Teams can start negotiating with free agents on Tuesday. They can begin signing them officially on Thursday. Is this the year when the Green Bay Packers actually do something?
As far as we are concerned, they have to.
Let’s get down to brass tacks. The Packers don’t have a No. 1 cornerback since they released Sam Shields. While they certainly have other needs — another pass rusher being high on the list — the one they simply can’t overlook is cornerback.
As we all know, the Packers’ secondary was a disaster in 2016. Counting on Damarious Randall or Quinten Rollins to bounce back or LaDarius Gunter to take another leap forward would be foolhardy.
There’s a good chance none of those things is going to happen. While the draft is deep at cornerback, you certainly can’t count on pulling a No. 1 cornerback out of there at pick No. 29.
Even if the Packers do draft a corner there — something we wouldn’t rule out regardless of free agency — that guy isn’t going to step on the field on day one and be that No. 1 guy. Maybe he develops into that two or three years down the road, but time is luxury — one that NFL teams don’t have.
If the Packers really are a team with Super Bowl aspirations, they need to go out and acquire their No. 1 corner this offseason.
I would argue that after quarterback and left tackle, a top-of-the-line corner is the third most important position on the team. The good news is, there’s a couple of guys who fit that bill available.
The Packers damn well better be picking up the phone and giving giving them a call.
Here’s a guy right up the Packers’ alley. Signed by the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent in 2013, Bouye turned into a legit No. 1 corner in 2016. He finished the season with 53 tackles, an interception and 16 passes defended. Those numbers may not look overwhelming, but the tape does. Bouye got a 90.9 grade on the season from Pro Football Focus, the third-best among cornerbacks.
Perhaps the one question about Bouye is sample size. He’s been in the league four years, but really only played at this level for one season — 2016, his contract year. Is it possible that was just your I-need-to-get-paid-and-will-never-play-this-well-again aberration? Of course, but it would be hard to see a guy who played at an elite level taking that much of a step back. Bouye, who’s only 25, was a big reason Houston had the top defense in the NFL in 2016. The biggest question is if the Packers want to pay the market rate for him.
Here’s a guy who went the other way in his contract year. Known as a top-of-the-line corner for most of his career with the Buffalo Bills, Gilmore had an off year in 2016. He put up 48 tackles and five interceptions, but he got beat an awful lot last season. PFF graded Gilmore out at a fairly middle-of-the-road 78.2, ranking him 61st among cornerbacks. Clearly based solely on reputation, he made his first Pro Bowl in 2016.
Unlike Bouye, Gilmore has the pedigree. He was a first-round pick in 2012 (No. 10 overall) and, despite 2016, has established himself over time as a shutdown-type guy. If you sign him, clearly you’re counting on him to bounce back. We’d say that’s a good bet.
The two guys above are the class of this cornerback group. The New England Patriots’ Logan Ryan is solid, but also a definitive step down from Bouye and Gilmore. He’s more of a really solid No. 2 and that’s not exactly what the Packers need, is it? Still, he should be discussed. As you’re probably aware, the Patriots’ No. 1 is Malcolm Butler. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to like about Ryan.
Ryan is probably the best tackler you’re going to find at cornerback. He had 92 tackles in 2016, to go along with two interceptions, a sack and forced fumble. PFF graded him at 83.5, 16th among cornerbacks. He’s young (26) and durable, having not missed a game in his career. The question is, can he be a No. 1? That’s what the Packers will have to ask.
Certainly much less intriguing, but here are a couple of other guys who shouldn’t be as expensive and would still be an upgrade over what’s currently on the roster.
- Prince Amukamara (27): 49 tackles, no interceptions, 76.6 grade with Jacksonville
- Dre Kirkpatrick (27): 46 tackles, three interceptions, 74.7 grade with Cincinnati