The Green Bay Packers just completed what looks to be another excellent draft. And if you watched their playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers this past January then you know the Packers definitely needed some help for the upcoming season.
First and foremost, the Packers picked up some integral pieces in plugging the large holes that Colin Kaepernick was running through in the playoffs last season. These new gap-fillers are otherwise known as Datone Jones and Josh Boyd, picked in the first and fifth rounds this year, respectively.
Beyond getting immediate help for their defensive line, the Packers also selected two offensive lineman and two running backs. These four new players should help the Packers open and exploit holes on the offensive side of the ball.
In addition to bolstering their roster through the draft, the Packers also signed a bunch of undrafted rookie free agents.
This activity comes on the heels of some monumental moves made by the team in recent weeks. As had been widely expected, the Packers extended the contracts of two key players, Clay Matthews and Aaron Rodgers.
By locking down their core leaders on both sides of the ball, as well as adding depth to both lines as well as running back, the Green and Gold have certainly improved their outlook for next season.
Reams of information can and will be written on the subject of the Packers improvements and their chances for 2013. However, this article will focus on one crucial area that the team has failed to address so far this offseason.
To date, the Packers have done nothing significant to improve their ranks at safety.
In 2012, the Packers featured Charles Woodson at the position, but he missed a significant stretch of games due to injury. Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian also spent time manning the safety spots.
In the offseason, the Packers made the hard decision to release Woodson and his large contract, presumably to help clear additional cap space to sign Matthews and Rodgers. Greg Jennings was likely a free-agent casualty for the same reason. However, the Packers have a lot more depth at wideout than they do at safety.
Without question there was no addition by subtraction as it relates to the departure of Woodson. Despite the improvements discussed previously, it can be argued that without a premier player at safety the team cannot realistically compete for the Lombardi trophy in 2013—or ever.
The last two times the Packers won the Super Bowl (1996, 2010) they had at least one safety on their team who counted amongst the best in the league at the position. In 1996, they had two such players, LeRoy Butler and Eugene Robinson.
In 2010, their safety Nick Collins was considered amongst the best in the league. Collins had a critical interception in that Super Bowl XLV victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers and was also named to his third Pro Bowl after the season. Tragically, Collins sustained a severe neck injury at the beginning of 2011 and decided to retire rather than risk permanent damage.
The Packers inability to adequately replace Collins is one key reason they have not been able to advance very deep in the playoffs. And it’s not just the Packers who have recently learned just how much a great safety means to a team's Super Bowl aspirations. The Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2012 with future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed intercepting a pass in their victory.
The Packers and their fans have a lot to be excited about this year. Along with a great number of new rookie players, the team will get a boost as several high-caliber players return from injury. There is every reason to believe they will field a much improved team from the one that was soundly thumped by San Francisco in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Still, history suggests that the team needs a top-notch safety to emerge before it can legitimately contend for another Super Bowl.
Ultimately, that leaves the Packers with two options. They can stick with the young group of safeties they fielded last year (minus Woodson) and hope that one of them breaks out in 2013 as a premier player.
The second option would be to go out and sign a veteran player who could make an immediate impact at the position while also providing the mentoring necessary to help their younger players quickly climb the learning curve.
The Packers were only able to win a single Super Bowl with Brett Favre at quarterback. It would be a shame if the team were able to secure only one title behind an MVP-caliber quarterback like Rodgers.
Can the Packers win it all without a stud at safety? Sure. Is it likely? No.
It’s time for one of the existing Packer safeties to step up or for the team to go out and find one who can.