Will Any of the Packers Free Agent Safeties Be Back In 2024?

For the second straight year, the Green Bay Packers enter the offseason with major questions at safety. The team had three players start nine games or more at safety in 2023 and all of them are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. Darnell Savage, Rudy Ford, and Jonathan Owens are all not under contract for the 2024 campaign.

Even with new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley bringing in a different defensive scheme, most teams want some continuity on their roster. But which, if any, of the three potential free agent safeties should be back?

Savage is the most athletically gifted of the three candidates. The former first-round pick out of Maryland played this past season on his fifth-year option. He will turn 27 in July and should be in the prime of his career.

Unfortunately, Savage never found the consistency necessary to be a great NFL safety. He has showed flashes of ability. In the second half of the 2020 season, he and Adrian Amos were both playing at an extremely high level and making big plays. Unfortunately, since then, Savage’s play has been up and down.

In 10 games this season, Savage did not intercept a pass and only had one pass defended. Of course, he had a critical pick six in the Packers playoff win over the Cowboys which helped put the game away before halftime.

Opposing quarterbacks completed a whopping 78.3 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Savage according to pro-football-reference.com and had a quarterback rating of 106.9. He still graded out well according to Pro Football Focus who had him ranked in the top 20 among qualified NFL safeties.

Will Savage be a good fit in Hafley’s new defense? Can his ability to play close to the line of scrimmage work in the new 4-3, 49ers-style system?

The Packers also need to know if GM Brian Gutekunst can sign Savage to a new contract at an acceptable dollar amount or will he get a better offer elsewhere? Savage would be the most expensive of the three options, but he also has the most long-term potential.

Jonathan Owens was added as a free agent last offseason. The former Missouri Western State star played in all 17 games for the Packers and started 11. He is considered a better player defender against the run than he is in coverage.

Like Savage, Owens did not intercept a pass in 2023. He will turn 29 in July and will be entering his sixth NFL season in 2024.

Opposing quarterbacks completed 65.6 percent of their passes and had a quarterback rating of 118.2 when throwing to receivers covered by Owens. He made 84 total tackles and one quarterback sack. He also broke up three passes, forced a fumble and recovered one which he returned for a touchdown.

Owens played for just a bit more than one million dollars in 2023 and certainly would be cheaper to re-sign than Savage.

The third option at safety is Ford. He started nine games and played in 13 before landing on injured reserve late in the season. He led the Packers with two interceptions and broke up six passes. The Auburn alum made 71 total tackles and recovered one fumble for the Packers in 2023.

Ford played well in coverage. Opposing quarterbacks completed 60.7 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Ford and had a quarterback rating of 65.0.

Ford is the oldest of the three free agent safeties. He will turn 30 in November. In 2023, his salary was $1.5 million.

With the possible exception of Savage, none of the three free agent safeties are viewed as a long-term solution at the position. The Packers will almost certainly draft at least one safety this year and may also add a moderate-cost free agent.

Owens could be the most logical player to bring back because of his relative cost and what he could add to the team’s run defense.

Gutekunst has some difficult decisions ahead. You would think the team would want at least one returning veteran safety to compliment Anthony Johnson, Jr. and whichever newcomers are added next season.

We should have the answer in the coming few weeks.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (48)

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EnemyTerritory's picture

February 08, 2024 at 12:08 pm

At least one will return. At some point the team must break the cycle of mass replacements at one position every draft. It leaves little room to draft well in the strength of the draft class.

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CoachJV's picture

February 08, 2024 at 12:13 pm

Tough to say about any of them. I think Ford and Owens are both serviceable backup Safeties... I think we keep them both on low dollar contracts. Savage is the big question mark and what to do about him. I say let him test the waters and see what he can get out there before we make a move on him.

We gotta draft a stud and find a good one in FA me thinks...

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TKWorldWide's picture

February 08, 2024 at 08:07 pm

That last part is what I’m thinking as well; an updated version of Amos/Savage. I don’t think a single high, ballhawking safety is currently on the roster.

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Razer's picture

February 08, 2024 at 12:32 pm

The chronic weakness at safety and linebacker is perplexing. Overall, the front office has not gotten very good returns on draft capital spent on defense especially compared to the results on offense. You almost have to go back to Kenny Clark to find a homerun. I don't know what the answer is but Gutekunst needs to get help identifying good football players on defense.

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T7Steve's picture

February 08, 2024 at 12:46 pm

Bring them all back. that room is almost empty.

Ford, if for no other reason, for his special teams work and close relationship with the ST coach Rich B. I didn't realize he showed that much above the others in coverage.

Owens, because it's an Olympic year and I like his girlfriend. I'm really just teasing, because of the Taylor Swift thing. I think with coaching in the right system he'll come along in his second season here.

Savage, because I think he's not even close to his ceiling. and if used to his best ability will reach it. He started coming on late in the season when the D was forced to be more aggressive by MLF. Just think if he's hung on to the one he dropped in San Fran? If he tests free agency, he'll be on one of the other NFC north teams, you just watch. They love poaching anyone that's a Packer (even Lowery).

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 08, 2024 at 12:50 pm

Seems like you already answered the questions about Savage. A talented guy, but a no-show in the Play making
department w/out a pick through 17 games. Not a gung-ho guy. Not a guy to waste cash over. There are 4-5 better safeties in this draft

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TKWorldWide's picture

February 08, 2024 at 08:11 pm

Yeah, I think Savage is more of a RAS athlete than a football player. I’d imagine a new coach looks at his measurables and thinks he can unlock his ability. Sadly, he’s had 5 years to show it and the best I can say is he’s maddeningly inconsistent. But heck, what do I know? If Hafley (and his staffly) can make it happen, count me in.

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Oppy's picture

February 09, 2024 at 05:02 am

The problem is it's a gamble.

A gamble on developing a player who has been under performing the majority of his career and is still under contract is one thing. It's another thing when you have to pony up new money in a new contract to try and turn around a struggling player.

Beyond the contract, it's also a roster spot that could be used on a rookie with the same or more amount of talent, who may (or may not) develop into a better player.. for rookie contract money.

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TKWorldWide's picture

February 09, 2024 at 10:15 pm

Agreed.

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splitpea1's picture

February 08, 2024 at 12:57 pm

You could bring back either Owens or Ford at a reasonable price to be backups, and at least they have some value on special teams.

Savage has had one promising season in five years. His main attribute is that he's been available most of the time. No need to repeat his shortcomings, as they have been discussed ad nauseam. He is not worth bringing back unless it is at a rock bottom price that he would never accept anyway. Let him go and don't look back.

Gute needs to take some kind of swing at the free agent market here and not settle for some low-budget/quality solution while a premium draft pick (which he absolutely needs to make) develops. Good safeties don't become stars overnight, unless Gute is lucky enough to happen on a prospect like Ed Reed or something. If the goal is to win a Super Bowl, as Gute has stated, then you're going to have get serious about the safety position and make sure it's properly fortified--Hafley is going to need them to make his defense successful.

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Oppy's picture

February 09, 2024 at 05:26 am

The Packers have been serious about the safety position for years, it just hasn't worked out lately.

Nick Collins, 2005. 1st round. Ran side by side with rookie Morgan Burnett (3rd) in 2010. 2011, Collins lost to injury. Packers get solid if not flashy safety play from Burnett for the next 6 years while they look for a playmaker to be his running mate at free safety. 2014, HaHa Clinton-Dix (1st). Just doesn't work out. When the Packers moved on from Clinton Dix via trade, they signed Adrian Amos to run with the new investment, Darnell Savage (1st) in 2019. Adrian played well for the Packers. Darnell.. wellll....

At any rate, that covers nearly 18 years of the Packers taking the safety position pretty seriously. Collins, Clinton-Dix, Savage all 1st round selections, Morgan Burnett a 3rd, and Amos as a proven veteran FA signing.

The Packers have always taken Safety seriously. They have missed on the last two investments, however, and it has hurt.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 09, 2024 at 11:05 am

Collins was a 2nd rounder but your right about the investment.

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Oppy's picture

February 09, 2024 at 09:29 pm

Thanks for the correction, you are, of course, correct.

What a tragedy to lose Collins to injury. HoF tracking career cut short.
His range was unreal.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 10, 2024 at 03:45 pm

Oh yeah, that was a real bummer. I think he would have been the best defensive player on the team through at least 2015. Not sure he makes a difference in 2011 but 2014 for sure. Close losses in '13 and '15 too.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

February 08, 2024 at 01:04 pm

I would think that after Haley looks at the play of each safety and determines if they have been properly trained and used to the best of their ability, he will make his recommendations to Gute. Haley has an extensive background with backfield coaching and may very well view the potential of our current safeties in a different light.

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Guam's picture

February 08, 2024 at 01:24 pm

Spot on FD - I think Hafley is the critical issue here. Is Savage just a minimally adequate safety or has he been misused by Barry? I have no idea, but Hafley should be able to make an informed judgment based on his background as a DB coach (after watching lots of film and talking with Savage).

Ford and Owens should be cheap depth pieces and available if Hafley wants them. Savage or another FA safety will be the bigger question.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 08, 2024 at 02:04 pm

Hopefully they let Hafley watch the film, speak to Downard and let him choose either Ford or Owens to bring back for vet minimum with some sprinkles on top.

There are much better fits than Savage in FA this year. McKinney would be expensive but would've a great fit for the system and is only 24. Blackmon or Gilman would be cheaper and still bring solid veteran experience.

https://www.pff.com/news/nfl-2024-nfl-free-agency-rankings-safeties

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Guam's picture

February 08, 2024 at 04:37 pm

Gute typically attacks a problem area with both FA help and draftees. I will be very curious who Gute/Lafleur/Hafley sign in free agency this spring. And then who they add via the draft. Since the draft seems thin at Safety this year, I hope they can afford a good FA.

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WD's picture

February 08, 2024 at 01:20 pm

Gee, I thought our entire defense including the secondary played exceptionally well against Dallas. More over a lot of team's secondaries have had problems with the Niners. So, I think currently we are if anything under rating the safeties we have. If Savage had held on to that interception it might have been his second pick six in a row. Perhaps we would not then be having this discussion. Obviously there are always economic factors but we want the best players possible on the field. I say we at least keep Savage and maybe Owens too. Savage is the youngest not to mention the fastest. Therefore I think he has the most upside potential.

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GregC's picture

February 08, 2024 at 03:12 pm

I agree that we are underrating our safeties. They were not great in 2023, but they were not the major liabilities we feared they would be. I'm fine with keeping 2 of these 3 on the roster even if they bring in a starting quality free agent and a high draft pick.

If Savage had held onto that interception in SF and perhaps returned it for a TD, the narrative around him would be very different right now. It at least would've canceled out his not-so-good plays in that game. But he didn't hold on. I think he played his best football early in the season and was not as good when he returned from the injury. After five years, I'm ready to give up on him. But if he's easy to keep around, maybe it's worth giving him another shot. Somebody suggested moving him into the slot, which is an interesting idea. I think he played pretty well there near the end of the 2022 season. I think he played slot in college too.

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Leatherhead's picture

February 08, 2024 at 01:24 pm

Savage should be brought back. He's a former first round pick, he's been a starter for 5 years, he doesn't miss a lot of time injured, and we already owe him over $5 million. Better to sign him and roll that money into a new package. It could even increase our cap space for 2024.

This is not a complete solution, of course, but it's a start. I'm sure we'll add draft picks and maybe FAs. Remember, when Gutekunst took over, one of the first things he did was sign Amos and draft Savage. We're not going into Murphy's last year with a hole at safety, that's my prediction.

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egbertsouse's picture

February 08, 2024 at 02:29 pm

Your first paragraph is full of good reasons to sign him. IF HE DIDN’T SUCK!

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Leatherhead's picture

February 08, 2024 at 02:42 pm

There's about 160 Safeties on NFL rosters (32 x 5). About 2/3 of them are pretty close to average, so that leaves about 54. Half of those are better than average (27) and half are worse, and those are the guys you're looking to replace. I'm not saying Savage is a Top 27 Safety, but he's certainly not in the Bottom 27 either.

Savage is an average-ish veteran safety.

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Oppy's picture

February 09, 2024 at 09:36 pm

Which is exactly why his 1st round draft status and the fact he's a 5 year starter shouldn't weigh into the equation at all.

When your best safety is a 5 year NFL vet that's (at best) the definition of "average-ish", you don't draw up a new contract. You upgrade.

We've spent five years attempting to develop the "1st round talent." He has produced 4 very poor- not average- poor seasons, and one season where PFF thinks he played like a top 15 safety, but his per targeted stats are bad.

It's time to move on and look to IMPROVE the position.

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T7Steve's picture

February 08, 2024 at 02:43 pm

LH, I can't remember how many safeties we usually roster? I know it will vary between how healthy and versatile corners they keep and vice versa.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 08, 2024 at 01:45 pm

Savage isn't a good fit for this defense. His worst spot is playing deep and do you want his tackling to be the last line of defense? He played his best at robber and Ben Fennell thinks some teams will be interested in him as a slot defender.

I think they could get a guy like Julian Blackmon, who is a much better tackler, for around the same amount and have a solid box safety that can also pay two high. Then look for a FS early in the draft.

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Turophile's picture

February 08, 2024 at 04:09 pm

On the other hand, Savage is at his best close to the line of scrimmage and if the Packers start playing plenty of single high safety, they will draft or sign someone who can do that and let Savage be the one to roam around in the box. that extra safety (when you are in single high) can do a nice job playing shallow.

Can the Packers find better than Savage, very possibly, but they might be keeping him for one more year.

One question is what Savage will accept for a new contract. Unless his new contract is pretty modest the Packers might prefer tp go with Ford. Alternatively, the new DC might think he can get more from Savage than Ford in the future - it's all in the eye of the beholder.

This is a rather long-winded way of saying I don't know if Savage stays or goes.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 08, 2024 at 04:36 pm

He misses so many tackles against RBs I'm not sure you want him to be your main box safety.

There are bigger safeties with much better missed tackle rates amongst this year's free agents that will be cost the same as Savage or less. Julian Blackmon had 30 run stops this year and had a missed tackle rate that was less than ⅓ of Savage's.

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Packers0808's picture

February 08, 2024 at 02:41 pm

My guess give all three a chance under new coaching. All 3 little older, but all show promise and it seems they can be coached up to improve quite a bit. Of course depends on the cost of each other.

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Leatherhead's picture

February 08, 2024 at 02:54 pm

I think the Packers are going to bring new people in at Safety. Savage, because we're already on the hook for $5M, and because he's our best Safety, makes the most sense to keep.

We could probably sign Savage for 3 years for $15 Million and it would really only cost us $10M. I don't think we can get anybody better at that price. People seem to want to focus on that missed tackle % and ignore all the tackles they did make. Here's the drill: If you're on the field for every defensive snap, you're going to miss some tackles. Percentage-wise, since the sample is so small (60 tackles or so), every missed tackle is magnified. The difference between missing 5 out of 60 and 10 out of 60 looks huge, percentage-wise, but it's really 5 more missed tackles over the length of a season.

I'm not saying that's good...I'd like to see better...but it doesn't outweigh all the tackles he makes.

As I understand the new DC's plan, he likes to play a S near the LOS. I think Savage would probably do well in that role. Draft a centerfielder.

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Packers0808's picture

February 08, 2024 at 03:45 pm

Totally agree, already know what you have. Lots to say about familiarity!

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 08, 2024 at 04:14 pm

"because he's our best Safety, makes the most sense to keep."

Savage-78% completion percentage and 106 passer rating allowed. 13.6% missed tackle rate. No regular season interceptions

Ford-60%completion percentage and 65 passer rating allowed. 9.0% missed tackle rate. 2 interceptions in the regular season.

Who was their best safety this year?

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 09, 2024 at 10:40 am

The definition of mediocrity when the guy was a one pick.

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Guam's picture

February 08, 2024 at 04:31 pm

Not sure your contract math is right LH. That $5 million the Packers owe Savage is dead cap money (prorated signing bonus stretched over void years). The Packers will owe that even if Savage signs elsewhere. If the Packers sign Savage to a three year, $15 million contract, the Packers will owe Savage $15 million and take the $5 million dead cap hit.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 09, 2024 at 11:07 am

He got paid $7.9 million this year. Any other number is just cap gymnastics.

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Since'61's picture

February 08, 2024 at 03:04 pm

The Packers need a play maker at Safety. None of the current safeties on the roster fit that description. They. need an impact player on the back end. Savage, Ford and/or Owens are good for depth and one of them can likely improve with an impact player on the safety position group. Hopefully Gute can draft an impact player in 2024. If not find an FA veteran who can carry the group until an impact player can be added to the roster. The current group is adequate at best but a weak position group for the defense at this point. Thanks, Since '61

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 08, 2024 at 04:24 pm

The top three safeties in this draft were all playmakers.

Kinchens had 11 interceptions and returned two for TDs in the last two years.

Nubin had 12 interceptions over the last three years.

Bullock had 9 interceptions and returned two for TDs in the last three years.

IMO Kinchens and Bullock are more suited for single high safety but the combine will shake that stuff out. Nubin might have a higher floor because if he can't handle single high he has the size and tackling ability to play in the box or be a big slot defender against TEs.

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WD's picture

February 09, 2024 at 06:52 am

I suspect that is very close to what Gute will do. I see a number of people just want "to clean house". Yet the question of who will replace them is not a given. So, luckily Gute is aware of the issue and most likely doesn't pay a lot of attention to what the fans have to say. Nor should he. Never the less it is fun to speculate. I am really getting excited about the upcoming Draft in April. But first, free agency. Go Pack

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stockholder's picture

February 08, 2024 at 03:44 pm

Savage isn't Micheal Hyde.
In fact; he was suppose to replace Ha HA Dix.
And that is your comparison. Dix!
The packers can't pay mediocrity.
They have better players that must be paid.
He was a pain to Barry. Benched!
And a player that needs readjustments. Is Cowardly.
And can't keep his head out of his ass. Is a Loser.
No to savage. He's had his 5 years.

Owens plays with heart. And I would sign him.
He's done his best to improve. And can be moved around.

Ford had his day. He was replaced. Keep it that way.

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HawkPacker's picture

February 08, 2024 at 05:15 pm

Micah Hyde and no he isn't.

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TKWorldWide's picture

February 08, 2024 at 08:17 pm

Heck, Micah Hyde isn’t Michael Hyde either.
Maybe there’s something. To.
This Whole identity Theft.
Thing.
That’s why My mom.
Won’t even use her Credit.
Card. Online!

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DrMixerGED's picture

February 10, 2024 at 10:19 pm

No mercy, I love it

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Packer_Fan's picture

February 08, 2024 at 06:23 pm

Under Barry's defense, what player excelled? None really. Somewhere in that defense with all those first round picks are some stars. But you won't find them under Barry. So to say that Savage is not a good player may be a mistake. Or caused by the weak Barry defenses.

Hafley may say that Savage may work well within his system. So I say of the three safeties, Savage and Owens may be worthwhile resigning. Owens at a veteran minimum.

The safety poor performance may be just as much as the scheme than the player. So I am just going to wait and see what the Packers do.

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golfpacker1's picture

February 08, 2024 at 08:09 pm

Get Jeremy Chinn. Carolina has soured on him and he is a free agent now. This guy was a stud for his first 3 years. 6'3 220lbs and ran 4.45 @ combine. He only made $3 million last year. Make him an offer he can't refuse.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 08, 2024 at 10:38 pm

Allowed a passer rating of 132 last year. That's not good. Rather have Dugger if you could get him for a couple million more a year. I think the Pats resign him though.

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

February 09, 2024 at 06:00 am

I think Ford is the best, but got injured. He always shows speed and tackling ability, and he made some good interceptions, plus he played well on special teams. Unfortunately, he is 30.
I honestly don't know about Savage; I'd leave that up to the coaches. How is he as a leader?

As many of you know, I'm an avid Draftnik (for 50 years!); in my draft simulations so far this year, the results I have been happiest with have been DB heavy early, as in a CB at 25 and safeties at 41 and 58 or 88. Safeties often drop in value, and I think that could happen this year as teams grab WRs and OL and DL early. Getting a Quinyon Mitchell at 25 would be lucky, but I think a Kinchens or Nubin at 41, and Bullock or Rakestraw at 58, or James Williams at 88 is not unreasonable. Plus, getting LB Payton Wilson at 58 or 88 would almost be like drafting a safety (I'd be really interested in trying moving him to safety, where I think he could become a Pro-Bowl defender).

We have a lot of "needs," but fixing the DB situation would be similar to the impact of the group of WRs and TEs last year. I also think getting two talented young safeties to learn a new defense under a new Defensive Coordinator would be ideal.

I'd love to get a center and ILB and we need a couple RBs, but there is likely to be good value there in rounds 3 and 4.

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LLCHESTY's picture

February 09, 2024 at 11:17 am

I think Mitchell is gone by 25 after this Senior Bowl performance. I've seen Rakiestraw from Missouri mocked to the Packers. He played outside and slot for them but only had one interception over the last three years. I think they have enough of those types. I think it's Mitchell or bust at 25 and I just don't think he's there anymore. As far as CBs there's plenty of 6" guys in the 40-100 range they can look at.

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gsd3's picture

February 10, 2024 at 05:14 pm

As long as the pack is in salary cap purgatory they cannot do anything. It's a problem of their own creation by constantly kicking the can down the road.
Savage will count 5.5 mil against the cap in 24 and around 1.4 in 25. One example. There are many.
Is Campbell worth 14 mil at age 31? Preston Smith worth 16 in 24 and 17.5 in 25 at age 33?
Cutting both of them only saves around 6 mil on the cap in 24, but helps tremendously moving forward. Cutting or trading Bahktiari saves 21 mil.
Currently almost 7 mil over the cap. Please stop restructuring and build through the draft.

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