Available FA Cornerbacks Probably Won’t Help the Packers

If you are hoping that a free agent cornerback will solve the Packers’ issues in the secondary, I’m going to give you the TL;DR version of this article up front to save you some time:

You are going to be disappointed.

Assuming you’ve followed the Packers for more than one offseason, you know that Ted Thompson is notoriously loath to sign free agents. Cornerbacks in particular have not ranked high on his free agent priority list.

Other than Charles Woodson, he’s only signed one free agent cornerback since he took over as general manager in 2005. That player was Frank Walker, and if you remember any of his notable moments from the 2007 season, you are lying.

Pick two: good, cheap or fast

There’s a business truism that says when you’re trying to secure work from a contractor, you can pick two of the following three attributes: good, cheap, and fast. The intersection of those three attributes is a near impossibility, and searching for it will drive you crazy.

Free agents are very similar. You want them to be talented, affordable, and relatively young, but if you’re hoping for all three, you’re going to be looking for a long time.

Such is the case with this year’s crop of potential free agents. I took the list of pending free agent cornerbacks provided at Spotrac.com and sorted it by their Pro Football Focus rating for this season.

PFF’s ratings are not a be-all, end-all, but for our purposes they can serve as a baseline for establishing the relative level to which a player performed this season. For the sake of this discussion, I only included the players who accumulated enough snaps to earn a grade from PFF.

Here’s the list (with a link in case it’s hard to see):

Analyzing the free agent cornerback crop

Right off the bat we can see some issues. In PFF’s system, corners rated 80 or better are considered above average, and 90 or better is considered elite. Four of the six corners who are 80 or better are 27 or younger, so they meet at least two of our three criteria.

However, it seems unlikely that Houston, Dallas, or New England is likely to let a young and talented corner like Bouye, Claiborne, or Ryan make it to the open market, and if they do, they’ll be expensive.

Last year’s top three free agent cornerbacks received a combined $98.8 million in guaranteed money. If the Packers try to compete in that kind of bidding war, they’re going to have a difficult time retaining any of their own free agents, leaving much of the defense to be populated by (wait for it) draft picks and undrafted free agents.

The next tier of free agents, likewise, presents similar issues. Four of the nine players rated between 70 and 79 by PFF are just 26 years old, which means that any potential bidders should be getting the heart of their prime.

Be prepared to get into a bidding war

However, this price range also gets tricky. Since most of the top end of the market probably will return to their team of origin, you’ll be in a bidding war even for a second tier player. And secondly, even someone in this range isn’t guaranteed to be any good. For sake of comparison, LaDarius Gunter’s grade for last season was 71.2 before a major regression this year.

Beyond the second tier range, there’s very little reason to consider signing anybody. This is the part of the list that will get you only “young” or “cheap,” leaving you to just cross your fingers and hope for “talented.” The Packers can do better than signing this kind of free agent.

Like I said at the top, if you’re hoping for the Packers to shore up their secondary with free agent spending, this is going to be a disappointing offseason. Not only are the Packers generally uninterested in splurging on free agents, there’s also very little in the way of decent free agents out there.

Unless someone from the top end of the market falls through the cracks or an unexpected player gets released late, free agency won’t help the Packers’ cornerback situation.

Jon Meerdink