They believed the uber-durable Williams, who turned 32 on Monday, was in decline.
They felt confident that Casey Hayward, who heretofore has been limited to a part-time role as a slot defensive back, can make the jump to full-time outside cornerback.
Or perhaps it was both.
The Packers remained interested in retaining Williams, but indications were they were offering only a two-year deal that averaged in the neighborhood of $4 million to $5 million per season. Although the exact breakdown of the three-year contract Williams signed Monday with the Cleveland Browns was not yet available, one report said it averaged $7 million per season.
The Packers admired Williams' durability; he played in 140 of a possible 141 games (including playoffs) since he first made their roster in 2007. But they were fully aware that he might never return to his 2010 form, when he intercepted nine passes (including in the postseason). That season led to the four-year, $33 million contract extension that ran out this month and made Williams an unrestricted free agent.
The numbers supported the argument that Williams got beat too often last season. According to ProFootballFocus.com, he allowed 10 touchdowns in 18 games, including the game-winner by Seattle's Jermaine Kearse in overtime of the NFC Championship Game. Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 106.5 when targeting Williams last season, according to PFF. That number had never been higher than 85 in Williams' first seven seasons. He also allowed completions on 63.6 percent of the passes thrown his way, which also was the highest percentage of his career.
However, they also wanted all along to get Hayward on the field more. Now they will have that chance.
After missing all but three games of the 2013 season because of hamstring injuries, Hayward was active for every game last season yet appeared on only 33.3 percent of the defensive snaps because coordinator Dom Capers and cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt used him primarily in the dime package, which features six defensive backs. Nevertheless, Hayward tied Williams for the team lead with three interceptions.
They still need depth at cornerback, and it will have to come via the draft or a low-cost free agent.
Behind Sam Shields and Hayward, the Packers' cornerback depth chart includes nickel defensive back Micah Hyde, who also could be a candidate to replace Williams, and three unknowns: Demetri Goodson, Jean Fanor and Tay Glover Wright. Goodson was a sixth-round pick last year but didn't play a snap. He played only on special teams in the six games for which he was active. Fanor and Glover-Wright were practice squad players last season.
The Packers probably erred in keeping Goodson over Jumal Rolle, who left the Packers' practice squad a month into last season to sign with the Houston Texans. Rolle had three interceptions in 10 games with the Texans last season.