In 2015, the defense was the strongest unit on the field for the Green Bay Packers. The biggest reason for that? A young and talented secondary that played well beyond their years.
Casey Hayward was one of those talented young players, and his contract is up. Should Green Bay bring him back though?
Casey Hayward 2015 stats
- 16 games played, 909 snaps (86.90 percent of team total)
- 65 tackles, 7 Passes Defensed
Pro Football Focus Ratings*
82.7 (overall); 83.7 (coverage), 65.5 (run defense), 58.1 (pass rush)
Hayward is definitely the type of player a team should want to have around. He began his career strong, with 6 INTs in a stellar rookie season. After an injury-plagued sophomore season (three games played), he has worked his way back to being a consistently strong contributor on a group that has lost a lot of talent in recent seasons.
Guys like Tramon Williams and Davon House left just last year, and at a spot that is becoming more and more important with further emphasis continuing to be placed on the passing game league-wide, letting yet another quality player go isn’t really the smartest way to build your roster.
This situation is somewhat different though. The Packers loaded up on players at this spot last season, likely with Hayward’s upcoming contract in mind. They grabbed Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins with their first two picks last draft, and both performed admirably; Randall stepped in for around 70% of the team’s defensive snaps, while Rollins was rated almost as well as Hayward by PFF.
Beyond those two the team also picked up LaDarius Gunter, who has shown plenty of promise in limited snaps. And of course don’t forget about Sam Shields, the former undrafted free agent who is currently their #1 cornerback.
Suffice to say, this team is stacked with talent at this position.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Hayward is gone however. He ended 2015 rated higher than any other cornerback on the Packers’ roster, while also seeing at least 150 snaps more than any other member of that group. He’s shown the ability to play both in the slot and also on the outside, which makes him even more valuable.
Players with his combination of talent, production, and malleability across a formation just don’t get let go into the open market often. If it wasn’t for the fact that they have so many other options on the roster already, this wouldn’t even be a question.
Something else to consider is the possibility of injury. Just look at what happened to the wide receivers last year for a perfect example; everything appeared to be set for yet another great year from a strong group, but it fell apart in a hurry with Jordy Nelson going down and subsequent injuries to Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, and Ty Montgomery. Injuries are an unfortunate guarantee in this game, and you never know where they will hit next; a strength can become a weakness in an instant.
Green Bay even saw some of this happen at cornerback last season, when Shields was injured in the Dallas game. Though they had all those options behind him, the secondary had issues in those weeks where he wasn’t there; when he returned in the playoffs at Arizona, the defense jumped to another level for most of the game, and he was in position for multiple interceptions that could have helped change the game in Green Bay’s favor.
Hayward isn’t Shields, but he is a strong contributor all the same; not having him makes the team weaker and less prepared for what injury or defenses can throw at them. If he doesn’t return, the Packers will have a group of Shields/Randall/Rollins/Gunter/Demetri Goodson, which is talented but can be thrown off dramatically by an injury anywhere in there. A new rookie would definitely be cheaper, but would that be worth the likely dropoff in production?
That answer likely comes from how much Hayward is willing to take.
He’d surely love to be paid on the level some of these other players are already seeing in free agency (Janoris Jenkins, for example, just received a $12.5 million-per-season contract from the Giants), or at least on the level that Sam Shields currently is in Green Bay ($9.75 million-per-year average). That’s not happening, at least not with the Packers.
If he would take something slightly lower though, maybe closer to the $8 million-per-season range, that could be a starting point for realistic negotiations on a return. Maybe that eventually drops to closer to $6-7 million-per-year, with some kind of guarantees/bonuses are structured into it to make up for the lower overall numbers. That would work on the Packers’ end; a contract like this would be great value for the team to keep a player of Hayward’s caliber.
That just isn’t likely, however. We can’t expect a highly talented player to leave millions on the table to return to a crowded position. It isn’t impossible (others players such as Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga did that just last season), but we shouldn’t automatically expect everyone to do so.
Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself if you would; if you’re being honest, that likelihood is probably pretty low, especially if you were as good as Hayward has shown to be, been paid far below his level of production (due to the structure of rookie contracts), and were given your first chance at cashing in on all your hard work.
It would be great to see Hayward return to the Packers for next season and beyond, but I just don’t see it happening.
*Pro Football Focus’ ratings go from 0-100; 0-59 = replaceable, 60-69 = backup, 70-84 = starter, 85-89 = Pro Bowler, 90-100 = Elite)