The Green Bay Packers have only one or two players set to be unrestricted free agents who should be priorities for the team to re-sign in 2019. Although general manager Brian Gutekunst would probably be wise to pursue bringing Muhammad Wilkerson back, the team’s number one priority should absolutely be cornerback Bashaud Breeland.
A midseason acquisition, Breeland helped stabilize a volatile Packers secondary down the stretch, providing one of the more memorable plays of the season while providing a veteran attitude and work ethic to the cornerback room. Green Bay has an apparent budding star in Jaire Alexander, but Josh Jackson will need to answer plenty of questions about his game while Kevin King needs to figure out how to stay on the field.
A return for Breeland would help stabilize that unit for the next few seasons, providing steady and consistent play opposite Alexander and King. However, the question as always becomes whether the player and the team can come to an agreement on the financial terms of the situation.
Here’s a look at what value Breeland should have in this year’s market.
Breeland in 2018
By now, everyone knows the story. After playing out his four-year rookie contract in Washington, Breeland agreed to a big free agent contract for three years and $24 million total with the Carolina Panthers. However, the Panthers voided the deal when Breeland cut his foot on vacation and it got infected, and he remained unsigned until the Packers brought him in in late September on a veteran minimum, one-year deal.
In Breeland’s seven games (five starts) for the Packers, he made 20 tackles, recorded two interceptions (including one pick-six off Matt Ryan), broke up four passes total, and recovered a fumble. He also pitched in a bit as a kickoff returner, averaging 21.6 yards on eight attempts.
Had he been with the Packers through the entire offseason, it’s easy to imagine him playing closer to 16 games and being worth that $8 million per year value of the deal he originally signed. With Tramon Williams moving to safety full-time, Breeland provided veteran moxie and playmaking ability to help balance out the youth that is present in the rest of the Packers’ cornerback group.
Did Breeland do enough in half a season to warrant a deal matching that 2018 contract offer, however? That’s the question the Packers need to answer. They have exclusive negotiating rights with Breeland until March 11th, when the NFL’s legal tampering period begins, and it would be great to get him under contract before then. However, despite Breeland’s comments about enjoying his time in Green Bay and being excited about a possible return in 2019, he and his agent would presumably like to see what other NFL teams would be willing to offer before signing a deal in Green Bay.
The Cornerback Market
As we approach the 2019 free agency period, the value on cornerbacks is strong — probably stronger than ever given the league’s focus on passing. The very top cornerbacks are paid in the $14 million per year range, and there are 15 players at the position on contracts worth at least $10 million per year on average.
We already mentioned Breeland’s deal last year, however, and an $8 million average value would put him at 23rd at the position right now. That seems relatively close to where he belongs, though lingering concerns about that foot injury could depress his value a bit.
The good news for the Packers and for Breeland is that there’s already a market-setting cornerback contract in place for 2019. The Atlanta Falcons released 30-year-old Robert Alford shortly after the Super Bowl as a salary cap casualty. Two days later, he signed a three-year, $22.5 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals. That deal came with a $4.5 million signing bonus.
Interestingly, Alford would appear at first glance to be a lesser player than Breeland. He did not intercept a single pass in 15 games last year, and he’s about three years older. For what it’s worth, the two players had similar Pro Football Focus grades, with Breeland earning a slightly higher grade (58.5) than Alford (56.6).
Still, that sort of deal ($7.5 million average per year) is probably a good place to start for Breeland. In addition, Alford’s contract seems to be relatively team-friendly in its structure, with only that $4.5 million signing bonus and his $4.45 million base salary in 2019 guaranteed (according to Over The Cap). That flexible pay-as-you-go structure is certainly something that the Packers have preferred in their big contracts.
Looking at this deal, I can imagine two options for Breeland. The first would be if he wants a longer-term deal and more guaranteed money. In that case, about $7 million per year seems reasonable in exchange for a bit more in guarantees and an extra year than Alford received. I’m seeing a 4-year deal for $28 million — the Packers could give him a $10 million signing bonus as his guarantee, structuring the deal so that they could restructure or release him after two years if he does not live up to it. In that way, Green Bay could also keep his 2019 cap hit low while backloading some of that money into 2021 and 2022.
The other alternative is a shorter, two-year contract that would allow Breeland to try to cash in as a free agent one more time before he turns 30. That type of deal would necessarily have a lower guarantee, but likely would result in a higher average value. Would two years for $17 million (with, say, $5-6 million in a signing bonus) do the job? That would protect the Packers from making an investment that’s too long, while giving Breeland that opportunity to cash in with one more big contract in 2021 at age 29.
After settling on those numbers, a check of Spotrac seems to put this on the right track. Their Market Value tool suggests that Breeland’s proper value is around $6.9 million annually, but that he could be due a 5-year deal. My suspicion is that neither he nor the Packers want to sign a deal that long, in part because of the likely labor fight coming when the CBA runs out after the 2020 season. That could also complicate negotiations on the term of this contract and every other deal that is signed this spring. Still, it’s nice to see the average yearly value come out so closely.
Does something in the range of $7 to $8.5 million per year (depending on contract length) make sense? It seems to be decent value for both sides, given the names on contracts above and below that level.