Now it's a week later and I'm on board with the Packers trading Williams to Cleveland for the 56th pick in the draft (second round). Williams inked a six-year, $38 million deal, including $16 million guaranteed, with the Browns, and it's obviously a deal the Packers didn't want to offer. If they did, he would still be in Green Bay.
Here's why the trade is good:
-- It gives the Packers three picks in the first two rounds, allowing them freedom in the first round. They have multiple areas where they need help, so these three picks give them a chance to fill holes at, lets say, cornerback, linebacker and guard.
It is only one more pick than they would have had if Williams stayed, but it's a second-rounder, and sometimes these players blossom quickly (see Greg Jennings).
-- Another reason this makes sense is the Packers' deepest position is defensive tackle. They have Pickett, Harrell, Johnny Jolly, Colin Cole (if he's re-signed), Daniel Muir and Cullen Jenkins, who can move from his defensive end spot. And if the Packers question their depth at this spot, they can use one of their top three picks to bolster the position. It would be much cheaper than paying Williams all that money.
-- Finally, Harrell wasn't selected at No. 16 in the 2007 draft to be a benchwarmer. The Packers believe he can be a major contributor, so no better time than 2008 to see if he is ready. You have to hand it to the Packers on this move. A week ago, they were talking about why they franchised Williams.
"We think Corey is a very good young player, he's been very durable, he showed a lot of versatility this year, he's a good teammate and good in the locker room, and we just felt like this was an avenue under the Collective Bargaining Agreement that we had a chance to be able to retain his services or at least have some control over being able to keep him," GM Ted Thompson said. "We just felt like it was the thing to do."
No question the Packers had other ideas when they did this. But by franchising Williams they got something in return for him, instead of letting him go for nothing. Also, if the Packers would've kept him for a season, it wouldn't have hurt at all.
With Williams gone, the Packers likely will insert Harrell as a starter, just as he was last year before training camp. Last year, that label meant nothing, but this year it will mean something.
Harrell was injured much of his final season at Tennessee and then was watched closely by the Packers as a rookie. They could do that with the depth, but now Harrell must step up.
Coach Mike McCarthy was asked at the scouting combine about what he needs from Harrell this year.
"Individual improvement," McCarthy said. "Justin missed a lot of time after the draft. He wasn't able really to go through the OTAs, and we protected him in training camp a little bit.
"He needs a full offseason, starting number one in the weight room on March 17, and the individual time he'll have with his coaches. We look for him to contribute."
He has to. The Packers' trade of Williams opens the door for a great opportunity for Harrell to establish himself as an anchor on the defensive line.
Although the trade of Williams makes complete sense, based on the second-round pick returned, the depth on the defensive line and the money Williams received from the Browns, half of this trade's success or non-success relies on No. 91 on the Packers.
If Harrell makes Packers fans forget about No. 99, then this trade will be a good one. If he stumbles and becomes nothing more than a role player, then the trade will lose some of its zest. Regardless, Thompson made the right move.
Doug Ritchay is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.