did not outweigh his bad.
Your free safety cannot be one of the team leaders in missed tackles (at least seven) and he can’t be party to three of the first 10 passing touchdowns allowed if he wants to be paid like a Pro Bowl player. Because his speed is average, he couldn’t recover from being out of position or taking a poor angle and needed to be much better in alignment and technique.
Clinton-Dix was under the impression he deserved to be rewarded for all he had done in his four-plus seasons with the Packers, including a Pro Bowl honor in 2016 and an iron-man participation streak.
It was a mistake on his part because the NFL is a prove-it league and the Packers didn’t like the way Clinton-Dix’s poor 2017 ended in Detroit when he appeared to pass up some tackles. They decided to see how 2018 went before negotiating a long-term deal with him.
Clinton-Dix should have known that if they had let players like Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga, Mason Crosby and Sam Shields sweat it out until days before their contracts expired, they would probably do it with him. They had let defensive backs Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde and Casey Hayward walk and so it was certainly possible they were going to do the same with him.
After Clinton-Dix spoke out several weeks ago about being certain he would be somewhere else next season, the Packers knew there was no going back and decided it was better to deal him now and receive a sure draft pick than wait to see if they would get a compensatory pick for him in 2020 after he left in free agency.
The best you can do in the compensatory drawing is a third-round pick and that is usually only pegged to someone who signs a massive contract and has a great first season with his new team. The Packers got a fourth-round pick from Washington, which is pretty good all things considered.
By trading Clinton-Dix, they also knocked $3,153,706 off their 2018 salary cap, which is money they can carry over to next season. They were $6.7 million under before the trade, so barring any signings, they’ll be able to carry over $10 million over to 2019.
Finally, the Packers had to weigh whether they could fill Clinton-Dix’s spot on the field this season.
The answer is that they have some options.
According to one NFC scout, their best choice might be to move veteran Bashaud Breeland to safety and have him work his way in with Jermaine Whitehead. Breeland is 6-foot, 194 pounds and not afraid of contact. He also has enough experience to understand Pettine’s system right away.
Another option would be move Tramon Williams inside. He played in a hybrid spot against the Los Angeles Rams and would be free to do that as long as rookie Jaire Alexander and second-year pro Kevin King play cornerback the way they did Sunday.
Finally, they could just move Whitehead there. He played extensively against the Rams, although his primary duties have been down in the box as a slot corner and inside linebacker.
Whatever the case, there’s a chance this blows up in Gutekunst’s face. Maybe the position becomes a huge problem and erases all the good feeling the defense generated with the Rams performance. But given Clinton-Dix’s performance this year, it probably won’t be a huge deal on the field.
In the locker room, it removes a player who felt he wasn’t going to be part of the organization anyway.
Which brings us to Montgomery. The bottom line is that the players who questioned Montgomery’s motives for fielding a kickoff to NFL.com’s Mike Silver were not a bunch of bench riders. They were veteran players and Gutekunst couldn’t have someone in the locker room whom his best players couldn’t trust.
In turn, Montgomery didn’t take full blame for the mistake and focused much of his words Monday on the lack of trust he felt with his teammates after being ripped anonymously. Gutekunst just couldn’t risk having that kind of fissure between players in his locker room.
And trading Montgomery ends the three-back experiment, which was a waste of time. Now, Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams can split time with Jones getting most of the early-down work and Williams most of the third-down work.
There is no third wheel there to complicate matters. There is no excuse for coach Mike McCarthy to ignore Jones now. In that case, dealing Montgomery to Baltimore makes a lot of sense, although McCarthy or Gutekunst is going to have to address the team about why this happened and whether it means they’ll be cut if they make one big mistake.
Gutekunst did not bite on some other trade bait, but it’s likely he looked into other deals. The Rams paid more than at least one scout thought Jacksonville Jaguars pass rusher Dante Fowler was worth, particularly given some of the personal baggage he carries.
The New York Giants did not deal safety Landon Collins, who would have been a great replacement for Clinton-Dix. But it would have cost a high draft pick to get him and in the end, nobody matched their price.
And so the Packers go into the halfway point of the year with the same team, minus two players who may not have wanted to be there anymore. It was not a sell off, but rather a last-ditch effort to get the locker room right.