If the Green Bay Packers had to play this Sunday, they probably would line up with a 35-year-old cornerback on one side of the field and a second-year pro coming off a major surgery on the other side.
That’s where they stand after the first wave of free agency, when the only addition to their two most troubled spots on defense came in the return of Tramon Williams, who last played for the Packers in 2014. At age 34, he played well for the Arizona Cardinals last season and at this point looks like the best option to start alongside last year’s top draft pick, Kevin King, who is coming off shoulder surgery that ended his season in November.
The cornerback who played the most snaps for the Packers last season, Damarious Randall (717 snaps), was shipped to the Cleveland Browns in the trade for quarterback DeShone Kizer. The one who played the second-most snaps, Davon House (659), remains unsigned. King played 380 snaps before his torn labrum needed to be repaired.
It puts even more pressure on new general manager Brian Gutekunst's first draft next month.
“We don’t have enough corners right now, I think that’s obvious,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy told reporters Tuesday at the NFL meetings in Orlando. “But you have a lot of time left until you get that 90-man roster where we want it to be. Free agency is fluid. Brian and the personnel guys are working back and forth. It’s a whole different atmosphere in the personnel department now, and they’re getting ready for the draft. When we come out of the draft and our roster gets up there at 88, 89, I think all the positions will have plenty of competition. I mean, that’s my goal.”
The only other returning cornerbacks who played last season are Josh Hawkins (403 snaps), Quinten Rollins (139), Lenzy Pipkins (122) and Donatello Brown (one). Rollins, like King, is coming off major surgery. He tore his Achilles in Week 6. Hawkins, Pipkins and Browns all are developmental players who came into the NFL undrafted. Former sixth-round pick Demetri Goodson never got back on the field after his 2016 knee injury but remains under contract.
The outside linebacker situation isn’t much better. While the Packers have two potential double-digit sack rushers in Matthew and Perry, the depth behind them is practically non-existent. That's critical considering the last time both Matthews and Perry played all 16 games in the same season was, well, never.
There’s the disappointing Kyler Fackrell, the 88th pick in the 2016 draft who has shown no explosiveness or power as a rusher; and the banged-up Vince Biegel, who had foot surgery shortly after the Packers picked him in the fourth round last season and played just 121 snaps without a sack after he was activated off PUP in November.
“The pass-rushers and corners, I mean everybody wants them,” McCarthy said. “Those are, in my view, primary positions on your football team. So yeah, we cannot have enough competition in both those areas.”
The Packers probably won’t re-sign veteran Ahmad Brooks, who had just 1.5 sacks as a last-minute signing before the start of the regular season.
But there is the promising Reggie Gilbert, a two-year practice squad member who posted a sack and three QB hits after he was activated for the final two weeks of last season, but not much else.
Perry’s injury history plus the fact that new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine may want to use Matthews some at inside linebacker could factor into what Gutekunst does with the 14th overall pick in next month’s draft.
“You just can’t line up with two premier pass-rushers and think they’re going to play 80 percent of the snaps,” McCarthy said. “It’s such a demanding position, you know? Some people believe that you have 23 good pass rushes in you a game, some may say 25. You’ve got to look at the workload that those positions bring, particularly when you’re playing at 270 and you’re rushing against 310 and 320 all day, too. That’s part of that rotation of that pass rush group. We need to have more people available to do it, but I’d like to have a much healthier rotation than what we’ve had.”