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Are the Ty Montgomery and Clinton-Dix trades addition by subtraction for the Packers?

Green Bay appeared to be sellers at the deadline, but is it a signal the season is over or did the Packers actually get better?

Minnesota Vikings v Green Bay Packers
Haha Clinton-Dix may have some interceptions this season, but he was consistently out of position and rarely made impact tackles.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers are less talented Wednesday than they were Tuesday. No matter what anyone thinks about the hero Jake Kumerow, should he return from IR, the loss of Ty Montgomery and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix represents a blow to the absolute quality of the Green Bay roster.

It doesn’t mean they’re a worse team.

Take Sunday’s game as a prime example. If Montgomery’s offensive snaps simply go to Aaron Jones, and his special teams snaps to say Marquez Valdes-Scantling, aren’t the Packers actually closer to beating the Rams rather than further? Clinton-Dix gave up embarrassingly bad coverage on the touchdown to Josh Reynolds near the end of the first half. If a player like Jermaine Whitehead or Tramon Williams had been playing free safety, guys who are more likely to simply be in the right place at the right time, wouldn’t the Packers defense have looked better?

More to the point, if Josh Jones, with his supreme athletic gifts, had been asked to chase around Todd Gurley in coverage, wouldn’t he have had a better shot at doing so than Whitehead? The touchdown and two-point conversions to Gurley were as simple as Whitehead not being able to track Gurley across the field. For whatever limitations Jones has, and clearly he has some, his speed isn’t one of them.

Montgomery’s fumble encapsulated a dual thread line in the trajectory of both players this season. Even if he’ll deny it, players on the team believed Ty’s insistence on taking the ball out stemmed from a lack of touches in the offense, a frustration he voiced on the sideline. Whether it was a “tantrum” or not doesn’t matter. He forced it, making a bad decision in an effort to make a play for the team. Even if it was sub-conscious, it was a selfish decision on Montgomery’s part.

That’s the story of Clinton-Dix’s season. Though he’s made some plays with interceptions, much more often he’s been out of position, freelancing, taking unnecessary risks to make picks, and showing an unwillingness to tackle, presumably in part to avoid injury to anticipation of his free agency (though his poor tackling is hardly a new problem).

If what the Packers want from their free safety is a high-variance playmaker who won’t tackle and won’t always be responsible for his role, how could playing a rookie like Josh Jackson out of position actively make the team worse? A veteran like Tramon Williams would almost certainly know where to be and when, plus has better instincts, intelligence and ball skills than HHCD. At worst, Whitehead is a much more reliable tackler and a more agile safety in man coverage. He’s also faster, with quicker feet, plus has experience playing all over this defense. Much like with Micah Hyde, there’s a non-zero chance Clinton-Dix was blocking the best free safety on the team from getting to play.

For whatever matchup advantages Montgomery would have provided in limited snaps, the difference in his production as a runner compared to Jones or his ability as a pass blocker relative to Jamaal Williams doesn’t look worth it. Green Bay, suddenly flush with playmakers at the skill positions, looks better off feeding those targets to Davante Adams, who proved once again Sunday he’s a mismatch against whoever he’s seeing opposite him.

Mike McCarthy mentioned locker room culture as a contributing factor in the trade, and on Wednesday Brian Gutekunst implied that he believes the Packers are better without Montgomery and Clinton-Dix. For whatever talent Ty brought, it’s clear his presence on the team was no longer tenable after Sunday. And Clinton-Dix never became the leader this team hoped; in fact, he openly undermined leadership and talked on the record about having one foot out the door.

“Football is the ultimate team game and taking individual pieces out doesn’t necessarily weaken the team,” Gutekunst said Wednesday.

In this case, there’s a strong case to be made these moves can make the Packers better on the field even if they have less talent. Players who are willing to happily play their roles are more likely to do so effectively, than players who feel they have something to prove and in this case were willing to go beyond the structure of the team to do it.

Having a chip on your shoulder is one thing, but actively undermining the success of the team to meet personal goals is another. Even if that’s not a reasonable explanation for the decisive play Sunday or HHCD’s play over the last few years (a point I won’t concede), at the very least these were high variance players who weren’t able to consistently execute what was asked of them.

Sliding their snaps to players who can simply do their jobs, even if the top-end production isn’t as good, could make this Packers team better overall.