The Green Bay Packers will need to restock their cornerback position before the start of next season.
Free agent Tramon Williams signed with the Cleveland Browns on Monday, the team announced. Williams accepted a three-year, $21 million contract with Cleveland, according to a report from Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
He visited with the Browns over the weekend.
“I know this is a good spot for me,” Williams told the team’s website. “It carries the same tradition Green Bay had. I’m just ready for a new chapter in my life.”
Williams, who also turned 32 on Monday, spent eight seasons with the Packers. He arrived in Green Bay as an undrafted rookie after the Houston Texans cut him near the end of training camp in 2006, spending his first season on the Packers’ practice squad. In time, he would develop into a leader in the secondary.
Over the past five seasons, Williams’ durability made him a fixture in Green Bay’s defense. The veteran started 79 of a possible 80 games during that stretch, partnering with Sam Shields to give the Packers a strong duo of starting cover corners.
His defining play came in the Packers’ showdown against the Atlanta Falcons in the 2010 NFC divisional round. On the final snap of the first half, Williams intercepted Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown, giving the Packers a 14-point lead that opened the door to a shocking blowout.
Williams tied a team record with three interceptions during the 2010 postseason that ended with a Super Bowl title. Two came during Green Bay’s upset in Atlanta. Williams was also named to his lone Pro Bowl that season as an injury replacement.
More recently, Williams was on the wrong end of Seattle Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse’s game-winning touchdown in overtime of last season’s NFC championship game, a play that ended Green Bay’s hopes of returning to the Super Bowl. Counting playoffs, he allowed a league-high 10 touchdowns in coverage, and a 106.5 pass rating to opposing quarterbacks, according to ProFootballFocus.com
Williams finished his stint in Green Bay with 28 interceptions in 127 games, including 99 starts. He had at least 14 passes defended in each of the past seven seasons.
His departure leaves a void in Green Bay’s secondary. The Packers already lost backup cornerback Davon House last week when he signed a four-year, $24.5 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Without Williams or House, a position of strength last fall has become an area that needs to be restocked this offseason.
But the Packers were never going to extend $7 million per year for Williams, not at his age. Williams is currently the oldest starting cornerback in the league. While he stayed in contact with Green Bay during the free agency process, it was clear he wanted more than the reported $4 million per year offer the Packers were willing to give.
General manager Ted Thompson will likely look to the draft to replenish the Packers’ cornerback depth chart, but there’s no guarantee a rookie can enter the league ready to play immediately.
Green Bay is left with five cornerbacks on its roster – Shields, Casey Hayward, Demetri Goodson, Tay Glover-Wright and nickel back Micah Hyde. Hayward and Hyde alternated part-time roles covering slot receivers last season. While Hyde is a safety in the Packers’ base defense, Hayward could potentially make a move to full-time starting cornerback on the perimeter.
It will be hard to fully replace Williams, however. Even if the veteran was declining with age, he was the vocal leader in Green Bay’s secondary. The Packers will need leadership next season, not just players capable of covering receivers.