Green Bay Packers: Safety depth remains a concern

After electing not to re-sign Morgan Burnett this offseason, the Green Bay Packers’ situation at safety remains shaky at best. What are their options going forward?

The Green Bay Packers have a small problem on their hands. Morgan Burnett, one of the most underrated safeties of the past decade, signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this offseason. The Packers not only lost a veteran leader and playmaker, but the former signal caller of their defense.

The latter isn’t as important anymore, as Blake Martinez will assume those duties. But an inexperienced bunch remains at the safety position. A group of talented but very young players will seek to fill Burnett’s role – with not much depth behind them.

The decision to move on from Burnett marked the second-straight year Green Bay elected not to re-sign one of their safeties. Micah Hyde, who fit into the role of safety/corner with the Packers, went on to have a career year with the Buffalo Bills as their starting free safety.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – NOVEMBER 23: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix #21 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates breaking up a pass during the fourth quarter of the game against the Minnesota Vikings on November 23, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Packers defeated the Vikings 24-21. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Now, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will play the role of experienced veteran. And despite struggling last season, Clinton-Dix showed he has the capabilities to perform at a high level. He made the Pro Bowl and was named a second-team All-Pro in 2016. But one person can only cover so much ground.

The Packers have a replacement for Burnett, it’s just a matter of whether he’s prepared for the job. Enter Josh Jones, the assumed starter opposite of Clinton-Dix, who has perhaps the most to prove on the entire defense.

Jones had an up-and-down rookie campaign but showed flashes of potential. He played in all 16 games and recorded 60 solo tackles, two sacks and an interception. His best game came in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals in which he recorded his two sacks.

GREEN BAY, WI – SEPTEMBER 24: Josh Jones #27 of the Green Bay Packers reacts after a sack during the first quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lambeau Field on September 24, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Jones also fits the mold of a strong safety (6-foot-2, 208 pounds) and compares very favorably to Burnett’s frame (6-foot-1, 209 pounds), who the Packers used often in sub-packages at linebacker. Jones figures to have a similar role.

After Jones comes an intriguing option in Kentrell Brice, another young but inexperienced player. Brice has always shown raw potential on the field, but has lacked the characteristics needed to be a full-time starter. He also only played in six games in 2017 due to injury.

Similarly to Jones, he projects as an in-the-box safety. Brice has never been shy to show his physicality and has shown plenty of the tools it takes to be an NFL player.

It was also reported recently that the Packers coaching staff expects big things from the third-year pro. Mike McCarthy stated Brice has had ‘one of the best offseason programs‘ of anyone on the team.

ARLINGTON, TX – JANUARY 15: Kentrell Brice #29 of the Green Bay Packers tackles Cole Beasley #11 of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at AT&T Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

If I stopped naming players at this point, everything may seem fine and dandy. But after Brice? Marwin Evans and Jermaine Whitehead – two names that some fans may not even know. Both players are special teams’ contributors and should not see meaningful snaps otherwise.

With the combination of young talent in Brice and Jones and the lack of reliable talent in Evans and Whitehead, the Packers may need to look elsewhere to fulfill their safety needs.

Finding talent elsewhere?

As many have noticed, safety is a position which has not gained much attention this offseason. Many reliable starter-level players remain unsigned.

Players like Kenny Vaccaro, Eric Reid and Tre Boston would all provide excellent depth and talent at safety. Not only that, but they’re experienced veterans who the Packers could use to tailor the skills of their younger defensive backs.

Vaccaro, formerly of the New Orleans Saints, had a promising start to his career but has looked mediocre since. Truthfully, this may be attributed to lack of motivation, but some have argued it’s due to scheme/fit. Whatever it is, the former first-round pick is likely looking at a one-year ‘prove it’ deal if he wants to play in 2018.

NEW ORLEANS, LA – SEPTEMBER 20: Kenny Vaccaro #32 of the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 20, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Many people will recognize Reid, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, for his role in participating in the protests which occurred during the national anthem. Like Vaccaro, Reid had an impressive start to his career, making the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, but has struggled since. He, too, will likely be looking for a one-year deal.

Both Reid and Vaccaro could be used in a similar fashion to Josh Jones, as a hybrid linebacker. They fit the size, physicality and coverage ability for the role.

Finally, Boston remains as an intriguing option at free safety. Oppositely of the former two, Boston has been a late bloomer. He had a disappointing few seasons for the Carolina Panthers, but looked outstanding last season for the Los Angeles Chargers, recording five interceptions, eight pass-breakups and 56 tackles.

Boston would fit in nicely if he’s willing to play a lesser-role, and because of the slow market for safeties, likely wouldn’t cost much.

Final thoughts

At the very least, Green Bay should give each of these players a chance in the form of a voluntary workout. If one seems impressive enough and are deemed a good fit, then sign him. If not, no harm done.

The Packers seem supremely confident in Brice going forward, and will likely lean on Clinton-Dix to be one of the leaders of the secondary. Jones looked impressive in spurts last season, but never looked like the full package.

It just seems like the Packers are missing that one piece to the safety puzzle – especially in a league like the NFL, where depth is king.

Maybe one of the younger players previously mentioned steps up in a huge way. But at this point, nothing is proven.