Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company takes a look at each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provides grades and insight on how they performed in the 2019 season. Today, we examine the cornerback position.
When the Packers signed Tramon Williams in 2018, Mike Pettine made it clear he would be asked to do more than be a good influence on the young players in the cornerback room. If they’d wanted to hire a coach, they would have hired a coach, he quipped.
Williams offered much more than vibes and leadership in two seasons, putting together one of the best performances by a defender in a supporting role last season across the league. In short, he can still play. The problem he faces is a much younger, hungry defender who the Packers couldn’t keep off the field last season. That player may be in line to fill the void that Williams could leave behind.
NFL Experience: 13 years
FA Status: Unrestricted free agent
Expiring Contract: 2 years, $10 million
2019 Stats: 16 games played, 7 starts, 39 tackles, 2 interceptions, 8 passes defended, 1 forced fumble
If Williams wants to keep playing, it makes sense to keep letting him play because no one on defense short of Za’Darius Smith played more consistent football last season than the 36-year-old Williams. In Pro Football Focus’ grading, Williams finished the season with the sixth-best cover score in the league among cornerbacks who played at last 20% of snaps.
And that’s not some throw-away number where he played 12 snaps and maxes efficiency that way. Williams officially started seven games, playing 73.5% of defensive snaps last season.
Given the Packers’ cap situation though, Williams would have to be back at a number much lower than his $6.375 on the cap for the 2019 season. If he wants to make one last run at this and sign a one-year deal in the $1.5-3 million range, that could make sense.
NFL Experience: 2 years
FA Status: Exclusive-rights free agent
Expiring Contract: 1 year, $570,000
2019 Stats: 30 tackles, 6 pass breakups, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble in 16 games
If there’s a reason to fast-track Williams’ retirement party, Sullivan may very well have provided it last season, breaking down the door to playing time thanks to an outstanding camp and preseason.
As a rookie out of Georgia State press-ganged into service by the Eagles in 2018, Sullivan predictably struggled with the adjustment to NFL football, often looking lost and out of position. After finding his footing, Sullivan took an enormous step forward this spring and carried that into his play on the field.
Sullivan, though classified as a safety by Pro Football Focus, posted a cover grade that would have landed him 21st among cornerbacks who played 20% of snaps, often in the slot as a dime cornerback. He also played some safety in dime packages with Will Redmond out, and flashed playmaking instincts.
With his ability to cover in the slot or deep, as well as match up against opposing tight ends with under-appreciated strength, Sullivan profiles as the kind of player who could be a quality nickel defender for the Packers. If Pettine and the front office envision that as well, it could keep Williams off the roster.
The ERFA status makes it even easier for the Packers to bring back Sullivan, a near-lock to happen. The question becomes does Sullivan’s presence on the roster allow the Packers to move on from a beloved veteran?