The Green Bay Packers aren’t ready to give up on safety Darnell Savage despite a 2022 season full of disappointments. General manager Brian Gutekunst still has a positive outlook on Savage after a midseason benching and switch to nickel.
“I think he’s very versatile,'” he said. “Middle of the season, we sat him down for a little bit, and he came back and played more in the nickel, which allowed him to get closer to the ball and make some plays. Certainly, saw more urgency out of him once he came back, which was good to see. More like he was his first few years. He can really do anything. He has so much speed and range to cover at the back end. But when you put him back there, he gets further away from the ball and doesn’t have as many chances to make plays. He can do a lot of things.”
To put it bluntly, it wasn’t a great year for the former first-round pick out of Maryland. Savage was supposed to be an integral part of what looked like on paper to be one of the most talented secondaries in the league. His constant struggles never allowed that to come to fruition.
In fact, Savage had arguably his worst statistical season.
Savage received the lowest coverage grade of his career from Pro Football Focus and also missed 12 tackles while playing fewer snaps than he did as a rookie. Things got so bad that Savage was benched for Rudy Ford and played only two defensive snaps over a three-game span from Weeks 12-15.
“I think there were some reality checks as he went through this season,” said Gutekunst.
Savage eventually made his way back onto the field when Ford dealt with the same breakdowns in coverage and communication.
Against the Miami Dolphins on Christmas Day, Savage came in during the second half and did not surrender a single catch to Tyreek Hill or Jalen Waddle, who combined for nine catches totaling 246 yards and a touchdown.
The following week, Savage made his biggest play of the season – perhaps restoring some faith fans had in him before the season. With 5:17 left in the first quarter, Savage intercepted Kirk Cousins and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown to go up 14-3. The defensive touchdown took the wind out of the Minnesota Vikings’ sails and eventually led to a 41-17 blowout victory.
In both games, Savage played free safety and in the slot, which doesn’t provide much clarity on where he is best suited moving forward. Not having a clear position entering your fifth season is never a good thing.
After Savage showed signs of regression in 2021, many thought he would be cut if he didn’t show signs of improvement. That was quickly put to rest last offseason when the team picked up his fifth-year option last offseason, including a guaranteed salary of $7.9 million. Now it is basically a foregone conclusion that he will be back for another year.
However, given the state of the Packers’ safeties, retaining Savage for another season isn’t the end of the world. He is currently the only returning starter at the position unless the team decides to bring back Ford and veteran Adrian Amos. At the very least, Savage could be a placeholder until there is an influx of talent through the draft or free agency.
Gutekunst still has hope that Savage can turn things around in 2023.
“I’m hopeful as we go into next season that we’re going to see his best.”