Green Bay Packers

The Safety Market Tanking Couldn't Come At A Better Time For Green Bay

Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Early Thursday morning, the Denver Broncos released All-Pro safety Justin Simmons in the latest surprise move ahead of the new league year. Not only did he join a long list of high-profile players to get the axe this week, but he was also the latest safety to hit the open market.

The proliferation of free-agent safety talent has led teams like the Seattle Seahawks, who released Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs on Wednesday, to duck high cap hits, knowing they can get more bang for their buck elsewhere. That domino effect also led the Buffalo Bills to cut ties with Jordan Poyer, the Philadelphia Eagles to release Kevin Byard, and the New England Patriots and New York Giants to pass on tagging their young defensive backs, Kyle Dugger and Xavier McKinney, respectively. This abrupt recession in the valuation of the position comes shortly after an unprecedented $30.6 million increase to the salary cap for 2024.

So, what’s really going on with this exodus of safeties?

The NFL explained the cap windfall as a product of “an extraordinary increase in media revenue.” An executive colloquially characterized it as the “Taylor Swift surplus” to CBS insider Josina Anderson. Many fans were excited about its impact on their team, whether it gets them out of financial hell or allows them to add to an already massive war chest. Any economist would tell you that because every team will see the same increase, it’s really only the players who truly benefit because agents will demand contracts in line with a proportionate percentage of the cap.

But that will not be the case for safeties. According to The Athletic’s Dianna Russini, GMs are treating them like running backs, which will lead to “lower deals than we may imagine…[and] a lot of one-year deals.”

How did this happen? It’s intuitive to see what happened to running backs. They bear more of the league’s physical consequences than any other position, leading to a shorter shelf life on the field. More importantly, a long list of extensions have aged poorly. As the game evolves, premium positions have only extended their gap. For the first time, safeties are being completely left behind. Whether it is a watershed moment or simply a function of supply and demand remains to be seen. But we can say with certainty that it’s a good time to have an elite center fielder at the top of your offseason wish list.

Green Bay’s shrewd, disciplined, and often contrarian front office has knocked their past two drafts out of the Western Hemisphere. Brian Gutekunst and Co. have not been active in free agency lately because Aaron Rodgers‘ monstrous dead cap hits have weighed their finances down. However, they appear primed to make many moves that will open up more than enough cap space to participate much more this time, including the expected release of All-Pro tackle David Bakhtiari.

In his first two seasons at the helm, Gutekunst showed far less aversion to the open market than his predecessor, the late Ted Thompson/ He inked Jimmy Graham, Preston and Za’Darius Smith, Adrian Amos, and Billy Turner to long-term deals. Gutekunst has settled in and has been quieter since. But he hinted that these coming months could mirror his flurry of moves five years ago, telling reporters, “There are good players in this free agency class, and we certainly are going to be in the mix on some of those things.”

With Jordan Love‘s Super Bowl window officially open, building him a formidable defense is the essential next step. Impressive performances from rookie pass-catchers and diamond-in-the-rough tackles have rendered the secondary the top priority.

The revolving door of Darnell Savage Jr., Rudy Ford, and Jonathan Owens has left quite a bit to be desired at the position over the past couple of seasons. The list of potential high-quality upgrades rivals the waitlist for season tickets at Lambeau Field. It includes Adams, Diggs, Simmons, McKinney, Poyer, Dugger, Byard, Eddie Jackson, Geno Stone, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Jeremy Chinn, Julian Blackmon, and former Packer Micah Hyde. There are also several household names I didn’t even mention.

Due to flexibility and need, I expect Gutekunst to shop at the top of the market, which should not be difficult given the supply. McKinney and Simmons stand out as the best fits.

McKinney played under new pass-game coordinator Derrick Ansley at Alabama. And as Kay Adams reminded him Thursday morning, “Jeff Hafley loves himself a versatile safety.” McKinney’s youth is another separating factor. He’s only 24 years old and a long-term solution, matching the timeline the Packers are building toward. This season will not be the “all-in” financial approach of 2021 and 2022. Therefore, Green Bay will be less interested in the one-year, high average annual value contracts Russini suggested will be prevalent. If Gutekunst has his sights set on landing a proven safety of the present and future, McKinney should be near the top of the list.

There’s also an argument to be made for veteran leadership on the league’s youngest team. The Packers have more of their seasoned players on the offense, with Kenny Clark, Rashan Gary, and Jaire Alexander. Part of making the leap will be developing the experience and acumen necessary to get over the hump in the playoffs. The team must hope that January’s run went a long way toward that for Love and his offense, but the addition of Simmons would immediately make him one of the team’s most important players. Additionally, his physicality is a huge plus for a unit that has struggled with that aspect of the game for years. Gutekunst showed an appetite for a more downhill, violent defense when he drafted Quay Walker in the first round. Signing Simmons to play behind him would align with that approach.

Hyde also stands out because of how productive he was in Green Bay, contributing on special teams and providing a building block at safety. Thompson let him walk. But the new administration should covet his versatility and the sustained success he had in Buffalo. With Poyer’s release, Hyde should be a priority for Brandon Beane and the Bills. But, again, there are plenty of other places for them to turn.

Overall, the safety position appears to be the most appetizing buyer’s market we have seen in a while. Each All-Pro that gets released only makes it easier for teams to add a safety at value. It could be a transitive phenomenon. But as reporters have indicated, it could also be a watershed moment as safeties find themselves on the outside of the premium-position debate. Regardless of how that resolves itself, the Packers are perfectly poised to find their safety of the present — and of the future.

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