A look at safety concludes Cheesehead TV's position-by-position offseason preview series, taking a peek at what's in store for the Green Bay Packers in free agency and the NFL Draft..
The Green Bay Packers received historically low production from the safety position in 2013 when all players combined failed to come up with a single interception.
After receiving a five-year, $26 million contract extension in the offseason, Morgan Burnett didn't live up to expectations, unable to produce the sought-after turnover plays and leading the secondary with 11 missed tackles, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Still, Burnett was the best of a bad group of safeties and has become a better-than-expected physical force, willing to fill run lanes and make punishing tackles when he's not missing them. The job of the Packers will be to find Burnett a better partner at safety and hope his play improves as a result.
They can certainly do better than M.D. Jennings as a starter at safety. While he's smart and assignment-sure, Jennings is too small, too slow, and simply not talented enough to be a starter in the NFL.
Evidence of Jennings' ineffectiveness is summed up by his inability to come up with a single interception, forced fumble or even a pass deflection in 855 snaps this past season. There's no reason even a rookie with the right size and speed measurables can't improve upon those numbers.
Sean Richardson started to take some playing time away from Jennings late in the season after coming off the Physically Unable to Perform list, following offseason spinal-fusion surgery.
In limited action, Richardson has shown he can be a willing tackler and physical presence in the box, but he still has a ways to go to become a complete safety, especially at covering receivers in space.
As a mid-training camp addition, the Packers could have done worse than Chris Banjo, but as undersized as he is, the ceiling is low. Banjo was a nice addition to special teams, but his contributions on defense were invisible.
One question on the minds of Packers fans this offseason is if they'll move Micah Hyde to safety. On the surface, such a transition makes sense. Hyde doesn't have the speed of the elite cornerbacks, but he does have the physical nature needed at safety.
The risk, however, is that Hyde's ideal position could be as a slot cornerback, and the Packers would get better production from him there than at safety.
Long-Range Free Agency Outlook
There's more support for the Packers to look for outside help at safety than any other position for a couple reasons.
For one, the current safeties in Green Bay aren't getting the job done. For another, there's several big-name safeties about to hit the open market.
And finally, the Packers' draft-and-develop mantra has taken a hit in recent seasons as general manager Ted Thompson has largely spurned free agency as a method of procuring talent. Playoff losses three in straight seasons, however, have the natives becoming restless.
Jarius Byrd of the Buffalo Bills, T.J. Ward of the Cleveland Browns and Donte Whitner are a couple of the blue-chip free agents in this year's class, but it's debatable whether the bidding for their services will be too rich for Thompson's blood.
M.D. Jennings––The Packers enter the offseason deciding whether to sign Jennings as a restricted free agent or not.
Jennings is not starting material to be sure, but as a potential fourth safety and special teams player, the lowest-possible tender offer would hardly break the bank.
Even if the Packers did sign him, they could always cut him at a later date and still not owe him any guaranteed money, so despite the negative public attitude toward Jennings, it wouldn't be surprising if he's tendered.
Chris Banjo––Banjo was given just a one-year contract with the Packers, so in March he becomes an exclusive rights free agent, unable to negotiate with any other team except the Packers.
The Packers have the right to tender him a contract before the start of free agency March 11 or waive his rights. Because of the minimal investment, it also wouldn't be surprising if they brought Banjo back when offseason roster size can be up to 90 players.
Long-Range NFL Draft Outlook
If the Packers happen to sign a free agent at safety, the need at the position becomes less in the draft, but it likely doesn't go away entirely. Depth at the position can be improved considerably.
But if the Packers don't acquire a safety in free agency, it becomes priority 1A during the draft, figuring to be addressed by Day 2 at the latest.
There's a lot of teams in the NFL with a need a safety, perhaps leading to prospects being over-drafted higher than their talent would suggest.
Players such as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama and Calvin Pryor of Louisville are being mentioned as some of the top safeties in this year's draft class, but it's questionable if they're worthy of being selected with the 21st overall pick.
There is, however, a glut of safeties very capable of being drafted in the second and third rounds, including but not limited to Deone Bucannon of Washington State, Kenny Ladler of Vanderbilt, Ed Reynolds of Stanford, Ahmad Dixon of Baylor and Craig Loston of LSU.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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