On Friday afternoon, the Green Bay Packers agreed to a trade that will send fourth-year cornerback Damarious Randall to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for quarterback Deshone Kizer and a swap of the teams’ fourth-round and fifth-round draft picks in 2018. This trade seemingly came out of nowhere, as there had been no rumblings about the Packers moving Randall since the 2017 preseason.
As we at Acme Packing Company processed the information intially, we went through a series of emotions and feelings, and we’ll explain why each reaction makes sense below.
First of all, the announcement that Randall was on the move came as a stunner. Then, once the initial shock of wore off, the compensation was the next question and became another stunner: the acquisition of quarterback DeShone Kizer. The Packers certainly did not get the production out of backup quarterback Brett Hundley that they would have liked in 2017, but the expectation was that the team would either sign a low-priced veteran or draft a quarterback on day three to provide competition behind Aaron Rodgers.
Adding to the shock is the fact that the draft pick compensation involves just a 13-spot upgrade in each of the fourth and fifth rounds of this spring’s draft. The shockwaves hit in series with each new revelation about the transaction.
After absorbing the information, the understandable first reaction to the trade is “why?” Randall was poised to be the Packers’ top cornerback in 2018, as he was one of the few players in the secondary to remain mostly healthy throughout the season. He led the team in interceptions with four, including one pick-six, and he has had at least three picks in each of his three seasons.
Randall, of course, had a significant falling-out with the coaching staff during the Packers’ week 4 victory over the Chicago Bears, being benched for the second half of the game and reportedly leaving the sideline at one point. However, he rebounded massively after that incident, and played particularly well between weeks 5 and 13. He had all of his interceptions in that span, including picks in three straight games at one stretch.
Without Randall, the Packers’ cornerback group is extremely inexperienced; two of the top five players on the depth chart will enter their second NFL seasons in 2018 (Kevin King and Lenzy Pipkins), while two more are coming off significant injuries (Quinten Rollins and Demetri Goodson). Only Josh Hawkins does not fall into one of those groups, as he will be a third-year player, but he has struggled to consistently earn playing time.
Leaving the cupboard at cornerback so bare before even having a chance to assess the free agent market up close seems like a questionable move on its face.
When digging deeper into the players involved, the reasons for this move become a little more clear. Take this description of Randall’s season from ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, for example:
There was strong sentiment in the locker room at that time to give Randall the boot -- sources said McCarthy’s committee of veteran players suggested that Randall be released -- but the Packers stood by him. He responded with a stretch of three straight games with an interception and finished with a team-high four picks, but he missed the final two games with a knee injury that some in the organization thought he could have played through. Then, Randall was critical of defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who was fired after the season.
Remember also that there were strong rumors about the Packers looking to move Randall before the 2017 season; reports indicated that a player-for-player swap for linebacker Mychal Kendricks of the Philadelphia Eagles was seriously considered by both sides before a potential deal fell apart. With this information in hand as well as reviewing a few comments from head coach Mike McCarthy after the season — when he said that Randall needed to “clean his own house” — it’s less surprising that the Packers were willing to move on from Randall.
The acquisition of Kizer also should not be that big a surprise for fans who were in tune with reports from the 2017 draft, as the Packers were rumored to be heavily interested in the Notre Dame quarterback in the second round. Of course, the team ended up drafting King with the 33rd pick, but it seems plausible that they may have selected Kizer over Josh Jones had he been available with the 61st selection.
The final way we can approach this transaction is one that this writer suspects will not be chosen by most Packers fans.
It’s also possible that the Packers — Mike McCarthy in particular — will be able to mold Kizer into a solid backup with a potential to start in the NFL a few years down the line. If they do so, they may be able to flip him for a draft pick much as they apparently hoped to do with Hundley.
Likewise, this approach also requires a leap of faith that Gutekunst and company have a plan for the cornerback position. That plan would almost certainly involve acquisitions both in free agency and in the draft, but the Packers are positioned well to acquire a high-potential player in rounds one or two of the 2018 Draft. They could be in play for Ohio State’s Denzel Ward, Iowa’s Josh Jackson, or Florida State safety/slot corner Derwin James with the 14th pick; other names like Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver could be in play in round two.
It also comes as quite the coincidence that this transaction took place a day after Packers.com historian Cliff Christl wrote an article describing Vince Lombardi’s player philosophy. The telling quote from this piece is the following:
Football is a hardheaded cold business. No matter what a player did last year, he must go if he can’t do it this year.
Clearly, Brian Gutekunst felt that Randall couldn’t “do it” for the Packers in 2018, and so he at least was able to get something in return for him. Here’s hoping that Gutekunst knows what he’s doing.