Previewing some of the big decisions facing NFC North teams early in the 2012 offseason:
Ever since the Green Bay Packers temporarily shifted him to safety in 2008, the question has followed cornerback Charles Woodson: When would the move become permanent? After all, you don't often see players in their mid-30s locking down one of the most difficult positions in the NFL.
Subsequently, Woodson has received the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award (2009) and three consecutive All-Pro honors. At the end of his 14th season, at the age of 35, Woodson was arguably the best cornerback on the Packers' roster. It's more difficult to find a cornerback than a safety, but would moving Woodson help make the Packers' defense better overall next season?
The Packers will at least consider that question as they await word on the status of Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins, who is two months away from finding out if doctors will clear him to play or recommend retirement because of a serious neck injury suffered in September. If Collins returns, he could team with strong safety Morgan Burnett in 2012. If not, Woodson might be the Packers' best option if they want to improve their tackling at the position.
Coach Mike McCarthy termed the discussion "very premature" during a news conference Wednesday but did not rule it out. "We're not making any position changes today," he said.
Collins' replacement, Charlie Peprah, didn't play well in Sunday's divisional playoff game to the New York Giants, missing a tackle on Hakeem Nicks' 66-yard touchdown catch and, like Woodson, failing to break up a Hail Mary pass to Nicks at the end of the first half. The sure-tackling Woodson would presumably be an upgrade over Peprah, but as we've discussed many times, the move doesn't make sense unless the Packers have a credible cornerback to take his place.
A few months ago, it would have been reasonable to think Tramon Williams and Sam Shields could hold down the two primary cornerback positions moving forward. The Packers also invested a 2011 fourth-round draft pick in cornerback Davon House, a potential nickelback with a year of development. But while they each intercepted four passes, neither Williams nor Shields played as well in 2011 as they did in 2010. House, meanwhile, was deactivated for 14 of 16 games.
That makes the Woodson issue complicated. If you're going to have a hole on defense, it makes more sense for it to be at safety than cornerback. But would the Packers be better off with a foursome of Williams, Shields, Woodson and Burnett than Woodson, Williams, Burnett and Peprah?
I think you could make that argument. But in the end, Woodson's status probably will be contingent on a number of outside factors: Collins' health, whether the Packers can find instant reinforcements at safety or cornerback in the draft and whether Williams or Shields can use the offseason to restore themselves to 2010 levels.