Casey Hayward will probably wind up being too expensive to re-sign, but general manager Ted Thompson would be foolish not to try very hard to keep the talented young corner. The primary reason Green Bay’s defense improved last season was the play of the secondary, and Hayward was one of its best performers.
I keep hearing about how deep Green Bay is at corner, but I don’t see it. Sam Shields is coming off another concussion – the third of his career – and Damarious Randall and Quentin Rollins still have plenty to prove. Randall, who replaced Hayward in the starting lineup in week 9, struggled down the stretch. Rollins played only 385 snaps all season. So while both youngsters have exciting potential, it’s simply too soon to know whether they are going to be quality pros.
There’s no such question about Hayward. The 26-year-old former Vanderbilt star has proven to be one of the game’s best slot corners over the past four seasons, and considering slot corners often play 60 to 70 percent of the snaps in today’s pass-happy National Football League, that’s a pretty darn important position.
Another thing that makes Hayward extremely valuable is his versatility. While he’s obviously much better inside, he’s at least competent outside. If he’s elsewhere next season, the Packers would probably have to rely on either former undrafted free agent Ladarius Gunter or former sixth-round pick Demitri Goodson as the No. 4 corner. Not only are both players completely unproven, but neither has the skill-set needed to work inside.
So how much should the Packers be willing to pay to keep Hayward? I’d be willing to go as high as $6 million a year. And while that sounds like a lot for a “non-starter,” it’s important to remember that Thompson is paying Letroy Guion over $3.7 million a year, and the veteran nose tackle is an average player who figures to be on the field far less than Hayward or whoever lines up as the nickel and/or dime back in 2016.
The secondary should be good even without Hayward. Shields and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are close to elite, Morgan Burnett is dependable and Randall and Rollins are simply too talented to fail. But the secondary might need to be better than good considering the current lack of talent in the front 7. That’s something Thompson should seriously consider when deciding just how far to go to keep Hayward around.