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Packers cornerback Casey Hayward prepared to hit the free-agent market

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Casey Hayward doesn’t know any more about his future than he did when the season ended a month ago, but at this point the Green Bay Packers cornerback is prepared to hit the market when free agency opens next month.

He confirmed that he has hired a new agent -- David Mulugheta, who also represents Packers defensive backs Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Quinten Rollins -- to negotiate his next contract, and he said that he has not heard anything from the Packers about a new deal.

“They normally wait til closer to the deadline,” Hayward said in a text message this week. “But we shall see. I’ll probably hit the market.”

Considering what former Packers cornerbacks Davon House and Tramon Williams got on the open market last offseason, Hayward looks likely to cash in whether it’s with the Packers or another team. Hayward, 26, is far younger than Williams, who signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Cleveland Browns. And he’s more experienced than House was when he signed a four-year, $24.5 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Packers don’t typically let young, productive, homegrown players (Hayward was a second-round pick in 2012) leave after their first contract expires, but they’re deep enough at cornerback that general manager Ted Thompson is in a position to let Hayward test his value on the street.

Thompson’s first two picks of last year’s draft, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, played well enough as rookie cornerbacks to warrant full-time positions alongside veteran Sam Shields. With Randall and Shields on the outside, Rollins could replace Hayward in the slot. The Packers also like how Micah Hyde plays in the slot and have young cornerbacks Demetri Goodson, LaDarius Gunter and Robertson Daniel all under contract for next season.

“You just never know,” Hayward said shortly after the season. “They’ve got some young guys here. Pretty sure they want these young guys to play regardless of if I’m here or not. The only thing I can control is what I control, and that was my play for this year. We’ll see how it goes.”

Although Hayward has long maintained he’s more than just a slot cornerback, he flourished in that role. It helped Dom Capers’ defense rank No. 1 in the NFL in lowest completion percentage allowed to slot receivers (56.2 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

About the only thing missing from Hayward’s 2015 season was an interception. Since he recorded six interceptions as a rookie, he’s had only three since -- all in the 2014 season. Still, he played well enough to rank 32nd overall among cornerbacks in ProFootballFocus.com’s position grades.

“I think it went well,” Hayward said of his 2015 season. “That was my role: start outside and when we go nickel go inside. I kind of knew going in that’s how it would be. We played so much nickel that people didn’t see me as much outside even though I started outside pretty much the whole season. I think I did well. I think I prepared well. I think I handled every situation well.”

What’s more, Hayward became the de facto leader in the cornerbacks room even though Shields had more experience.

“He’s taken the leadership role,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said late in the season. “Sam doesn’t talk. There’s only two vets in there -- Sam and Casey. Sam doesn’t say two words, and so Casey does most of the talking.”

It was a role Hayward said he enjoyed.

“I think people even missed some of the things that I do off the field and on the field,” he said. “I’m a veteran. I kind of led those young guys, me and Sam. I’m pretty sure a lot of people see those things when they throw on the film, when they ask around the organization. Hopefully I can be back, but we’ll see how that goes.”

Said Randall: “Casey was our vocal leader out there. He really didn't say much on the field, but just off the field, up in meetings and stuff like that. I just hope we get him back next year. I really do not know how they're going to go. I really don't have a say on that. But he's a great, great guy. He's a great leader on and off the field.”