Free-agent bombshell: Packers trade Williams

The trade, contingent on Williams signing a long-term contract with the Browns, gives the Packers a late second-round pick. That means the Packers have three of the first 60 picks — or ammunition to trade up.

The day that marked the start of the 2008 free-agent period began and ended in breathtaking fashion.

On Thursday morning, a mistake by the group that operates the Packers' Web site reported, for about 4 minutes, that quarterback Brett Favre had retired. Late Thursday night, about an hour before the start of free agency, reports surfaced that the Packers had traded defensive tackle Corey Williams to the Cleveland Browns. Reports out of Cleveland said the Packers would receive a second-round pick in the April draft.

Cleveland's second-round pick is No. 56 overall, four spots ahead of the Packers. Thus, Green Bay would have three of the first 60 picks, including No. 30 in the first round. With that type of ammunition, the Packers could create a package to move up well into the middle of the first round.

Neither the Packers nor the Browns confirmed the move, which was reported first by the Washington Post.

Williams, an integral part of the Packers' defensive line last season, surprisingly was named the team's franchise player on Wednesday. The move would have cost the Packers the franchise tender for a defensive tackle, $6.363 million per season. But, with the Packers some $25 million under the salary cap and with some question marks on the defensive line, it seemed general manager Ted Thompson was following the lead of the Super Bowl champion Giants by emphasizing a deep defensive line.

Instead — and despite Johnny Jolly ending last season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury that could linger into training camp and some question about whether first-round pick Justin Harrell will be capable of assuming a larger and more productive role after a nondescript rookie season — Thompson pulled the trigger.

The deal hinges on the Browns signing Williams to a long-term deal. That very well may have played a role in Thompson's decision to trade Williams. Earlier Thursday, the Raiders re-signed the relatively anonymous Tommy Kelly to the largest contract ever for a defensive tackle, seven years and $50.5 million, including a reported $18.1 million in guaranteed money.

Kelly, who just completed his fourth NFL season, had 30 tackles in seven games with one sack last season. His season ended with a torn ACL. In 49 career games, he has 13 sacks. Williams, meanwhile, played all 16 games last season, recording 35 tackles and, for the second consecutive season, seven sacks. In four career seasons, he has 17 sacks.

Williams isn't expected to get that kind of money, but Thompson likely deemed having three high-priced defensive tackles — Williams, Harrell and Ryan Pickett — a poor use of the cap, especially with Jolly hitting restricted free agency after the 2008 season.

Thompson also is making a decent investment in defensive tackle Colin Cole. A restricted free agent, Cole reportedly received a second-round tender. That's worth $1.47 million, and if any team pries Cole away with a bigger deal, the Packers would receive a second-round pick as compensation.

Williams probably will play defensive end in the Browns' 3-4 defensive scheme. The Browns need the help after finishing 27th against the run last season.

Assuming the trade is completed, the Browns will have neither a first- nor second-round pick. Cleveland dealt this year's No. 1 pick to Dallas during last year's draft so they could move up and select quarterback Brady Quinn.

"Defense is going to be a big part of our off-season," Browns GM Phil Savage told reporters in Cleveland on Thursday morning. "I think the next four to five days will probably dictate how our off-season goes, in terms of how it impacts the draft, what holes we get filled over the weekend."

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to E-mail him at

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