Packers: Losing Damarious Randall a significant blow to defense

GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 18: Damarious Randall
GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 18: Damarious Randall /

New Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst sent waves through the football world Friday night with the first significant transaction of his tenure.

Gutekunst sent cornerback Damarious Randall, as well as the Packers’ fourth and fifth round picks, to the Cleveland Browns for quarterback DeShone Kizer, as well as the Browns’ fourth and fifth round picks.

It’s a move that makes sense on some levels, but is hard to rationalize on others.

On the one hand, Kizer is a great addition. Someone needed to replace Brett Hundley at backup quarterback this offseason, and Kizer will almost certainly be the man to do it. He’s extremely young (just turned 22 in January), has three years left on his rookie deal, and oozes with potential.

Kizer shone at Notre Dame in his redshirt freshman season in 2015, but struggled at times in 2016. He has a far better arm than Hundley, with the velocity to complete tight-window throws. He has great size at 6-foot-4 and 233 pounds, and though he isn’t particularly elusive, he has enough speed and power to be a legitimate threat on the ground.

The issue is that Kizer is extremely inconsistent. He made some incredible throws late in games in his Notre Dame career, but he is also susceptible to mind-boggling lapses in judgment. He isn’t ready to play in the NFL until he can control those.

With a few years sitting and learning behind Aaron Rodgers, Kizer may see the game slow down for him. The hope is that Kizer will be an upgrade as a backup for now, and in the future can become valuable trade bait or even a starter.

But this trade is still a net negative for the Packers.

Randall has been just as inconsistent as Kizer has. He’s missed assignments at crucial times, dealt with a multitude of injuries, been unprepared for the snap of the ball, shied away from contact, and been straight up burned in coverage.

Despite that, losing Randall will be a significant blow to the defense.

For all his shortcomings, Randall has fantastic ball skills. He had four interceptions and nine passes defended last season, both the most on the defense. In his rookie season in 2015, he matched Sam Shields with three interceptions and beat Shields by one with 14 passes defended. Even during his injury-plagued sophomore slump in 2016, he ranked second on the team with three interceptions and second with nine passes defended.

Put simply, Randall is a playmaker—and the Packers need those. He gets his hands on the ball, and he very rarely misses a chance for an interception. His athletic ability makes him a gifted cover corner when healthy. He also improved significantly as a tackler this year and showed a willingness to take on contact as a blitzer from the slot.

GLENDALE, AZ – JANUARY 16: Cornerback Damarious Randall
GLENDALE, AZ – JANUARY 16: Cornerback Damarious Randall /

Cornerback now becomes far and away the predominant need for the Packers, easily surpassing edge rusher. Kevin King is the only player on the roster who’s shown significant promise, and he’s coming back from shoulder surgery.

Lenzy Pipkins and Josh Hawkins have flashed, but it’s very hopeful to think these undrafted free agents can become serviceable starters. Quinten Rollins may be facing an uphill battle to even make the team after his Achilles injury. Davon House’s lack of speed was evident last season, and it’s only going to get worse.

This trade was likely the result of off-the-field issues with Randall. Head coach Mike McCarthy was not pleased with Randall’s thinly veiled criticism of Dom Capers after the season. There was also, of course, the incident when Randall went to the locker room during the Thursday night game against the Bears. It’s possible that new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine didn’t see Randall as a fit, either on the field or off, for his defense.

Randall isn’t a perfect teammate. He’s inconsistently available, and he’s inconsistent when he’s available.

Next: Acquiring DeShone Kizer a big move for Green Bay

But he’s a young, talented starter at a position of need. He’s now been replaced by a young, talented backup who will only play in case of injury.

And of course, it’s easy to think of a single play last December, when Kizer and Randall faced off on a third down in overtime. Randall locked down the ultra-talented Josh Gordon, while Kizer panicked and made an absurd decision that resulted in an interception.

The Packers could have found competition for Hundley in the fourth or fifth round of this draft. To replace Randall, they’ll need to turn to free agency or use one of their top picks.

Brian Gutekunst has now definitively made his impression on the Packers’ roster. He has plenty more work to do in order to fill the gaping roster hole that his bold decision has widened.