Late Friday night, the most senior Packers scribe for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel wrote that the team should consider dealing away some of its cornerback depth before Tuesday's trade deadline.
Before exploring the likelihood of such a transaction, let's evaluate the merits of McGinn's suggestion.
At present, the Packers possess the deepest group of cornerbacks in the league. Sam Shields (though currently injured) and Tramon Williams represent an above average duo at the top, with Casey Hayward and Davon House providing more than adequate play in nickel, dime, and sub packages. While he primarily lines up at safety these days, Micah Hyde is a reliable slot corner who's an asset in run defense and on the blitz. Behind them are special teams wiz Jarrett Bush and untested rookie Demetri Goodson.
Here's where this gets interesting. Both Williams and House enter unrestricted free agency this offseason, and both have played well enough to attract plenty of attention on the open market. The graybeard of the group, Williams has started fulltime for Green Bay since 2009. House has never been a preferred starter, but his play in relief of the injured Shields this year along with his ideal size and athleticism make him an extremely valuable commodity.
The Packers must tread lightly in regard to contract extensions. Both Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga need new deals before next season, and Mike Daniels will require one soon thereafter. Even with the salary cap expected to grow by as much as $10 million, several of Green Bay's existing deals such as those for Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews increase with it. As such, it's difficult to envision both Williams or House returning (if either) in 2015.
However, with the trade deadline arriving much later in the season than in past years, the Packers could capitalize on their cornerback surplus by dealing one for the always-enticing draft picks.
It's an idea that makes some sense on paper. The Packers convert a current asset that may ultimately prove superfluous into a future player on a heavily cost-controlled deal. However, there's a myriad of issues with such a move.
First is deciding which player to part with. Sam Shields just signed a large extension and is considered a core piece by Packers brass. He's not going anywhere. Though not as impactful on the field, Micah Hyde provides position versatility and return ability on a contract that averages a mere $584,527 with over two years remaining. Ted Thompson and Russ Ball aren't letting that value slip through their hands. That leaves Williams, Hayward, and House as the potential trade chips. Interestingly, McGinn suggests in his article that the Packers will re-sign Williams at around $4-5 million annually despite his age (31). He also notes that a personnel director for an NFL team considered Hayward the more appealing player, but Green Bay would likely demand a second rounder or more in a trade.
Which leads into the second concern - whether a team would part with a valuable enough draft pick to entice the Packers. Most teams adhere to the philosophy that you can never have enough good cornerbacks. Right now Green Bay has five who start or are starting quality. That depth is why the team saw little dropoff when Shields and Williams went down against the Dolphins. At the same time, Shields should return after next week's bye and Williams' ankle held up well against the Panthers. If another team offered a Day 2 pick for House, a player the Packers might decide to let walk this offseason anyway, it could be enough to persuade Thompson.
That's all theoretical though, as teams rarely take a long-term viewpoint when evaluating roster moves during the season. As it stands, the NFC appears more wide open than at any time since the Packers' Super Bowl run in 2010. With the team tied for the lead in the NFC North at 5-2 and a very favorable schedule after the bye, this could be the Green Bay's best shot at another ring since its 15-1 campaign in 2011. Even if a trade could turn an excess corner into a high pick, the risk doesn't seem worth the reward. While the Packers' have endured a fairly low number of injuries this season, their chronic struggles in that area suggest that trading away quality depth could prove very costly.
Whether you fall in the pro- or anti-McGinn camp, there's no denying he remains the beat's most important and captivating scribe. His idea of trading a cornerback is, if nothing else, a fascinating intellectual exercise worthy of discussion. As always, McGinn did his homework and consulted his league contacts to provide the necessary background. While his suggestion likely amounts to little more than a few days of debate fodder, he provides a valuable service by writing these pieces. Few active NFL writers are as well connected as McGinn, and none combine his extensive network with his decades of experience.