Cornerback Casey Hayward left the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
Or, perhaps more accurately, Hayward’s ticket out of Green Bay was punched on April 30 and May 1, when the Packers used their first-round pick on Damarious Randall and their second-round pick on Quinten Rollins.
Those preemptive moves by general manager Ted Thompson stocked the Packers with a pair of younger and cheaper options than Hayward, who signed a three-year deal with San Diego. Cheaper is critical for the Packers. While the cap isn’t a giant issue this offseason — they entered the offseason ranked 19th in cap space and with a manageable list of free agents — next offseason is going to be a major challenge, with the 27th-most cap space, according to OverTheCap.com, and a long list of free agents.
In a perfect world, the Packers would have retained Hayward, a solid slot cornerback with a history of big plays. However, because of the financial ramifications, it’s quite possible the Packers didn’t make a viable offer to retain him. A source said the deal was worth $5 million per season. The combined cap number for Randall and Collins is $2.65 million — roughly half of Hayward.
Hayward intercepted six passes as a rookie in 2012, forever setting the bar to a standard he’d never match. In 2013, he missed 13 games with an injured hamstring. In 2014, he played in all 16 games and intercepted three passes. In 2015, he overcame a stress fracture in his foot that sidelined him for most of the offseason to play in all 16 games and finish third on the defense in snaps. Hayward finished with zero interceptions and seven passes defensed while starting 11 games.
Randall, on the other hand, had three interceptions and a team-high 16 passes defensed in 15 games (nine starts), supplanting Hayward on the outside down the stretch. Rollins, meanwhile, had two interceptions — he could have had four or five had he not dropped a few — and nine passes defensed in 14 games (four starts). Rollins and Micah Hyde (three interceptions, seven passes defensed in 15 games, seven starts) figure to battle in training camp to take Hayward’s spot in the slot, with Randall and high-priced veteran Sam Shields locked in on the outside.
“They gained a lot of experience,” Capers said of Randall and Rollins. “I think those guys will come back in much better prepared with an offseason and the experience they gained this year, I feel good about both of those young guys. You normally see those guys take a pretty good step from Year 1 to Year 2. We would expect that with their backgrounds, with Randall having played safety and then moving out to play corner (and) Rollins having primarily a basketball background.”
At one point late in the year, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said Hayward had allowed about a 50 percent completion rate. With his work in coverage, he will be missed, but Hyde and, especially, Rollins will offer a lot more value as a tackler — a key role as the nickel defender.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.