Though the NFL Scouting Combine begins later this week and free agency looms just around the corner, the Green Bay Packers have to attend to other roster concerns. In one of his first major acts as general manager of the Green Bay Packers, Brian Gutekunst must decide whether to pick up or decline the fifth-year option in cornerback Damarious Randall’s rookie contract.
As ESPN’s Rob Demovsky wrote on Monday, the Packers could decline Randall’s fifth-year option and still retain him long-term next offseason in a fashion similar to Nick Perry. On the surface, that plan makes some sense. Randall’s career has taken several sharp turns and revealed both a high ceiling and some maddening lows, much like Perry through his first three seasons. Declining Perry’s option prior to the 2016 season perhaps motivated the former first-round pick to turn in his best year, something that could likewise work for Randall.
However, this approach ignores that players at premium positions hold their greatest value on their rookie deals, and by declining a fifth, affordable year of Randall’s contract, the Packers risk letting that value drift off into the ether. For all his faults, Randall proved to be the defense’s most reliable cornerback during 2017 after a slow start. With Kevin King returning with a repaired shoulder and presumably another starting corner joining the secondary, Randall could reach new heights in a better-defined role.
Picking up Randall’s option doesn’t come without risks. Should he suffer an injury serious enough to affect his offseason, the Packers could find themselves on the hook for his 2019 salary regardless of whether they wish to retain his services. That dynamic might have contributed to the sizable three-year contract Blake Bortles, who underwent surgery on his wrist, received last week.
Still, a capable cornerback at the cost of Randall’s fifth-year option (estimated to fall between $8 and 9 million) looks far more affordable than what he could receive as an unrestricted free agent or under the franchise tag should he deliver a strong 2018 campaign. The option would also give the Packers a better bargaining position should they attempt to sign him to a multiyear extension.