Trumaine Johnson will be the top free agent cornerback available when the real free agent market opens next week. The Green Bay Packers will reportedly be players for his services.
This comes from Bob McGinn.
Last week, a source said the Packers planned to make a strong run at 28-year-old Ram Trumaine Johnson, probably the best cornerback on the unrestricted free-agent market. The problem is that Johnson might warrant a contract averaging about $15 million per year, and unless the Packers either cut or exact pay reductions from wide receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson it might be a stretch to assume they can afford Johnson.
Yes, that certainly is a problem. After trading cornerback Damarious Randall to Cleveland for quarterback DeShone Kizer, the Packers have around $20 million in salary cap space. That will be depleted around $4 million because of money owed to their draft class, however.
The Packers are also in the running for free agent defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, who was released by the Jets this week. They are also said to be interested in cornerback Richard Sherman, who was released by Seattle on Friday.
So how could they possibly sign all of these guys? Or how could they afford to pay Johnson the $15 million annually he’s likely to command on the open market?
As we’ve been saying all along, the Packers need to make some moves with their existing contracts. Cobb and Nelson are candidates to be released. Ditching either of those contracts would free up around $10 million. Of course, they can extend or restructure those deals to free up cap space, as well. The same goes for Clay Matthews, who is making $11 million in the final year of his deal. Tackle Bryan Bulaga, although he has two years left on his deal, could also offer some savings.
Then there’s the Aaron Rodgers’ situation. Rodgers will be signing an extension. That contract could conceivably create extra cap space, but Rodgers is apparently refusing to sign until after free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins signs. So, thanks a lot, Aaron. Free agents aren’t going to wait around so Aaron Rodgers can make sure he’s the highest-paid player in the game.
The Packers can, of course, get creative with a contract for Johnson. That would mean Johnson takes a small base salary in year one of his deal, so the Packers can fit it under the cap. The team has loads of money coming off the books in 2019, so Johnson could get his and the Packers could get their man that way. This works because signing bonuses are prorated over the length of the contract for salary cap purposes, but they’re paid out in year one.
So we’ll see what salary cap genius Russ Ball has up his sleeve.
Looking at Johnson as a player, he’s an immediate upgrade over anyone that was on the Packers’ roster in 2017. He’s 28 and the Rams used the franchise tag on him the past two years. In six seasons, Johnson has 18 interceptions, 67 passes defended and three touchdowns.
In 2017, Pro Football Focus graded him at 74.2, but he was above 80 the two seasons prior.
Is he Charles Woodson? No, but Johnson is a legitimate No. 1 cornerback.
Not that we find this scenario at all likely, but could you imagine if the Packers were able to sign Wilkerson, Sherman and Johnson? Could you imagine if they were able to do so without releasing anyone?
Then we’d say that Ball certainly deserved that promotion.