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Packers Free Agency: Available cornerbacks probably won’t help the Packers

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Don’t get your hopes up for a magical solution to the Packers’ secondary woes on the free agent market this offseason

NFL: NFC Wild Card-New York Giants at Green Bay Packers
Damarious Randall and the Packers’ secondary had plenty of trouble in 2016, but they’re not likely to get much help from free agents.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

If you are hoping that a free agent cornerback will solve the Packers’ issues in the secondary, I’m going to give you the TL;DR version of this article up front to save you some time:

You are going to be disappointed.

Assuming you’ve followed the Packers for more than one offseason, you know that Ted Thompson is notoriously loath to sign free agents. Cornerbacks in particular have not ranked high on his free agent priority list.

Other than Charles Woodson, he’s only signed one free agent cornerback since he took over as general manager in 2005. That player was Frank Walker, and if you remember any of his notable moments from the 2007 season, you are lying.

There’s a business truism that says when you’re trying to secure work from a contractor, you can pick two of the following three attributes: good, cheap, and fast. The intersection of those three attributes is a near impossibility, and searching for it will drive you crazy.

Free agents are very similar. You want them to be talented, affordable, and relatively young, but if you’re hoping for all three, you’re going to be looking for a long time.

Such is the case with this year’s crop of potential free agents. I took the list of pending free agent cornerbacks provided at Spotrac.com and sorted it by their Pro Football Focus rating for this season.

PFF’s ratings are not a be-all, end-all, but for our purposes they can serve as a baseline for establishing the relative level to which a player performed this season. For the sake of this discussion, I only included the players who accumulated enough snaps to earn a grade from PFF.

Here’s the list (with a link in case it’s hard to see):

2017 Free Agent Cornerbacks

Name Age 2016 Team Games Played Tackles Sacks FF INT PFF Rating PFF Rank
Name Age 2016 Team Games Played Tackles Sacks FF INT PFF Rating PFF Rank
A.J. Bouye 25 HOU 15 63 1 1 90.9 3
Terence Newman 38 MIN 15 38 1 86.4 9
Morris Claiborne 26 DAL 7 26 1 84.7 12
Logan Ryan 25 NE 16 92 1 1 2 84.5 14
Darius Butler 30 IND 12 33 1 3 82.6 21
Trumaine Johnson 27 LA 14 57 1 81 26
Prince Amukamara 27 JAC 14 49 76.6 42
Captain Munnerlyn 28 MIN 15 55 1 75.5 49
Brandon Carr 30 DAL 16 61 1 75.3 51
Dre Kirkpatrick 27 CIN 15 46 3 74.7 53
Dwayne Gratz 26 PHI 6 5 74.7 --
Darryl Morris 26 IND 11 35 1 74.3 56
Stephon Gilmore 26 BUF 15 48 5 73.2 61
Sterling Moore 26 NO 13 56 2 72.3 --
Jerraud Powers 29 BAL 13 33 1 2 70.3 68
Teddy Williams 28 CAR 3 6 1 68 --
Antwon Blake 26 TEN 16 42 62.5 80
Chykie Brown 30 CIN 5 2 62.1 --
Corey White 26 BUF 15 30 2 61.5 82
Blidi Wreh-Wilson 27 ATL 1 60 --
Kayvon Webster 25 DEN 13 7 57.7 --
Johnthan Banks 27 CHI 9 6 57.4 --
Neiko Thorpe 26 SEA 15 18 53 --
Nolan Carroll 30 PHI 16 54 1 51.7 92
Trevin Wade 27 NYG 16 26 51.5 --
Josh Robinson 26 TB 16 8 48.9 --
D.J. Hayden 26 OAK 11 37 1 48.6 97
Coty Sensabaugh 28 NYG 13 25 1 48.4 --
Crezdon Butler 29 DET 1 2 47 --
Greg Toler 32 WAS 16 17 45.8 --
Marcus Cooper 26 ARI 15 69 4 45.5 101
Asa Jackson 27 DET 4 7 45.3 --
Robert McClain 28 SD 14 38 1 41.9 104
Leonard Johnson 26 CAR 14 30 1 41.6 --
Leon Hall 32 NYG 12 32 2 1 1 30 --

Right off the bat we can see some issues. In PFF’s system, corners rated 80 or better are considered above average, and 90 or better is considered elite. Four of the six corners who are 80 or better are 27 or younger, so they meet at least two of our three criteria.

However, it seems unlikely that Houston, Dallas, or New England is likely to let a young and talented corner like Bouye, Claiborne, or Ryan make it to the open market, and if they do, they’ll be expensive.

Last year’s top three free agent cornerbacks received a combined $98.8 million in guaranteed money. If the Packers try to compete in that kind of bidding war, they’re going to have a difficult time retaining any of their own free agents, leaving much of the defense to be populated by (wait for it) draft picks and undrafted free agents.

The next tier of free agents, likewise, presents similar issues. Four of the nine players rated between 70 and 79 by PFF are just 26 years old, which means that any potential bidders should be getting the heart of their prime.

However, this price range also gets tricky. Since most of the top end of the market probably will return to their team of origin, you’ll be in a bidding war even for a second tier player. And secondly, even someone in this range isn’t guaranteed to be any good. For sake of comparison, Ladarius Gunter’s grade for last season was 71.2 before a major regression this year.

Beyond the second tier range, there’s very little reason to consider signing anybody. This is the part of the list that will get you only “young” or “cheap,” leaving you to just cross your fingers and hope for “talented.” The Packers can do better than signing this kind of free agent.

Like I said at the top, if you’re hoping for the Packers to shore up their secondary with free agent spending, this is going to be a disappointing offseason. Not only are the Packers generally uninterested in splurging on free agents, there’s also very little in the way of decent free agents out there.

Unless someone from the top end of the market falls through the cracks or an unexpected player gets released late, free agency won’t help the Packers’ cornerback situation.