Green Bay Packers

Will the Packers Exercise Darnell Savage’s Fifth-Year Option?

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas (USA TODAY Sports)

The 2019 NFL Draft was a pivotal moment for the Green Bay Packers. It was the second draft under general manager Brian Gutekunst. The team had two first-round picks because of the trade down made with the New Orleans Saints the year before. The Packers received a 2018 fifth-rounder and a 2019 first-rounder from New Orleans to move back from pick 14 to 27. Then they traded back up to No. 18, giving up only a third-rounder and a late-round swap.

Now, it’s time for the Packers to make crucial decisions regarding the fifth-year option for players selected in the first round three years ago. While Rashan Gary made a third-year leap and established himself as a critical piece on the roster, Darnell Savage’s performance isn’t as consistent. Therefore, Green Bay’s decision to guarantee his fifth year is more complicated and demands more thought, even if Gutekunst used two fourth-round picks to trade up in the draft and select the safety with the 21st-overall pick.

Since the inception of the latest collective bargaining agreement in 2020, the fifth-year option is a fully guaranteed tool. Before that, teams could exercise it and then release the player (barring injuries) without dead money. Exercising the option isn’t so perfunctory now because the risk is more significant. The team can’t use the fourth year as the last evaluation period.

How much does it cost?

Different factors determine the fifth-year option value. First is the player’s position, then it’s if he achieves playing-time benchmarks and Pro Bowl selections.

Savage got the playing-time factor, which increased his potential salary to $7.9 million, according to Over The Cap’s projection. If he makes it to the next Pro Bowl, the value goes up to $11.2 million. Savage hasn’t been selected to any Pro Bowls yet, so he’s not eligible to get the max value. Only players who got selected to multiple Pro Bowls during his first four seasons can make it.

Throughout his first three seasons, Savage has had up-and-down moments. During his rookie year, the safety was elected to the PFWA All-Rookie Team even though he missed three games with an ankle injury. Savage was one of the top rookie safeties, according to PFF. He had five quarterback pressures, two interceptions, two dropped interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Savage also had a 74.2 coverage grade, top 30 between 94 qualifying safeties.

Savage had his best year in 2020, with four interceptions, 52 total tackles, and 12 passes defended. Eleven of them came in the final nine games, which shows his high-end play. However, that simultaneously makes it clear that he hasn’t been as consistent as the Packers would like. He had 16 missed tackles during the season.

In 2021, Savage had numbers more similar to his rookie season (two interceptions, nine passes defended, and 43 tackles). He felt the scheme change, playing two-high looks more frequently under defensive coordinator Joe Barry. Conversely, he alternated single-high responsibilities with Adrian Amos under Mike Pettine. According to Barry, safeties have a significant role in his system.

“Those guys, we use a term they drive the bus,” Barry said. “Those guys gotta control everything. They are mission control, at least from the back end. So when you get a sharp guy that’s played a lot of football like Adrian has, you just feel comfortable, and we have two of them in both Darnell and Adrian. It’s nice you have that guy as your quarterback of the back end from a communication standpoint.”

Savage finished the season with a modest 59.7 PFF grade.

A heavy factor against the fifth-year option is the safety market. The highest-paid player at the position is the Seattle Seahawks’ Jamal Adams, with a $17.5 million yearly average. Amos, for example, was signed by the Packers after his rookie contract with the Chicago Bears for $9 million per season.

Therefore, even if the Packers want to re-sign Savage next year, that might be feasible and cheaper without the option. Even if Savage has an All-Pro season in 2022 and demands an expensive contract, the Packers can franchise tag him and pay around $13 million for one year.

Because the fifth-year option is now guaranteed, it’s safer to decline it and use Savage’s fourth season to have a more precise notion of his market value. And because safety isn’t an expensive position, the Packers should be able to keep Savage and still negotiate better terms without the option.

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