Will importance of safety position for Jeff Hafley lead to Packers spending in free agency?

The safety position from a pure roster depth standpoint is the biggest need that the Green Bay Packers have this offseason, and it feels increasingly more likely that they could take a swing in free agency at landing an impact player to a help address the need.

“I think it’s an important spot,” said new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley on Thursday. “I think that guy back in the middle of the field, when things break down – when they throw the ball up in the air, he has to go and get it. I think it’s a very important spot in the defense.”

Currently under contract on the roster at safety are Benny Sapp, Anthony Johnson, and Zayne Anderson. Combined this group has fewer than 350 career defensive snaps, and most of them belong to Johnson. Darnell Savage, Rudy Ford and Jonathan Owens are all free agents.

In general, the Packers need more playmaking from this position and overall consistency. Too often missed tackles and coverage breakdowns, at times due to poor communication, resulted in big plays for the opposing offense.

Under new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, the Packers are going to play more Cover-1, which can really stress the deep safety, who will be tasked with having cover a lot of ground along with having a lot on his plate responsibility-wise, from helping against the run, making plays on the ball, limiting the explosive pass play, and backend communication.

Both LaFleur and Hafley also discussed the switch on the backend to a more vision-based approach, which in short, means defenders keeping their eyes on the quarterback.

“You’ve got to have changeups,” said Hafley, “and you have to have calls that complement one another. Our zone coverages are built off vision and break that allows our guys to play fast, so they’re not looking at people and looking around for people.

“The essence of playing vision-and-break coverage is when the ball’s thrown, you have two or three guys going 100 miles an hour to the ball carrier. And I think that’s what the biggest difference is.”

Below Hafley detailed what he looks for in a post safety – or deep middle safety – during Thursday’s introductory press conference with the Green Bay media:

“I want a guy who can erase things,” said Hafley. “We gotta eliminate explosive plays when we play this defense, so if a run hits up the middle, this guy’s gotta come out of the middle field with his hair on fire, he’s gotta be able to get a guy down. I also want him to be a guy, when a ball carrier is wrapped up, he goes and he finishes off the pile.

“I want a guy who can go from sideline to sideline and take the ball away. I think that position has to be a guy with high ball production, meaning he’s gotta be able to intercept the ball. He’s gotta be a guy that can communicate and he’s gotta be a guy that can get guys lined up and make some calls back there and I’d love a guy that can play man, so I guess I’m describing the perfect player to you, but those are some of the traits I’d look for in playing that position.”

Even by Hafley’s own admission, he described what is probably the perfect safety, and those don’t exist and the ones that are close will come with a hefty contract. However, what Hafley’s explanation does go to show is the importance of this position within his defense.

That means taking a band-aid approach at the position, like the Packers did last offseason by bringing back Savage on his fifth-year option, along with signing veterans like Ford and Owens and Tarvarius Moore – who was released – won’t cut it.

That also could mean relying on the draft to provide the Packers with that impact player won’t cut it either. For one, no team wants to go into the draft saying they have to add to any position group—they want the flexibility to select based on how the board falls. On top of that, I wouldn’t classify this as a strong safety class, with no safeties ranking in the top 50 of Daniel Jeremiah’s initial big board, and any rookie is going to go through some level of growing pains.

So if the Packers are truly going to address the need and find that do-it-all safety, free agency provides them with the best opportunity to do so, especially in this year’s class. On PFF’s top 150 free agents list, 15 were safeties, one of the most at any position group. You can click here to read more about a few of those players.

Over the Cap currently has the Packers at $2.85 million over the projected 2024 salary cap. Ken Ingalls, who independently tracks the Packers salary cap situation, estimates that $30 million in cap space will be needed to account for normal operating expenses, such as signing the draft class, constructing the practice squad, and having in-season reserves, among other things.

What that $30 million figure does not include are free agent additions. However, through restructures, roster cuts, and extensions, the Packers have the means create all the cap space they need, north of $70 million. But the give and take with all of this is that the cap space that is created for 2024 reduces the team’s cap flexibility in 2025 and beyond because of the cap charges pushed to future years. Eventually those costs have to hit the books.

“I think it just depends on the player,” said Gutekunst about free agency. “It depends on who that is and how he can impact our football team. I don’t think we’ll shy away from adding impact players if we have to push things down the road. We’d prefer not to do that, but at the same time, this is about winning and trying to win a championship, so if that’s something that makes sense, we’ll do it.”

The new league year begins on March 13th, as does the official free agency period, although the legal tampering period will occur over the two days prior.

For the Packers, there is still salary cap work to be done through those aforementioned restructures, cuts, and potential extensions. Other positions of need include running back, linebacker, cornerback, and offensive line depth.

However, when it comes to free agency, while I’m not expecting some sort of spending spree like we saw in 2019, my attention will be on the safeties as that does seem to be shaping up as a position group that Gutekunst is not only going to target but will try to make an impact addition at as well.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire