The Green Bay Packers have unofficially signed cornerback Rasul Douglas to a three-year contract that should, pending an extension of Pro Bowler Jaire Alexander, give the team a three-corner rotation of Douglas, Alexander and 2021 first-rounder Eric Stokes for years to come. While the retention of Douglas is worth commentary itself, the move also shows a deviation from the front office’s traditional ways of team-building.
In 2016, current general manager Brian Gutekunst was promoted to the Packers’ director of player personnel. 2016 was also the last year that defensive back Micah Hyde was under contract in Green Bay. The corner-safety hybrid mostly played nickel back in his final season with the Packers, a position Green Bay never seemed to value enough to pay full price for under former general manager Ted Thompson.
Hyde ultimately left for the Buffalo Bills, where he signed a five-year, $30 million contract to play safety. He immediately was named an All-Pro (which he repeated in 2021) and has since signed a two-year, $19.25 million extension with the team. Here’s the kicker, though: According to Hyde, the Packers never even made him a free agent offer.
A HUGE thank you to Packernation for the last 4 years. Although GB didn't make an offer, I'm so EXCITED to become a Bill. Thank you Buffalo!— Micah Hyde (@micah_hyde) March 9, 2017
The year prior, the Packers didn’t give cornerback Casey Hayward a contract offer before he signed up with the Los Angeles Chargers. In his first two years with the Chargers, Hayward had back-to-back All-Pro seasons.
For the longest time, the mantra of Green Bay’s front office has taken the approach that you only need to invest highly in two cornerbacks, not three, which led to a rotating cast of slotbacks following the loss of Hyde in 2017. Over the next three years, the team saw Quinten Rollins, Morgan Burnett, Damarious Randall, Josh Jackson and Tramon Williams play that role for the Packers before Chandon Sullivan took over as the full-time slot in 2020.
To put the importance of the slot position into perspective, Sullivan, who plays almost exclusively there, was on the field for 71 and 77 percent of defensive snaps in Green Bay over the last two seasons. The only non-defensive back to play more defensive snaps than Sullivan in 2021 was inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, the defensive play-caller on the team.
The NFL is a five-defensive back league and it’s nice to see Green Bay finally investing in the secondary in a way that reflects that. While Douglas is an outside cornerback, we saw in the Packers’ playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers how the secondary could shake out moving forward. Alexander, the smallest — but most talented — of the cornerbacks, played inside against the 49ers, a game in which Green Bay did not surrender a touchdown defensively, with the longer Stokes and Douglas playing on the perimeter.
Whether or not this re-signing will change the Packers’ playoff misfortunes or not, it’s nice to see the team at least trying to fix problems they’ve had for years by going through a new process. Traditionally, we would have expected Douglas to walk in this situation, with the Packers having Alexander and Stokes in hand. Without being pressed by quarterback Aaron Rodgers over the last two offseasons, who knows if Douglas would have even received a contract offer by the team.
Now there will be some debate as to who will start opposite of Alexander in two cornerback “base looks,” with either of Douglas or Stokes having some claim to playing time, but the important thing now is all three cornerbacks, barring injury, should be on the field together for north of 70 percent of plays in 2022 and, hopefully, into the future.