Aaron Nagler speaks with Pete Dougherty about the trade of Damarious Randall to the Cleveland Browns and the work ahead for GM Brian Gutekunst at the cornerback position. Aaron Nagler/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY - In his first major transaction as Green Bay Packers general manager, Brian Gutekunst traded cornerback Damarious Randall to the Cleveland Browns on Friday and received quarterback DeShone Kizer in return, sources said.
A source said the trade also included the Packers and Browns swapping their fourth- and fifth-round picks. The Packers will now draft at the top of the fourth round and be first on the clock to start Day 3, something they also did last year.
The trade doesn't become official until the NFL's new year begins Wednesday.
Randall’s departure likely forces the Packers into a cornerback makeover this spring. Kizer’s arrival gives the Packers another young quarterback to compete with Brett Hundley for the backup job behind Aaron Rodgers.
When the trade clears, the Packers will have about $20.5 million in salary-cap room with less than a week until free agency begins. They cleared $1,514,418 of cap space belonging to Randall -- $1,004,223 will remain from his original signing bonus -- but also added Kizer's $689,928 base salary for a net gain of $824,490.
The Packers will absorb the three years of base salaries remaining on Kizer's four-year, $4.9 million deal. His 2018 salary is guaranteed and he has non-guaranteed base salaries of $914,856 in '19 and $1,139,784 in 2020.
The Packers have long studied Kizer, a second-year quarterback out of Notre Dame who started 15 games last season for the winless Browns. Hours before the NFL draft’s second round last spring, a source told PackersNews.com the Packers were tempted to draft Kizer with their 33rd overall pick, which they eventually used on cornerback Kevin King.
At the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis last week, it was apparent the Packers were searching for more quarterbacks.
“It’s about opportunities (to add depth),” Gutekunst said. “Whether it be in free agency or through the draft. Who becomes available? You look at all avenues.”
Hundley’s future with the Packers is uncertain. If he remains, coupling Kizer with Hundley removes any need for the Packers to draft a developmental quarterback this offseason.
Even before Friday, it was clear Hundley would have to fight for his job. The Packers were 3-7 in games Hundley played extensively, including his nine starts. He finished 30th in the league with a 70.6 passer rating, 31st with 5.81 yards per pass allowed, and 23rd with a 60.8 completion percentage.
“Brett Hundley wasn’t ready for what he needed to be ready for,” coach Mike McCarthy said last week. “That’s something that we have to learn from, and that stings. That’s something that we should’ve been better prepared for, and I say ‘we’ because it’s not just Brett.”
While the Packers have more competition at quarterback, Randall’s departure leaves plenty of work for Gutekunst at the cornerback position.
ESPN reported the Packers are among several teams that have expressed interest in cornerback Richard Sherman, released Friday by the Seattle Seahawks. Sherman, who is recovering from an Achilles injury, reportedly was meeting first with the San Francisco 49ers.
It was not a smooth third season for Randall, the Packers' first-round pick in 2015. After a dismal sophomore slump two years ago, Randall still showed plenty of room for improvement last fall. The low point came in Week 4 when Randall was benched and later sent to the locker room midway through a win against the Chicago Bears.
By season’s end, Randall rebounded enough to become the biggest playmaker in the Packers’ porous secondary. With the Packers out of playoff contention, he did not play in the final two games because of a knee injury. Randall still led the team with a career-high four interceptions. He had one interception in each of his three games following the benching.
Quickly after the transaction became public, Randall approved of the move on his Twitter account late Friday afternoon.
“#DawgPound,” Randall tweeted.
After openly criticizing coaches at the end of this past season, Randall might have fallen out of favor in Green Bay. Two days after a loss at Detroit in their finale, Randall said coaches needed to hold players accountable for their mistakes. It was an odd observation, since Randall led Packers cornerbacks last season with 717 snaps (68 percent) despite inconsistent play.
McCarthy said he disagreed with Randall’s assessment.
“I’ll tell you what I told Damarious,” McCarthy said, “he needs to focus on himself. He’s got to clean his own house. That’s what I look for him to do in the offseason. He did a lot of really good things. We all understand what happened in the Chicago game, but I thought from the Chicago game on he played at a very high level. He probably played the best football of his career, but then he didn’t play the last two games.
“He needs to go home and self-evaluate and clean his own house. We all need to clean our own house.”
After the season, Randall sounded like he planned to build off his success. He had minor surgery to fix an issue with a small bone in his hand, an injury he played through all season, but it didn’t figure to limit him this offseason.
He also had his confidence back, something scouts believed he lost during his dismal 2016 season.
“I feel like I did my job for most of the season,” Randall said in January. “I made plays within the scheme, and I feel like I played a hell of a year. I’ll just see what I can do to build on it this offseason and just come back ready to go.”
One of Randall's best games last fall came in Cleveland when he shadowed Browns top receiver Josh Gordon, who had three catches for 69 yards and one touchdown. Randall held Gordon to one catch when matched against him in coverage.
When Gordon suggested Randall’s success was because of his team’s disadvantages – taking an indirect shot at Kizer especially – Randall didn’t back down.
"You must be on that [expletive] again," Randall tweeted at Gordon.
That the Browns were Gutekunst’s first trade partner is no surprise. He has former colleagues in Cleveland, including Browns general manager John Dorsey. While Gutekunst was an area scout, Dorsey served as the Packers' college scouting director.
Whether Gutekunst got the better end of this deal depends not only on whether Kizer gives the Packers a better backup option than Hundley, but how he builds the cornerback position this spring. Randall figured to be a starter in the slot. Now, the Packers are down to just one solid starter on their roster in second-year corner Kevin King, who’s coming off season-ending shoulder surgery.
Randall’s departure puts the cornerback position in play both in free agency and when the Packers are on the clock with their 14th overall pick. They still need to build their edge rush as well. But multiple top defensive backs said they had formal interviews with the Packers in Indianapolis, including Ohio State’s Denzel Ward and Florida State’s Derwin James.
“I think it’s a strong secondary group,” Gutekunst said at the combine.
The Browns were busy Friday, also acquiring wide receiver Jarvis Landry from the Miami Dolphins and quarterback Tyrod Taylor from the Buffalo Bills.
PackersNews.com's Aaron Nagler answered questions and gave his thoughts regarding the Packers recent trade with the Cleveland Browns. Aaron Nagler/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin