Top Packers free agency target emerges after franchise tag deadline

Green Bay Packers, Brian Gutekunst
Green Bay Packers, Brian Gutekunst / Michael Hickey/GettyImages

It's no secret that safety is atop the Green Bay Packers' list of needs. The Packers likely need to use a combination of free agency and the draft to rebuild their depth chart akin to the wide receiver and tight end positions in previous offseasons.

Free agency conversations can't begin until after the franchise tag deadline. Only then do we get a clearer picture of which star players will be available.

Antoine Winfield Jr. is the perfect example. Any hopes of the Packers signing the first-team All-Pro ended with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise-tagging Winfield Jr. before Tuesday's deadline.

Xavier McKinney is a realistic free-agent target for the Packers, but he, too, was in contention for the franchise or transition tag.

Hours ticked by, the deadline nearing. And... nothing.

Eventually, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo reported the Giants would not use either tag on McKinney before the deadline.

Giants not using franchise tag on Xavier McKinney is great news for Packers

Enter Brian Gutekunst.

One of Gutey's top priorities this spring is to find a centerfielder to play the post safety role in Jeff Hafley's defense. McKinney could do that and more. He offers the versatility to play various roles in the secondary—McKinney can play deep, in the box, or even at slot corner.

The 24-year-old is one of the league's best young safeties and is coming off a career year, making 116 tackles, 11 pass defenses, and three interceptions.

According to Pro Football Reference, McKinney allowed only one touchdown pass, a 69.8 rating, and seven yards per target in his coverage last season. No safety in the NFL earned a higher PFF coverage grade than McKinney's 91.2.

Pair McKinney with an early draft pick, and the Packers will have the answers they were searching for in the secondary. A dream combination would be McKinney with Minnesota's Tyler Nubin. Both can play deep or in the box, giving Hafley the flexibility to rotate them, disguise coverages, and find favorable matchups.

The Packers will face competition for McKinney's signature, but the Giants opting not to use either tag has opened the door.

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