Questions remain but Packers not short on options at safety position
Questions may still remain at the safety position for the Green Bay Packers, but this is a room that has become quite crowded over the offseason.
Following the recent signing of Jonathan Owens, the Packers now have nine safeties on the roster, a number of whom could make a push for the 53-man roster. This is a position where there was a lack of playmaking, not to mention that poor tackling and coverage breakdowns that resulted in big plays for opposing offenses happened all too regularly last season.
GM Brian Gutekunst didn’t have the luxury of salary cap space this offseason to address the need in free agency where a number of top names were available. This also wasn’t a year where he could lean on the draft, given the lack of high-end talent and overall depth of the safety class. However, his approach to the offseason, at the very least, gave the Packers options at the position.
Since free agency opened, Green Bay re-signed Rudy Ford and Dallin Leavitt. They would also sign Tarvarius Moore, and Owens, as already mentioned. In the draft, the Packers would select Anthony Johnson and sign undrafted rookie Benny Sapp from UNI. This group of players joined Darnell Savage, Innis Gaines, and James Wiggins, who were on the roster.
What we know about this current Packers’ safety room is that Darnell Savage will be starting, something that Matt LaFleur told us during the NFL Owners’ meetings and that there is a lot of special teams experience within this position group. Everything else, specifically who will be playing next to Savage and who will make the final roster, is up in the air.
Ford, Moore, and Owens each have roughly 1,000 career defensive snaps, in addition to each being key special teams contributors as well. Ford provided some stability to the safety position for the Packers late last season with his willingness to help in the run game and simply being in the right spots to make plays on the ball.
Moore has 1,073 career snaps on defense, but only 60 have come since the 2020 season. He missed all of 2021 with an injury and was special teams player for San Francisco in 2022. The majority of Owens’ playing time came last season, where he was all over the football field, making 117 total tackles, and also one of the more reliable tacklers at the position, missing only 11 and ranking 15th overall by PFF’s grading system.
Although a seventh-round rookie, Johnson will be competing for playing time as well. Ben Fennell would say following the draft that he sees Johnson as a Day 1 starter, filling that Adrian Amos role in this defense. Leavitt, meanwhile, did play 255 defensive snaps in 2021 with Las Vegas but just one in 2022, despite all the ups and downs the Packers had at the position. Most likely, he is here to be a special teams ace.
Rounding out the roster is Gaines, who saw 44 snaps last season, most of which came from the slot, Wiggins, who has no NFL snaps, and Sapp.
For some context, the Packers did keep five safeties on the 2022 53-man roster, but depending on how things play out at other position groups, rostering just four isn’t uncommon. As of now, the only true locks may be Savage and Johnson, although I would put Ford near that group as well, given his performance on defense last season and special teams abilities.
That means if Green Bay chooses to keep five safeties again that leaves Owens, Moore, and Leavitt most likely battling for those final two spots. From a salary cap standpoint, Green Bay is not tied financially to any of these players who are fighting for a roster spot. If the Packers chose to release any one of these players during cutdowns – excluding Savage and Johnson – there would be minimal dead cap charges, given that they are all signed to near league minimum deals.
If I were to guess right now how things shake out at this position group, I would say that the fifth roster spot will come down to either Moore or Leavitt. As of now, I’ll give the edge to Leavitt, with his experience in Green Bay, connection to Rich Bisaccia, and the locker room presence he adds. On a few occasions last season, Aaron Rodgers spoke of Leavitt’s leadership qualities.
As far as who is playing next to Savage? That is still to be determined. But I imagine that Ford, Johnson, and Owens will all have the opportunity to earn those snaps, and if there is a rotation that takes place depending on the situation and the opponent, I won’t be surprised.
With Green Bay’s salary cap situation and the makeup of this year’s draft class, they weren’t able to address their need at safety with just one player, who immediately comes in as the starter and makes an impact, as they did in 2019 by signing Adrian Amos. Instead, Gutekunst had to get creative and has at least provided Joe Barry with several options to choose from.