Green Bay Packers

Could the Packers Dip Into the Market's Veteran Corner Depth?

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With only two months to go until the 2024 NFL season, an intriguing number of household names are still up for grabs on the open market. Despite fielding the league’s youngest team last season, the rebuilding Green Bay Packers made a serious playoff push behind Jordan Love.

Expectations have heightened for the young squad’s second season, and the Packers added offseason reinforcements for 2023’s weakest position groups – safety and defensive coordinator. January’s Divisional matchup in Santa Clara proved that the rebuild is ahead of schedule, but it ultimately reinforced the San Francisco 49ers’ standing as an NFC juggernaut. Player development will surely give them a boost. Still, the number and quality of cheap, veteran free agents offer a plethora of avenues to improve a team that figures to make it back there sooner than later.

The secondary stands out, considering the list of available free agents. Ahead of the new league year, a handful of high-quality safeties were set to hit the open market, deflating the position’s market value similarly to what running backs have suffered in recent years. As a result, Justin Simmons, Jamal Adams, Micah Hyde, Eddie Jackson, and Quandre Diggs are some of the household names currently on the street. Recognizing the need for a long-term solution, Brian Gutekunst shopped at the top of the market just hours after the opening bell, inking Xavier McKinney to a four-year, $67 million deal. He also added Georgia’s Javon Bullard in the second round. The pair should transform the back end of this Green Bay defense that has everyone wondering if this will be the year they finally meet expectations.

Cornerback happens to be a bigger need and an equally deep market. Xavien Howard, J.C. Jackson, Stephon Gilmore, Adoree’ Jackson, and Patrick Peterson headline the cornerback free-agent market. While Howard and Jackson could be off most boards due to character and decline concerns, respectively, Gilmore and Peterson would provide depth to a cornerback room that needs it and veteran leadership to a young team.

The Packers have former first-round pick Eric Stokes slotted into the starting lineup opposite Jaire Alexander, and Matt LaFleur has expressed optimism about his return. Stokes flashed in his rookie year, but serious injuries have encumbered him for the last couple of seasons. With his 4.3 40-yard dash speed as his greatest asset as a corner, we still need to see how a surgically repaired lower leg impacts his game. Carrington Valentine is set to back him up after a solid rookie year, especially for a seventh-round pick. However, the two form a tenuous pair at a premium position for a contending team, particularly well before the attrition of the season kicks in, given that Alexander and Stokes both miss time frequently.

Gilmore last signed a two-year, $20 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts, and Peterson for two years and $14 million with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Gilmore and Peterson are now each entering their age-33 season at a fraction of their productivity as All-Pro players. They also figure to ink for one year and less than $10 million. That’s not too big of an ask for a team that just got Aaron Rodgers’ disastrous contract off the books and is flush with rookie deals. Love is due a mammoth extension that seems to grow in price each day as quarterbacks around the league continue to reset the market. However, its impact on this year’s salary cap will be relatively marginal.

The Packers are typically not aggressive in free agency. They prefer filling most of their needs over time and rewarding homegrown players with extensions, headlined by their unique approach to quarterback. However, Gutekunst proved early and often that he isn’t afraid to look for talent anywhere he can get it. In his first two offseasons, he handed out multi-year deals to Jimmy Graham, Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos, and Billy Turner. When the Rodgers saga took off in 2021, the team was boxed into giving him a contract that quickly became a disaster when he departed after 2022. Gutekunst’s hands were tied in free agency thereafter, which was particularly painful when a Davante Adams-sized hole formed in the receiver room. Attempting to fill it with Sammy Watkins was a dire yet emblematic encapsulation of their financial problems.

But they turned the page in 2023. Piles of money have come off the books with the departures of Rodgers, Adams, and David Bakhtiari, and the Packers have replaced each with a talented young draft pick. Gutekunst now has the financial flexibility to push more chips to the center of the table in a deep yet winnable NFC North. Considering the need for depth, value, experience, and relatively low cost, cornerback seems like the best place to add a piece.

Going bigger could mean pairing Alexander with Gilmore and forming a duo that would have run the league in 2020. That wouldn’t quite be the case in 2024, but they would remain formidable. Adding Peterson would play more as a hedge on the idea that Stokes is back on track, and the move would bring leadership and experience to a unit that lost its loudest veteran voice in De’Vondre Campbell. Either way, there is a growing sentiment that Green Bay has an opportunity to do something in the next couple of years if not this year, and it’ll be interesting to see if they join the personnel arms race with some big names still left on the board.

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The best general managers are constantly looking for ways to improve their roster. Brian Gutekunst has been quoted multiple times saying that roster building is a 365-day-a-year […]

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