5 veteran safeties the Packers can target in free agency

Safety is undoubtedly one of the Packers’ biggest needs this offseason, but after sub-optimal testing from a significant proportion of the prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine this past week, Green Bay may have to find help in free agency.   

The combine isn’t the end all be all. Plenty of prospects didn’t test well but went on to have great careers.  

However, Packers general manger Brian Gutekunst has a type he looks for when selecting players. Going off Kent Lee Platte’s Relative Athletic Scores, 30 of Gutekunst’s 42 draft picks have scored at least an 8.0.  

For reference, a RAS score ranging from 1-10 is given to a player using their height, weight and athletic measurements taken from their combine and pro days. The higher the score, the better.   

Unfortunately, only eight safeties that participated in Indianapolis received a RAS of at least 8.0.   

While Gutekunst could stray from his self-imposed thresholds if he really likes a player, it is now even more likely that the team will prioritize finding a safety in free agency.   

“Our secondary is a little bit unsettled. We have a couple of safeties that are moving on that were here last year,” Gutekuunst said at the combine.  

Of course, Gutekunst is likely referring to Adrian Amos, Rudy Ford and Dallin Leavitt, who will become unrestricted free agents on March 15. Hopefully, Keisean Nixon will be back, even if it’s just for his return ability, and Ford could return to be a solid depth piece.   

Right now, Darnell Savage is the only safety on the roster with significant playing time. In an ideal scenario, the Packers will sign a safety who can start right away and find one in the draft with the goal of him developing into a starter down the road.   

Thankfully, the first part may not be too difficult. This year’s group of free-agent safeties has plenty of experience and includes some options that may not be overly expensive. While it would be great if Green Bay could land someone like Jessie Bates III, I have a hard time believing they will use their limited cap space in a bidding war for one of the top players on the market.   

Instead, here are five free-agent safeties I believe are realistic targets the Packers could go after.   

Vonn Bell, Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals safety Vonn Bell (24)

Age: 28  

2022 PFF grade: 66.3  

Playing alongside Bates, Bell had a career year last season with four interceptions, eight passes defensed and 77 tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, Bell is a stout run defender, as his 88.7 run-defense grade over the past five seasons ranks eighth best among safeties. Bell missed a career-high 13 tackles in 2022, but overall, he is still a difference-making tackler thanks to 15 forced fumbles in eight seasons. Overall, Bell is regarded as a well-rounded player and could be an ultra-reliable addition to Green Bay’s secondary, much like Amos was in 2019.  

John Johnson III, Cleveland Browns

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Age: 27  

2022 PFF grade: 62.8  

The Browns plan to release Johnson at the start of free agency in a little over a week, saving the team $9.7 million in cap space. Last season, Johnson started in all 17 games, finishing second on the team with 101 tackles. He also managed to record one interception, four pass defenses and two forced fumbles. Like Bell, Johnson also struggled with missed tackles, but his coverage ability limits big plays and touchdowns. Spinning the tires on Johnson would make sense for Green Bay, given his productivity. Not to mention, he is familiar with Matt LaFleur and Joe Barry, having spent time with both as a member of the Rams. 

Juan Thornhill, Kansas City Chiefs

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Age: 27  

2022 PFF grade: 67.1  

Thornhill will probably be a hot commodity after winning his second ring with the Chiefs. A former second-round pick, Thornhill immediately stepped into a starting role and intercepted three passes in his first season. He matched that total in 2022 on top of a career-high nine pass defenses and 71 tackles. While Thornhill’s ball production is intriguing, he is also prone to missed tackles and coverage breakdowns. However, he did finish this past season on a high note (90.5 PFF grade from week 16-conference championship) and will hopefully carry the momentum over to his next contract.   

Julian Love, New York Giants

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Age: 24  

2022 PFF grade: 70.0  

A former fourth-round pick back in 2019, Love has seen noticeable growth over the past four seasons. He played over 1,000 snaps in 2022 and made the most of them with a team-high 124 tackles, to go along with two interceptions, five pass defenses and a forced fumble. According to PFF, Love missed only six tackles. The Packers could use an ascending player like Love, who can roam the back end and be a reliable tackler. Love isn’t receiving a ton of buzz, but he is a jack-of-all-trades that could benefit a team like Green Bay. It also doesn’t hurt that he could be had for a reasonable contract.   

Adrian Amos, Green Bay Packers

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Age: 29  

2022 PFF Grade: 53.4  

Look, I understand most fans are ready to move on from Amos, but the Packers could do a lot worse. Prior to last season, Amos had been one of the most consistent and reliable safeties in the league. However, that was quickly forgotten in 2022, when he had arguably his worst season as a pro. Still, I think Amos has a chance to bounce back even as he approaches 30. He isn’t one to make a ton of splash plays, but the overall steadiness of his game makes me think that his floor is still relatively high. At the very least, he could be a placeholder in Green Bay’s secondary until they find a long-term starter at safety.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire