Perhaps some pressure is off Tramon Williams since Sam Shields got a big contract, but the cornerback is one of only a few veterans who can really make a difference for the Green Bay Packers this season.
Packers cornerback Tramon Williams finished last season with three interceptions, a career-high 2.5 sacks and a career-high-tying two forced fumbles.
Jeff Hanisch / USA TODAY Sports
By Paul Imig
Green Bay Packers beat writer Paul Imig will be analyzing the 25 most important players to the Packers' success in the 2014 season. Check back each weekday to see the latest player on the list. You can find every report here.
NOTE: This is not a list of the team's 25 best players, but rather it's a list of which players mean the most to how Green Bay will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player's position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered.
With the $39 million deal that the Packers gave to cornerback Sam Shields this offseason, a bit of pressure slides away from Tramon Williams. Head coach Mike McCarthy even said that a contract of that size for Shields made him "a core player" now for Green Bay. It's not that the Packers can afford to have Williams turn in a poor 2014 season, but Shields will be looked at more now as the team's top cornerback who's expected to keep receivers like Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall in check.
Williams had a good 2013 season with three interceptions, a career-high 2.5 sacks and tying a career high with two forced fumbles. According to ProFootballFocus, it was Williams' best season since 2010. If he can do that at age 30, he can probably perform at a similar level at age 31.
Williams is No. 20 on this list because he's one of few veteran players who can really make a difference for Green Bay this season. If he falters, there are a couple good options behind him, but Williams is still a high-quality player who provides a lot of positives for the Packers' defense.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2014
This is the last year of Williams' contract, one that will pay him more than $9 million. There was some thought a year ago that if he struggled in 2013 that Green Bay would try to force him to restructure, and, if that didn't work, cut him. But there's no way general manager Ted Thompson could justify parting with him after the year that Williams put together.
This season, Williams will try to prove that he deserves another decent-sized contract from the Packers next offseason -- or a contract from another NFL team if Green Bay opts to move on. Either way, Williams will be motivated. He has a good understanding of the league and knows that players older than 30 (of which Williams is one of only six on the Packers' 90-man roster) are viewed much differently.
Williams won't be expected to dominate or be a lockdown cornerback anymore, but with the money he's owed this season, expectations will remain high.
WHAT WOULD THEY DO WITHOUT HIM?
Williams would be higher on this list if Green Bay didn't have a cornerback like Casey Hayward waiting in the wings. Spoiler alert, Hayward did not make this year's "25 Most Important Packers" list, but that's only because he's coming off a 2013 season that was lost due to injury. If Hayward can get back to what he did during his phenomenal rookie season, he could be a star in the making. But right now, there isn't a starting outside cornerback spot available for Hayward unless he rips it away from Williams during training camp.
Green Bay also has Davon House, a cornerback with the ability to still become a good player in the NFL but one who is no higher than No. 4 currently on the depth chart at outside cornerback. House has started 10 games already in his three-year career, and if his confidence hasn't been shaken, he could start several more games in the coming seasons.
Micah Hyde, for as good as he is, isn't going to be part of the competition at outside cornerback with Williams. Hyde will likely play a hybrid role of slot cornerback and safety. Demetri Goodson, a sixth-round pick rookie, is looking to make an impact at outside cornerback. The Packers also have veteran Jarrett Bush in case of emergency.