When the Green Bay Packers signed Tramon Williams last offseason, the company line was he was there to play ball, not to be a de facto coach. After making multiple subsequent moves to solidify the cornerback room, Green Bay shuffled Williams to safety where he never quite impacted the game the way many thought he could. Free agency offers myriad safety options and a cache of high draft picks give Brian Gutekunst a host of chances to bolster that spot in 2019 and beyond.
Where does that leave Williams? He can’t cost the Packers more than $6 million to coach.
Cutting the popular veteran wouldn’t be easy. He’s well liked among fans and his work ethic provides an outstanding example for a young group of cornerbacks, but cutting him would result in just $1.2 million in dead cap, freeing up over $5.1 million in space this spring. That could be enough for someone like Bashaud Breeland who, at this stage in his career, is a much more impactful player, and nearly a decade younger.
For that price, the Packers would likely prefer Breeland to be out there as insurance for Kevin King’s inevitable injuries or Josh Jackson’s potential struggles. Assuming he’d accept a contract of that size, Breeland offers much more bang for the buck.
If Williams isn’t going to be a preferred rotation player at cornerback, what about safety? Ibraheim Campbell is an unrestricted free agent, Kentrell Brice is an RFA, Raven Greene is a former UDFA, and Natrell Jamerson was a late-season waiver claim, which leaves just Josh Jones at the position with any kind of real pedigree or experience.
Campbell showed well in a brief stint last season and could be an intriguing tender option, while Brice should be an automatic pass. Keeping Tramon Williams may legitimately be the best option at safety for the Packers in 2019. At the very least, he’ll be popular among fans for simply not being Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Or maybe he’s not even the best corner-to-safety possibility. Moving Tony Brown, a physical corner who acquitted himself better than expected in 2018, to safety — where he could play deep, in the slot, and all over the field — offers a low-risk, high-reward possibility. Brown’s success at corner and Jackson’s relative struggles may also open the door for a position switch some have been suggesting since Jackson got to training camp last offseason. His zone background, instincts, and ball skills would be well suited to safety, while mitigating any issues his lack of deep speed presents as a cornerback.
More importantly, they’re potential long-term options at safety, freeing the Packers up to make a shorter term bet in free agency for example. The risk of moving Brown in particular is essentially nothing, especially if Breeland returns to the team. Moving a former second-round pick simply represents a riskier allocation of resources, but if Jackson is willing, it could be the best thing for him.
There’s a middle ground where the Packers do both these things. Keep Williams for insurance, let him start the year, and with as often as Pettine plays three safeties, Williams’ presence won’t keep the safety-in-waiting from the field. This, however, precludes an upgrade which the Packers need.
Josh Jones, the one returning safety likely to be solidly in the mix, works best as a box player coming downhill, or in man coverage. When he has to play deep half or deep middle, he can be slow to read-and-react. Think of him as an overhang defender, as the extra safety when they go to the big nickel. Green Bay still needs two other guys.
Between a loaded free agent class of safeties and a versatile draft class, the Packers can almost certainly find an immediate upgrade as well as a long-term one if they so choose. It wouldn’t take paying Earl Thomas $12 million or even someone like Adrian Amos $8-10 million. Tre Boston got just $1.5 million last year and would have easily been an improvement over Williams. He’s available once again.
Future rookies like Nasir Adderley and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson offer speedy, ball-hawking coverage ability deep and in the slot. Johnathan Abram and Deionte Thompson are heat-seeking missiles who are athletic enough to be assets in coverage, while Taylor Rapp is a jack knife the Packers could put anywhere on the field.
If the Packers have short-term options better than Williams, particularly when it comes to spending the $5 million saved by cutting him, as well as a plethora of paths to long-term options, what value does Williams truly bring?
He was signed to bring steadiness to a cornerback room that now has a future star and a culture-setter of its own in Jaire Alexander. Green Bay moved him to safety because Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was unreliable. An entire offseason could lead them to conclude there are other players on the roster who could fill that void more spectacularly than Williams, leaving him as a player without a position to play.
Maybe new defensive backs coach Jason Simmons needs help. There’s no salary cap on coaches.