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Will Packers Give Davon House the Starting Job He's Seeking?

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2015

GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 22:  Davon House #31 of the Green Bay Packers breaks up a pass intended for Denarius Moore #17 of the Oakland Raiders during the second quarter of a preseason game at Lambeau Field on August 22, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers secondary could look a lot different in 2015; cornerback Davon House is set to become a free agent on March 10, as is Tramon Williams.

If nothing else, it's becoming clear that with other big-name free agents in wide receiver Randall Cobb and offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, the Packers won't be able to re-sign both House and Williams unless Williams agrees to a pay cut. In that case, are they willing to make House a starter?

"I know I can play," House said in mid-February, per Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I truly believe the film says I can play in this league. If my film doesn’t show it, I don’t mind playing special teams. But I think my film shows I’m a starter."

Of the 40 regular-season games House has played in his career (of 64 possible games over four seasons), he has started 14: four in 2014, five in 2013 and five in 2012. He has never started a postseason game, though he has played in three of them. 

House missed the last three games of the 2014 season with a shoulder injury to his right scapula he suffered against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 14. He also injured his shoulder in the 2012 preseason, when, in ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky's estimation, he might have won a starting job. 

Free-Agent Corners: House and Williams
AgeGms PlayedGms Started'14 Base Salary'14 Cap Hit
Davon House254014$645K$720,145
Tramon Williams3112799$6.9M$9.5M
Source: NFL.com (salaries via Over the Cap)

Former undrafted free agent Williams, on the other hand, has only had one season between 2007 and 2014 in which he didn't play 16 games; in 2011, he played 15 after sitting out Week 2 with a shoulder injury. (Per CBS Baltimore, he told 105.7 The Fan in 2013 he should have sat out more rather than deal with the lingering effects of playing injured.)

Williams has started 99 games in his career, but he also turns 32 next month and had a base salary of $6.9 million in 2014. House, who won't turn 26 until July, might be looking for $5-7 million per year, according to Silverstein. 

If that's the case, it will be a sizable price tag for a player who has missed nearly as many regular-season games (nine) to injury as he has started. However, general manager Ted Thompson doesn't make a habit of re-signing players on the wrong side of 30 with cap hits that approached $10 million the previous season. 

In addition to his backup role, House has also been a special teams contributor for his four seasons in Green Bay...something he feels he's moved past. 

"I don't like the role just playing special teams, especially when I know I can contribute," House said, via Silverstein. 

He feels his film shows he's a starter. Is he right?

It is true that prior to his injury at the end of the year, House was having one of the best seasons of his career. He had an interception for the second year in a row, and though he played three fewer games than in 2013, he had the same number of passes defended (10).

Davon House: 2014 Season
GamesTOT TacklesFFINTPDCatch Rate AllowedMissed Tackles
1328111046.8%6
Source: Pro Football Focus; ESPN.com

He's confident those numbers will rise if he's given a starting role. House said, via Fox Sports Wisconsin's Paul Imig:

I'm excited to see what brings in the years to come when I'm a full-time starter. Me playing 16 games, I can see myself easily getting three, four picks a year with 18, 19 pass breakups. I started four, five games this year and had 10 pass breakups. I'm excited to see what that holds.

House allowed the fourth-lowest catch rate to opponents among all corners who played at least 25 percent of defensive snaps (108 in all), per Pro Football Focus: just 46.8 percent. House was targeted 47 times and allowed 22 receptions. 

He also allowed opposing quarterbacks a passer rating of just 76.6 percent, per Pro Football Focus, which came in 26th among those 108 corners.  

House shone when he came in to replace a struggling Sam Shields against Atlanta and top receiver Julio Jones in Week 14. Jones had a whopping 259 receiving yards in that game. According to Pro Football Focus, when Shields was in primary coverage on Jones, he allowed three receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown. Matt Ryan had a passer rating of 122.4 when throwing at Shields.

When House replaced Shields, he allowed Jones just two receptions for 37 yards and notably had two passes defended. In fact, it was on one of those defended passes that House injured his shoulder. 

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

When Imig asked House to cite moments from the 2014 season that supported his desire to start, that was one the cornerback underscored. 

"I'll just tell 'em to watch the game, and I'll just say 'Watch how the momentum swings,'" House said. "Watch the difference when I'm in there. When I was in there it was man-to-man coverage, no help over the top."

But House remains largely unproven, having started only 14 games. It may be perhaps the unique situation the Packers find themselves in this free-agency period, with House and Williams both scheduled to depart, that ultimately affords House an opportunity to earn the job. 

After all, as he showed with Shields' contract, Thompson tends to pay players for future production and potential, not necessarily past performance. In that regard, House has a heavier weight on his scale than Williams, a veteran who has proved himself but whose apex may have already come.

At this point in their careers, if the Packers had to choose to start either Williams or House for just one season, contracts aside, they'd no doubt choose Williams. But the salary cap is a reality of personnel decisions, and re-signing players is a business. Right now, House may be the wiser investment for Green Bay. 

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