I usually try to put out a piece after each Packers game detailing a little bit of the historical context for the performances we saw on the field, but this week had me a bit stumped. There was no particularly noteworthy performance, good or bad, and the fact that the Packers don’t win in Florida that often isn’t particularly exciting, as satisfying as it was to finally see the Packers take down the Buccaneers in Tampa.
But there is one statistical nugget that opens the door to an interesting little chapter in Packers history. Sunday was Kenny Clark’s fifth career multi-sack game, tying former Packers defensive Corey Williams on the multi-sack game leaderboard.
If you’ve forgotten about Williams, that’s okay. Though he was productive in Green Bay, his career is a bit of an oddity, as was his exit from the Packers.
The Packers selected Williams out of lightly regarded Arkansas State in the sixth round of the 2004 NFL Draft, nabbing him with the 179th overall pick between such luminaries as Marko Cavka and Jim Molinaro. A 24-year-old rookie, Williams appeared in 12 games during the Packers’ 2004 campaign, taking down Chad Hutchinson for his first career sack during the Packers’ Week 17 win over the Chicago Bears.
Williams fared a little better in year two, notching two sacks in 12 games, but he really blossomed during his third season with the Packers. He earned two sacks during the Packers’ Week 3 win over the Lions and ascended to the starting lineup the following week, ultimately starting 11 games next to Ryan Pickett that season. Williams had his second multi-sack performance of the year in Week 9, taking down J.P. Losman three times in 24-10 loss.
In 2007, his contract year, Williams was even better. He had his final three multi-sack games with the Packers, including a monster performance in Week 11. That day he had two sacks and forced two fumbles as the Packers cruised to a 31-17 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Williams’ performance put the Packers in a bit of a bind. He was clearly talented, but the Packers also had a long list of contributors on the defensive line. Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins could match Williams’ production, and up-and-coming Johnny Jolly had started ahead of Williams during the 2007 season when he was healthy. 2007 first-round pick Justin Harrell, meanwhile, was believed to have put his injury issues behind him (he hadn’t), rendering Williams a bit of an expensive luxury as a depth piece.
So, on February 19, 2008, the Packers designated Williams as their franchise player. It was ultimately just a procedural move since the Packers had no plans to keep Williams or sign him to a long-term deal, but then-general manager Ted Thompson had only good things to say about the man he’d just tagged.
“Corey is a good young football player and has been a consistent performer for our team,” said Thompson in the team’s announcement of the move, which also included news that the team had released veteran tight end Bubba Franks.
10 days later, the Packers traded Williams to Cleveland for a second-round pick. There he signed a six-year deal worth an estimated $38 million dollars with more than $16 million in guarantees — heady money for a defensive lineman in 2008.
The move was a huge bust for Cleveland. Playing more as an end than a tackle his first year with the Browns, he managed just half a sack in 2008 and described himself as extremely unhappy with his playing time heading into the 2009 season.
“I’m not going to go all the way into it about how I feel about it, but I haven’t been happy at all,” he told Cleveland.com. “That’s anybody. Anybody wants to play. I want to play as much as I can.”
He was more productive in year two, grabbing four sacks, but it wasn’t enough. Cleveland shipped him to Detroit for a fifth-round pick, tossing in their own seventh-round pick to sweeten the deal. Williams was better for the Lions, but never recaptured his Packers productivity. After three years in Detroit, he was done in the NFL.
The Packers, unfortunately, didn’t fare much better on their end of the trade. They used the pick they got from the Browns to select Brian Brohm 56th overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, hedging a bit against the possibility that new starter Aaron Rodgers might not work out (he did).
It was the second of three second-round picks for the Packers that year; they had already taken Jordy Nelson 34th overall before thinking quarterback later on. While the Brohm pick wasn’t great, it wasn’t like they passed over a gold mine of talent. Chad Henne went 57th and Martellus Bennett went 61st (a pick after the Packers took cornerback Pat Lee). Jamaal Charles would have looked great in green and gold, but the Chiefs took him with pick 75. After that, the only other notable name on the list would be Jermichael Finley, whom the Packers selected with the 91st pick.
However, had the Packers wanted to, they could have packaged the pick they got from the Williams trade and moved up in the second round, which is where things could have gotten really interesting. One receiver is great, but what if the Packers had eyed California speedster Desean Jackson at 49? Two second-round picks might have gotten that deal done. And if not Jackson, what if they’d elected to fill Williams’ roster spot by taking enormous defensive lineman Calais Campbell with the 50th pick? A move up from 56 to 50 seems doable as well.
It’s easy to play armchair general manager, though. The ultimate story is that Ted Thompson managed to finagle a valuable pick for a player he didn’t even want and wouldn’t have fit on his long-term roster anyway. Thompson made the right read on Williams, even if his subsequent moves didn’t pan out. Multi-sack games are great, but getting internal evaluations right is even better.