The season of speculation, or more commonly known as the offseason, is now upon the Green Bay Packers.
From Ted Thompson and the Packers brass you will hear very little. From Packers Nation the rumblings may be deafening.
General managers and scouts are in abundance and everyone has the answers. So I’ll take sage advice from lottery winners everywhere and join the fray, because after all you can’t win if you don’t play.
And I cannot think of a better place to begin than at the safety spot. Really an oxymoron by position name as the Packers safeties Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, Sean Richardson and Chris Banjo left the rest of the defense feeling alone in a crowd. Let’s be blunt, their play was awful. Zero interceptions, zilch, zip, notta – not a single pick all season long.
Going into the season the position certainly concerned me. Morgan Burnett having just signed a contract extension was out with a hamstring injury and Jerron McMillian coming off a ho-hum rookie season stepped in for him. And at free safety it’s safe to say no one believed that M.D. Jennings was just what the doctor ordered.
With Burnett out of the lineup the safety position was a noticeable weakness. I, like many, believed that when Burnett returned to the lineup it would shore up the defensive backfield. That unfortunately is not how things evolved for the 2013 Green Bay Packers. Burnett was prone to peeking in the backfield and taking the bait on play action leaving M.D. Jennings alone to not be in position to make a play.
There are a lot of fans questioning if Burnett was overpaid or if the contract placed too much pressure on him. The truth may rest somewhere in the middle. But after Burnett was given a contract it was reasonable to expect numbers more in line with those of Kam Chancellor of Seattle or Mark Barron of Tampa Bay.
Instead the Packers got in return for their investment the 63rd ranked safety in the NFL, 96 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 forced fumbles, 5 passes defensed and as already relayed – no interceptions. Burnett’s tackle numbers are decent, but the eye test tells me they could have been higher if he was more consistently in position to make plays.
I’m not ready to give up on Burnett just yet, but I don’t think he has the talent to be “the guy” back there. If he was still paired with Nick Collins, there just may be a very different opinion of him. But that’s water under the bridge. His partner in the defensive backfield has been M.D. Jennings and he simply didn’t do the job. Often out of position and not prepared to make a play, 88.9 percent of passes thrown in Jennings direction were completed. The Packers need to move on from Jennings and upgrade the free safety spot.
How Ted Thompson goes about doing that is another matter. There is speculation or maybe wishful thinking that TT may dabble in the free-agent market. The two most popular names in circulation are Jairus Byrd of Buffalo and T.J. Ward of Cleveland. Both would certainly be an upgrade at the position, but they will come with a big price tag. Probably bigger than the Packers are willing or able to do considering the 17 in-house free agents they also need to address.
Then of course are the prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft. The player that will most be associated with the Packers is Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama.
He is certainly a first round talent and TT may just need to trade up if his heart is set on Clinton-Dix. Other names that will get thrown around are Ed Reynolds of Stanford, C.J. Barnett from Ohio State, Craig Loston from LSU, or Ty Zimmerman from Kansas State.
Over the coming months these guys will be poked, prodded, quizzed, measured and timed, During which time their draft stock will rise and fall.
At this point it’s next to impossible to project who the Packers may select. But that doesn’t mean guys like me won’t try.