Dougherty: Five potential cornerback targets for Packers

Pete Dougherty
Packers News
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Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Aaron Colvin (22) intercepts a pass in front of Buffalo Bills tight end Logan Thomas (82) during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla.

The Green Bay Packers need pass rushers and cornerbacks, that’s no secret.

While Brian Gutekunst most definitely will be looking for both in this year’s NFL draft, the new general manager will have to dip into free agency or maybe even the trade market at one of those positions if he’s as serious about improving immediately as he said he is at his introductory news conference last month.

And looking at the players who figure to be available, chances are better that Gutekunst can find help at cornerback, even if it’s short term, than pass rusher.

The Packers’ top two cornerbacks from last season are under contract: Kevin King, who flashed real potential as a rookie though he also carries a long-term risk because of a shoulder issue that sidelined him the final seven games and required surgery, and Damarious Randall, who rebounded from an early-season benching and banishment to the locker room during a game to have the best of his three seasons in the NFL.

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But you need more than two cornerbacks to play good defense in today’s NFL. With defenses playing primarily nickel and dime personnel, plus attrition, teams really need three good cornerbacks, and four or even five cornerbacks who can hold up well against NFL competition. So Gutekunst should be looking to add several players at that position.

Following are just a few from a long list of cornerbacks expected to be available either via trade or free agency, which opens March 14.

Marcus Peters: If Peters really is on the trading block, he’s the best cornerback available. The Kansas City Chiefs reportedly are willing to deal him after recently acquiring two potential starters — Kendall Fuller in a trade with Washington and David Amerson, signed recently after the Oakland Raiders cut him this offseason.

(Update: According to multiple reports Friday, the Chiefs have agreed to trade Peters to the Los Angeles Rams. The trade can't be announced before March 14.)

Peters is entering only his fourth NFL season and ranks among the NFL’s best cover men. He has been named first-team All-Pro once (2016) and been to two Pro Bowls, but he apparently is available because of coachability/locker room concerns. Things came to a head for the Chiefs last December when coach Andy Reid suspended him for a game after Peters threw an official's flag into the stands against the New York Jets and then got in an argument with an assistant coach.

Peters is a very good player — he leads the league in interceptions the last three years combined (19), and of two scouts I asked about him this week, one ranked him in the top five in the league, the other the top 10. So if the Chiefs are willing to trade him in his prime (he turned 25 in January), that says a lot.

An NFL scout I consulted who has been following Peters closely since his college days at Washington characterized him as having authority issues — he’ll bite back at coaching criticism and react poorly when disciplined for it.

“He’s a player,” the scout said. “He’s got the length, the size, the speed, the coverage ability. He’ll come up and tackle your (butt). He’s the complete football player and prototypical corner that teams dream of. But he’s a little bit of a nightmare off the field.”

Peters essentially has two years left on his rookie contract — this season at $1.7 million, plus as a first-round pick he’s subject to a fifth-year option at around $6 million in 2019. That’s cheap for a player of his caliber, but he no doubt will be looking for a lucrative contract extension after this season, if not sooner.

Any team acquiring him needs to have eyes wide open. It might have him for only two seasons, and if there’s no contract extension, there could be problems. The team also would have to feel good about its coaching staff’s ability to work with Peters. Coach Mike McCarthy has the highest regard for Joe Whitt Jr., his defensive passing game coordinator, and might think Whitt and new secondary coach Jason Simmons could make it work.

With all that in mind, what’s Peters worth in a trade? One scout proposed either a fifth- or fourth-round pick. Another thought maybe as high as a third. It’s something the Packers have to seriously explore, but the risks are high.

Malcolm Butler: The New England Patriots cornerback is a big name who enters free agency with a huge question mark after getting benched for the Super Bowl. He didn’t play one defensive snap even though Philadelphia scorched the Patriots for 41 points and 374 yards passing.

“That told me (coach Bill) Belichick didn’t trust him against the two big receivers of Philadelphia,” one scout said. “Belichick didn’t trust him, he hadn’t been playing well all year. Double moves were eating him up.”

The scout said Butler might be a good signing at about $7 million or $8 million a year. Another scout said he likes Butler as a player but questioned his knowledge of the game. A third considers Butler a good player but a little short (5-9¾) and slow (reported 4.62 40).

If Gutekunst sticks with the Packers’ position minimums going back to former GM Ron Wolf, he won’t go after Butler. The Packers’ minimum height requirement for cornerbacks is 5-10½, and the franchise rarely has strayed from that — Ahmad Carroll (5-9½) and Terrell Buckley (5-10) are the only two who come to mind in the last 26 years.

Aaron Colvin: He was Jacksonville’s No. 3 cornerback last season, though that’s not a big knock because Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye were as good as any starting duo in the league.

Colvin is primarily a slot cornerback, though that essentially makes him a starter because defenses are in sub packages for 80 percent or more of their defensive snaps. He lasted until the fourth round of the 2014 draft because he tore his ACL at the Senior Bowl.

I asked one scout if he rated the 26-year-old Colvin better than the Packers’ Randall.

“Even, but (Colvin) is more competitive,” the scout said.

Aqib Talib: Denver Broncos GM John Elway reportedly is looking to trade Talib, but Elway might have trouble pulling off a deal because teams are assuming he’ll cut Talib for an $11 million salary-cap savings.

At age 32, Talib would be a stopgap for only a year, two at most. But he has been one of the league’s better cornerbacks the past five seasons (five straight Pro Bowls, first-team All-Pro in 2016). I asked two scouts about Talib, and both project at least one more good season from him.

If Gutekunst is up for signing a short timer while he drafts and develops longer-term solutions, Talib might find the Packers attractive because of Aaron Rodgers.

Tramon Williams: The former Packers standout turns 35 in a month, which is ancient for a cornerback. But he’s an uncommonly springy athlete in the Donald Driver mold, and he played in new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense for two years in Cleveland.

Williams presumably can be had on the cheap and would be strictly for depth for one season. But you have to think Gutekunst at minimum will consider bringing him in regardless of who else he adds.

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