M.D. Jennings is gone. Let that sink in, Packers fans. Bask in it. Let the light and warmth of the beautiful light that is his signing with the Chicago Freaking Bears shine upon you and bring you joy. The player Packers fans most love to hate ever since Jarret Bush caught that INT in the Super Bowl is now a member of our little brother, the Chicago Bears. The other really important thing that comes out of that signing is that by hook or by crook the Packers are going to have someone new starting alongside Morgan Burnett in their defensive backfield. I am of the opinion that Burnett is not as bad as he played last year, but is also not the star safety that the Packers need. Morgan Burnett is going to be a starting safety in 2014 barring injury whether you like it or not. I don’t mind it but the guy next to him needs to be a better player than MD Jennings or Jerron McMillian, and ideally would be a better player than Burnett himself.
The situation right now is nervous at best, and at worst it is terrifying. If the Packers stand pat, as they have done in the first 3 days of free agency, the competition for safety would be between Sean Richardson and Chris Banjo. Banjo sure seems like a nice player but I don’t have any faith that he will grow into a capable starter. Richardson, for me, is a different story because of his fantastic size and measurables. Jerron McMillian had great measurables too and that didn’t work out well for anybody. I do believe that there is a scenario in which Sean Richardson could be a starting quality safety in the league but I’m not willing to bet on it. I would hope that after losing the bet on McMillian last season, the Packers are not willing to bet on it either.
This draft appears to the masses to have two safeties worthy of inclusion in the first round, though not everyone agrees. Alabama’s Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor are both considered to be 1st round talents and there are plenty of scenarios in which one or both of those is available to the Packers. The issue of course is whether or not the Packers want to go into the draft knowing that they need to get a starter at safety. It’s fine to do it that way, but it’s very dangerous, especially if Clinton-Dix and Pryor are both gone and the Packers are forced to reach in round 1 or 2. There is still one player that I hope the Packers pursue, though at this time it does not appear to be likely.
Internal options: As I said the Packers only have 3 safeties on the roster at this point. MD Jennings was not tendered as a restricted free agent. That leaves undrafted prospects Sean Richardson and Chris Banjo as the current options. According to Pro Football Focus, though both players played fewer than 200 snaps, both players graded out positively in pass coverage. The same cannot be said for Morgan Burnett nor for the departed Jennings. I really don’t believe that, at least this season, Chris Banjo is a viable option. I certainly do have a lot of interest in the 6’2″ 216 lb. Richardson. I just don’t want to completely hitch the wagons of the position to him.
Free Agents: They’re almost all gone. Jairus Byrd, TJ Ward, Donte Whitner, Benard Pollard, Antoine Bethea, and Malcom Jenkins all signed new, big money deals. The one player that I really like that has not signed with a team is former Miami Dolphins safety Chris Clemons. He has been linked to a few different teams, but no one has signed him yet. The truly disappointing thing is that one of those team is not your Green Bay Packers. Nothing that I have heard or read links Clemons to the Packers other than the team’s obvious need. All of the other options have serious warts. Ryan Clark was once a part of a fantastic safety combination in Pittsburgh, but he turns 35 in October. Rafael Bush of the Saints was a nice player in their nickel package, but I’m not sure that he provides a significant enough upgrade over Sean Richardson. Thomas Decoud intrigues me, but after showing so much promise in his first 3 seasons, he has turned into a disaster in Atlanta. Decoud is only 27, though and could possibly be a talented Darren Perry project.
Draft targets: there are still 4 players with which I am comfortable for the Packers in the first round. Alabama ILB CJ Mosley, Clinton-Dix, Pryor, and North Carolina TE Eric Ebron, in that order. This almost certainly means that the Packers will not be taking any of them (I kid). I like Clinton-Dix more because he’s more of a traditional coverage safety and Burnett is capable of being a very good tackler. Packers safeties are supposed to be interchangeable but I don’t think ti would kill them to have a more traditional set up. Pryor is that versatile safety and he would bring a physical hitting presence that I don’t think currently resides on the team. I’m comfortable with either one of those players in round one and would be happy with either player starting immediately a la Eric Reid or Kenny Vaccaro. If the team is able to select Mosley, or goes with a different position in round 1, I like both Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois and Deone Buchannon of Washington State. I also really like LaMarcus Joyner from Florida State despite his height. If one of those 5 players isn’t on the Packers after the draft and Ted doesn’t sign one of the above free agents, then we might have a problem.