Re-signing Casey Hayward top priority for Packers in free agency

Analyst Mike Renner identifies the biggest free agent decisions facing the Green Bay Packers.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

(AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

Re-signing Casey Hayward top priority for Packers in free agency


There have been years in the past under Ted Thompson that free agency plan articles for the Packers were a complete waste of time. With $21.9 million in cap space at the moment, though, and glaring holes at multiple positions, it’s at least plausible they make some moves in free agency this year.

With multiple starters hitting the market, let’s put out a blueprint for the Packers’ offseason.

Re-sign

CB Casey Hayward

One of the premier slot cornerbacks in the league, Hayward transitioned to starter in 2015 and did not disappoint. He was the Packers’ highest-graded cornerback in 2015 in coverage, and 21st-overall in the entire NFL. His traits won’t likely command as much money as Sam Shields, but he should be just below that range. Even with Hayward’s apparent heirs already drafted in Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall, secondary is such a premium position that you can’t afford to bleed talent.

OLB Nick Perry

Green Bay’s draft-and-develop strategy seems to call for Perry to stick around for at least another year, and he has shown enough in limited roles throughout his entire career to warrant that. He’ll likely never live up to his draft billing, but if Julius Peppers is a cap casualty, the Packers will be thin on the edge.

Let walk

OLB Mike Neal

The move to outside linebacker for Neal looks like a mistake in retrospect, and it’s one the Packers shouldn’t compound upon again. He’s been PFF’s second-lowest graded 3-4 outside linebacker for two years running.

NT B.J. Raji

With Letroy Guion already re-signed, the writing seems on the wall for Raji. He failed to return to his impact form on the nose last season, and graded out below average. With Mike Pennel producing more in limited snaps, it’s time to move on from the former top-10 pick.

WR James Jones

Jones exceeded all expectations after joining the Packers late in camp, but his success was almost exclusively due to his comfort with Aaron Rodgers as compared to the younger receivers, not his ability to separate. Ideally, the myriad of younger guys on Green Bay will have developed enough of a rapport with their QB to make Jones expendable in 2016.

RB James Starks

Starks will be 30 years old tomorrow, and he developed an unfortunate fumbling problem in 2015. He could be re-signed if the cost is minimal, but he doesn’t exactly scream reliable backup at this point.

Target

LB Jerrell Freeman (Colts)

Inside linebacker is a glaring need, and there are multiple good options out there. Freeman won’t command top dollar at 30 years old, but he’s coming off a career year that saw him grade within the top five inside linebackers. He’d let Clay Matthews move back outside, and allow the Packers to look at other positions in the draft.

TE Dwayne Allen (Colts)

Yet another Colt—and another desperate need for the Packers. It’s not a deep draft class for tight end, but it certainly is in free agency. Allen was one of the most complete tight ends in the league his first three seasons before struggling without Andrew Luck last year. He’d be an immediate upgrade over Richard Rodgers.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • crosseyedlemon

    If Rodgers is the league’s best QB then getting him as many weapons as possible would make the most sense. It shouldn’t be that difficult to find upgrades for Jones and Starks.

    • Jack Casey

      Well if he is the best QB then why would he need all those weapons?

      • Cant FixStupid

        Because no matter how great a QB you are, you can only be as good as the players you look to throw too. If they can’t run the right routes, can’t separate from man coverage and can’t get on the same page with the QB and develop chemistry and earn his trust, how the hell is the QB suppose to succeed?? You can’t just throw to people who can’t do the job.

        • Jack Casey

          So why not trade Rodgers? You could get a ton for him. Then get a bunch of weapons… If your only as good as who you are throwing to, then you don’t need a great QB if the weapons are great? Or is that not what you just said?

          • crosseyedlemon

            Your question makes as much sense as asking why a marine sniper would need ammunition for his rifle.

          • Cant FixStupid

            You’re just being an ignorant moron now.

      • crosseyedlemon

        It would be pretty hard to move the chains if he has to play catch with himself.

  • PackMaster

    Great article. James Jones is a guy who I would love to keep around, but the crowd of young WRs is working against him.The two targets are great and easily the most likely candidates.

    Trevethan and Johnson would both fit great inside as well. Johnson fits Thompson’s trend of signing older difference makers on defense, while Trevathan has the most upside, but also the highest cost making him unlikely. Allen would be a great fit for the Packers. Green grabs my attention the most as a vertical playmaker, but will be paid for his potential and therefore unlikely. These two mid-level signings could square away the Packers major roster needs and set them up as an early SB favorite.

    Most of the other Packer needs are easily draftable. RB, OL, LB, and DE. Front office has set itself up well, be we have a huge free agency next year.

  • Jimmy

    This may or may not be the right to do but I doubt that the Pack follows many of the recommendations. I think Hayward will be gone…I don’t think the Packers rate him as highly as PFF. (And, by the way, how does Hayward get such a high grade when he’s barely had any picks the last 2 years?) Also, picking up the two Colts seems to run against Ted Thompson’s MO.

    • Tim Edell

      You obviously are new to PFF if you believe a CB’s grade is dictated on how many INT’s he has. You may want to head over to ESPN for that in-depth analysis.

    • Cant FixStupid

      INT’s and PD’s are probably the most overrated stats in all of football. Hayward wasn’t as good on the outside, but once he moved back inside, he was the normal lock down guy he’s always been. He gets the job done and never has to be worried about. He became a leader in the locker room this year, and he’s got something our CB group lacks, experience. I would be willing to think the Packers do rate him highly, and if they can keep him for the right price, will do it without a doubt. Also, Hayward did have 2 picks last year, both called back for no fault of his own. That would have been 5 picks the last 2 seasons, 1 less than Richard Sherman, that make you feel better???

  • gbFan12

    Jerrell is 30, I’d rather we just draft a speedy ILB to compliment Ryan and Sam. I’m okay with the team going after either Allen, Crick or Cameron rather than spending an early draft pick on a tight end (hasn’t exactly worked out for the lions).

    • Cant FixStupid

      Hunter Henry is a better and more polished player than Eric Ebron though. Ebron was more hyped on his speed, athleticism and potential, Henry may not have the same type of speed and athleticism as Ebron, but he’s got more than enough speed and athleticism himself and he’s already a more polished route runner and blocker, as well as better hands. If the Packers really like him at the combine, they shouldn’t have an issue with drafting him.

  • GBP 4 LIFE

    I like Hayward, but regardless of PFF’s rankings, he was not an upper echelon CB in 2015, sorry he wasn’t. He’ll be gone and I think they keep Neal and drop Perry. Neal led the team in tackles for loss last year, is solid in a limited role and is more diverse a player than Perry. I’m all for signing Allen as TE is a desperate need, but Freeman at 30 is not the right choice. Bring in an ILB with some speed and who can cover across the middle. ILB HAS to be #1 priority in the draft. Trade up if you have to but it is a dire need.

    • What’sSarcasm?

      I agree with all of this, with the only possible exception being this:

      “ILB HAS to be #1 priority in the draft.”

      I think it should be a priority, but I don’t think they need to force it by reaching for an ILB in the 1st few rounds if no good option presents itself.

      • Brandon Petrosilli

        Agreed, put emphasis on ILB and TE in the first but OLB could just as well be targeted.

        • What’sSarcasm?

          I’m with you, but I wouldn’t even mind if they took a wideout in the 1st. Jordy is over 30 now and coming off an acl and we saw it went without him. Davante Adams is never going to be the answer.

          • Cant FixStupid

            It’s way too early to write Davante Adams off. He just turned 23 years old, and he wasn’t drafted in the 2nd round for no reason. He wasn’t called our camp MVP for nothing. He has talent, you can clearly see most of what’s going on with him is mental and lack of confidence, something that can be fixed. If he could just learn to quit pressing, just let his talent take over and make the plays, he very well could become the player we drafted him to be. He had a rough year 2, couldn’t handle the expectations or the spotlight yet, but now with Jordy returning, he can slide back and start working on getting his stuff right and get his game back on track. This is the kind of talent and playmaking ability he has if he can find a way to get his confidence back and start playing up to his ability.

            http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/eye-on-football/25264409/watch-davante-adams-somehow-snags-one-handed-grab-over-cornerback

    • Cant FixStupid

      They’d be stupid to drop Nick Perry at this point, even more if they dropped him to keep Mike Neal. He played the most amount of snaps at OLB, so he should have led the team in something. But compared to Perry, Perry was much better overall and much better rushing the passer. Neal played over 800 snaps in 18 games, only 6 sacks. Perry played less than half the amount of snaps in 16 games, and had 7 sacks, including 2.5 against one of the best LT’s in football. Nick Perry’s only issues are the same issues Mike Neal started his career with, injuries. If Perry gets beyond his injuries, he’s more than capable of becoming the player we drafted him to be, much better than Neal for sure, and TT can’t risk that happening for somebody else next year. If it’s gonna happen, it needs to happen in Green Bay, especially with no future option opposite Clay after this year. Perry is the higher quality player and 3 year younger, if they aren’t gonna keep both, Perry should without a doubt be the one they keep.

    • Tes

      I seriously agree. Ilb is very important and just because Jake tyan has talent, we can’t rely on him. We have Sam Harrington but he’s coming off serious injury. If we can draft a linebacker like Bobby Wagner, that would be trendies to packers D

    • Miss Columbia

      I agree with everything you said, but on the ILB issue, what if the kid from Notre Dame Jaylon is still available when we pick. Do you take a flyer on the kid even though he’s likely unavailable in 2016? I say yes.

  • Nick73995

    I’m liking Darron lee out of Ohio state. He brings a lot of speed and can cover

    • rsmitty

      It would be great if he fell to 27.

  • Brandon Petrosilli

    The problem is that Hayward is a top tier nickel CB…he can’t play 1 or 2 and will impede the development of Rollins in that exact same role. I wouldn’t mind seeing Perry resigned for the right price, he may want more than he has proven worth through his injuries.

    Really like the Freeman targeting though. Or now that Demico Ryans has been released, check his medical and see if he would be willing to go after.

    • Cant FixStupid

      Packers must re-sign Perry, even if it is for a little more than they’d like. Pass rushers are a premium in football, and on a per snap basis last year, he had the best sack to snap ratio, and in the WC game, he worked one of the best LT’s in football. Healthy, Nick Perry looks like he could be a high quality starting OLB, and at worst he’s still a strong rotational pass rusher. Either way, the Packers can’t risk letting him walk right now at this point in his career and going elsewhere, staying healthy and finally becoming everything the Packers drafted him in the 1st round to be. We also need to improve our pass rush, letting him walk doesn’t do that at all.

      As for Hayward, his experience and leadership might have been huge for both Randall and Rollins last year, and losing him could hurt their development, especially if they struggle to handle the high expectations in year 2. If we aren’t gonna use free agency at all, we’ll have plenty of cap space still left, so it’d really make no sense not to keep him. I’m hoping we keep him, cause losing his experience and new found locker room leadership could be huge for us next year. If we lost that, our 2nd year corners likely now make or break our secondary in 2016. Sophomore slumps would likely mean our top 6-7 secondary would drop majorly. At least if Hayward is still around, the expectation on Randall and Rollins aren’t so big, and they can better continue working more on their development than having to worry about being stars in the secondary, and just let that come as we go forward.

  • Erik Olson

    TT probably views LBs as trained… not made– based on his own experience as a relatively unathletic linebacker himself. This author obviously doesn’t know how high the Packers are on the other young DBs on the roster–Hayward didn’t work well outside. The Packers as I see it have roster spots for a starting caliber TE to work the deep middle of the defense, 2 or 3 offensive lineman, 2 middle linebackers, 1, OLB, 1 DT and 1 DE, and 1RB… with compensatory draft picks I think they will try to find all but one MLB in the draft

  • Patrick

    Hayward can walk.
    He’s not fast he’s not physical he’s not a good tackler he’s just kinda there and does his job. I like Rollins and gunter 2 physical corners to get more playing time. Hayward also basically missed 2 years cause of injury so he really only has 2 good years experience

  • Miss Columbia

    Good article. Agree with most of what you said, but Casey Hayward is a good cover guy, but he not long gets picks and is thus not a difference maker. I’d let him walk. The Packers have shown a knack for identifying under-the-radar DBs and they’ll do so again when they walk Hayward. I like Starks notwithstanding his fumbles last year. He’s a slasher who is dependable for seeing the hole and making the most of it. I’d keep him. The guy you didn’t mention is Adams. The guy is slower than Richard Rodgers and his hands are worse than Will Fuller’s, and that’s saying something. If you can’t separate and you can’t catch the rock, it’s time to roll. Richard Rodgers and James Jones are still in the league because they’re dependable. Anything thrown they’re way they catch. I’d keep both. The Bengals have two WR FAs who could come cheap led by Mohammed Bani Sadr Sanu. He could be worth a look.

  • Allan Murphy

    Wow you are so wrong Casey Hayward gone we don’t need him PFF your not thinking strait

  • Meangreen

    Letting BJ Raji walk would be a grave mistake akin to after the super bowl winning season letting defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins get away with out even a offer.

    • Misty Ratley

      Thats ridiculous!! You can’t even compare the two!! They let Jenkins go because he commanded way too much money in free agency. Raji graded out as a below avg DT. That’s bad! If he makes it to the market he might get a veteran’s minimum salary. He’s not the same players he was in 2010.

      • Meangreen

        Jenkins was let go without even a offer and that’s facts, if you don’t know what you’re talking about remain silent OK Missy?

  • Hinder Head

    Let Hayward and Perry walk too, unless you get a bargain. They’re both “just guys.”

  • Rob Larkin

    well..it seems the 2 most important impact positions to fill are ILB and TE; both are needed by their respective units….however given that’s the case, in order to fill one or either of those positions with an IMMEDIATE impact player, they would probably have to trade up if thru the draft-Hunter Henry and Reggie Ragland respectively would go before #27…it’s not TT’s style to do so..but it’s time to acknowledge that Aaron Rodgers will not be a permanent fixture in GB..at some point his Super Bowl ready status will be over. Thompson needs to recognize this if he really wants to win Super Bowls, not just building winning teams that don’t make it there because of the lack of overall team talent for winning those playoff games.

  • PackMaster

    I don’t understand all the hate for Hayward here. I don’t think people understand that he is a slot corner or what a slot corner is/does. No, he is not going to play outside consistently and no he will never be a lockdown CB out there, but his role in the slot is valuable and he is one of the best at it.

    Teams play over 50% of the time with an extra corner on the field (probably closer to 60%). Slot corner is a unique position because the corner often needs to read multiple players while outside corners read just one. Hayward has a specialty skill sit that is extremely valuable to the Packers, but won’t be extremely expensive on the open market. Slot corner is a refined skill and one that requires great knowledge and instinct.

    Asking Rollins to take over this role is risky, and he is better off as a rotational guy for a year or two. As mentioned here earlier, you can’t just count on rookies to maintain or increase their production. Slumps happen. Having Hayward on the roster is only a benefit, and with Thompson’s unwillingness to sign FAs, the money would be wasted otherwise.

  • ZaphodsDog

    Who is this Renner guy? Is his schtick just saying the opposite of every other analyst out there? Hayward is by far the one of the most replaceable free agents the Pack has this year. Don’t get why he is so down on Starks….he had 5 fumbles in a season where we easily had our worst offensive line performance in years. Todd Gurley had 3 fumbles and Adrian Peterson had 6! If the pack had either of those guys as a backup RB would you be worried? NOT exactly a fumbler, Starks. In fact he’s the best backup the Pack has had at RB since Dorsey Levens or maybe even Ken Davis. Suggesting they need an inside linebacker and a tight end in free agency is neither rocket science or going out on a limb, Captain Obvious. Picking two free agents from the same team and a team at the top of the alphabet gives the impression you just mailed it in rather than doing your homework.

  • David

    I’d re-sign:
    Casey Hayward
    Nick Perry
    Andrew Quarless
    Brettt Goode

    James Jones

    (Already signed Mason Crosby, Letroy Guion, Lane Taylor)

    Let the rest go (yes, including letting John Kuhn go)