Davon House is on track to be only a part-time player for 2014.
He nevertheless might be on the way to earning a lucrative contract on the free-agent market next spring.
House is sharing time with Casey Hayward as the Green Bay Packers' No. 3 cornerback. He's playing on average roughly one-third of the defensive snaps.
But House's playing time is low because the Packers are uncommonly deep at the position with Sam Shields and Tramon Williams as their starters, along with Hayward as the co-No. 3. And even in the part-time role, House in his fourth season has begun showing the potential to be a starter in the near future, either for the Packers if they re-sign him or for a cornerback-hungry team that doesn't trust a draft pick to immediately step into the job next year.
The season is only five games old, so much can change for better or worse over the next three months. But House has played well enough that the Packers are making room for him on the field despite the players ahead of him on the depth chart.
"In the pass game, House has been close to dominant," Joe Whitt, the Packers' cornerbacks coach, said Thursday. "In the other aspects of being a complete corner — he still has some work to polish his game up to be a complete, solid, stud corner."
The Packers play their nickel defense (three cornerbacks) more than any other personnel package, and House and Hayward have been sharing time as the No. 3 cornerback. Whitt goes into each game with a targeted number of snaps for each, and rotates them based on matchups, situation and fatigue from special teams play.
Ted Thompson, the Packers' general manager, will be watching House's performance in that role closely for the rest of the season, because come March he could face a difficult decision. Two of Thompson's top four cornerbacks, Williams and House, will be unrestricted free agents.
The chances that Thompson will spend what it might take to keep both aren't good, though an expected spike in the salary cap makes it difficult to rule out the possibility.
The odds are low because Thompson spent big at cornerback last March when he signed Shields for $12.5 million guaranteed and an average of $9.75 million on a four-year contract. Thompson's history in nine-plus years as Packers GM makes it difficult to see him investing substantial money in two more players at that position considering his roster and contractual needs elsewhere.
That could leave Thompson to choose in the offseason.
There's Williams, who's been playing his best football since 2010, when he went to the Pro Bowl. He'll be 32 years old in March, which makes decline in play a concern. But it also means his price won't be nearly as high as the $7.5 million he's making this season.
House, a fourth-round draft pick from 2011, is only 25, so the next couple of years should be his best. But as long as the other cornerbacks' health holds up, he'll be only a part-time player and thus a projection for a larger role.
Thompson's history again suggests he'll pay the younger player, House. But if Thompson and team vice president Russ Ball deem House's market inflated, Williams provides a viable option.
"At the end of the day, we'll both have a job somewhere," Williams said. "It's not something that we just talk about. We know the circumstances, but we know we're here to win games, and we have to play well to do that."
House said the Packers have not approached his agent about a contract extension.
"I doubt I get done by the end of the year, we've not even talked about it," House said. "If I continue what I've been doing, good things are to come, here or somewhere else. Hopefully here."
There's a chance the Packers will approach House later in the season in hopes they can get him cheaper than in the offseason. But an agent I consulted predicted that House's respected representative, Ken Zuckerman, won't do a deal unless Ball makes an unexpectedly strong offer.
"(Zuckerman) always pushes to free agency, that's what he does," the agent said. "So Russ (Ball) knows he'll have to make a fair deal or Ken won't pull the trigger. I'd be surprised if Ken allowed himself to take a deal that's undervalued."
Thompson likely will have to decide before the start of free agency whether to re-sign House or let him hit the open market knowing he won't return.
That's how Thompson played it last year with Shields, who turned down the Packers' modest offer on a contract extension during the season. Before the start of free agency, Thompson decided he had no choice but to pay Shields what the open market appeared prepared to pay, which ended up being $39 million for four years.
"Russ will measure the market and see what he has to match to keep (House)," the agent said. "He's very good at that."
House won't be in line for anything like Shields' contract, but he could be looking at an uncommonly strong market for a relatively unproven player.
Last year in free agency, Minnesota signed former Carolina starter Captain Munnerlyn to a three-year deal that averages $3.75 million and included $4.45 million in guaranteed money. Also, Buffalo signed former Chicago and Baltimore nickel cornerback Corey Graham to a four-year deal that averages $4.075 million and included $5.5 million guaranteed.
There's every reason to think House will command that kind of deal playing at his current level. The demand for cornerbacks is that high. And maybe he'll get more.
"The $4 (million) to $6 (million) range for a top-notch No. 3 with the potential to be a No. 2 is not outlandish money for that kind of player," the agent said. "There are some teams that don't have two corners, let alone three."
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