Dougherty: Three views as Green Bay Packers eye roster revamp
Roster building is about to begin for real in the NFL.
Free agency and the league year officially start in a few days, and teams are shedding players to create salary-cap space and preparing for the frenzy that’s the open market. What’s true now can change in 15 minutes, let alone an hour or a day.
With that in mind, here are three observations about the Green Bay Packers heading into a signing period in which they’re likely to be active:
1. Antonio Brown
For half a day late this past week, the reports were all over the map about whether the Packers were interested in trading for him. The bottom line? It looks like they wisely steered clear, and early Sunday the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to trade Brown to Oakland for third- and fifth-round draft picks.
What made it a non-starter for the Packers is that, according to SI.com, Brown was seeking to become the NFL’s highest-paid receiver (he ended up getting a new three-year deal reportedly worth $50.125 million with a maximum value of $54.125 million, with $30.125 million guaranteed). The Packers would have been crazy to invest a huge guarantee in a receiver who, while undoubtedly a great talent and obsessive worker, has become a diva and at age 31 in July could begin declining at any time.
If they could have gotten Brown in a reasonable trade (similar to what Oakland gave up) and at his current contract of $15.125 million this year and no guaranteed money in the future? Then it would have been worth looking into.
But Brown’s insistence on a new contract was prohibitive for the Packers, who have a bona fide No. 1 receiver (Davante Adams) and some promising talent (Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown) at that position anyway.
Brown is a locker-room issue waiting to happen – for instance, in recent seasons he reportedly was chronically late for meetings but only occasionally fined. He’s used to having his own rules, and he didn’t handle it well last season when teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster caught more passes than he did.
This is exactly what the Packers don’t want with a new coach who has been charged with ramping up accountability.
2. The safety market
Assuming they’d prefer to move Tramon Williams back to cornerback, the Packers need two new starting safeties, and it’s on them to find at least one from the glut of free agents at that position.
The biggest names are Earl Thomas and Landon Collins, but neither is a good candidate for the Packers, for different reasons.
With Thomas, there’s no sign the Packers have any interest, and rightly so. He’s a once-great player who has sustained two broken lower legs in the last three years.
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Those are bad injuries that surely have taken some of the zip from his legs. At age 29 (30 in May) it’s also a sign his body probably won’t hold up anymore. I have to say, I just don’t get why he’s at the top of all the free-agent lists and reportedly in for a big pay day. At $12 million a year or whatever he’s going to get, he looks like a huge risk to me.
Collins is young (25) and good, but he’ll be expensive, as in, more than $10 million a year. The Packers should be able to find better bang for the buck elsewhere.
Among the others available are Houston’s Tyrann Mathieu, Chicago’s Adrian Amos, the Rams’ Lamarcus Joyner, Tennessee’s Kenny Vaccaro, Jacksonville’s Tashaun Gipson, Arizona’s Tre Boston, San Francisco’s Jimmie Ward and Denver’s Darian Stewart. Also, Minnesota’s Andrew Sendejo reportedly will be a salary-cap casualty in the next couple days.
The most interesting players on that list are Mathieu, Amos, Gipson, Joyner and Ward. Gipson, 28, might be the name to watch because he played for Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine for two years in Cleveland. Jacksonville cut him late this past week to clear his $7.25 million base salary from their cap.
3. Josh Jackson
The old adage is that a cornerback should play that position until he proves he can’t before moving him to safety.
That suggests the Packers should keep Josh Jackson, their 2018 second-round pick, at cornerback for another season.
He flashed potential in camp and especially preseason games as a rookie but then struggled with penalties in the regular season. His eight penalties tied for fifth-most among cornerbacks in the league, and that came while playing 67.5 percent of the Packers’ defensive snaps.
But Jackson might be better suited for free safety. His best asset is his instincts playing the ball in the air. He has decent height (6-0 3/8), and while his straight-line speed for cornerback is below average (he ran the 40 in 4.56 seconds, whereas the cornerback average at the combine dating to 1999 is 4.50), it’s OK for a safety (safeties average 4.57 at the combine).
The stop watch only tells so much; it’s play speed that matters most. But speed was the concern with Jackson just based on his video coming out of college, and it showed up a couple times as a rookie. When I asked him during the season about moving to safety, he said he’d be open to it if the Packers asked.
Jackson’s not a hitter, and there could be questions about his tackling for the position. But safeties have to cover more and more against the spread offenses in this league, and he has the makings of a ballhawk in center field. It’s a move the Packers have to seriously consider. In three years with Damarious Randall, they never did play him at his best position.