The strength of the Packers’ re-tooled defense figures to be its secondary. While depth could be a question mark, the starting unit features a number of former first-rounders and effective veterans. Which five players are in line to see the field full-time isn’t a concern heading into training camp, but how they are aligned could be.
The group will still be led, of course, by Alexander; the Pro Bowler became the league’s all-time highest-paid corner (in terms of AAV) when he signed an $84MM extension which will keep him in place through 2026. He and Stokes in particular figure to serve as a foundation on the backend for the foreseeable future, along with, in all likelihood, safety Darnell Savage Jr.
An important question Schneidman raises is the matter of who mans the slot when each of the top five defenders (the aforementioned four players, along with safety Adrian Amos) are healthy. DBs coach Jerry Gray indicated that any of the starting corners or Savage could find themselves in the role. “There’s a lot of action at the nickel,” he said. “[A]nd everybody wants to be in the action.”
As Schneidman notes, different players would be better suited to shift inside at different points, depending on individual circumstances. Ultimately, though, the health of the secondary’s top five members will be the most important factor in the defense’s success, given the distinct lack of known commodities lower on the depth chart. How the unit shakes out at camp will be worth watching in the lead-up to what the Packers hope will be another Super Bowl run.
Monday marked the deadline for NFL clubs to officially pick up their options on 2019 first-rounders. Fifth-year option seasons are no longer just guaranteed for injury — they’re now fully guaranteed, which makes these decisions a little tougher for teams.
Nineteen players had their options exercised, a tick up from 14 last year. Here’s the full rundown:
For the second time in three years, the Packers used two first-round picks to bolster their defense. Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt will join 2019 first-rounders Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage. The Georgia products are in line to join the 2019 draftees for multiple seasons.
The Packers are picking up the fifth-year options on Gary and Savage, per ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler and Rob Demovsky (Twitterlinks). Despite Gary qualifying for a lower-tier option on the new four-tier hierarchy, his 2023 price tag comes in much higher than Savage’s due to positional value. The former Michigan pass rusher will be tied to a $10.89MM salary next year. A three-year Packers starter eligible for the Tier 3 option price, Savage is now attached to a $7.9MM 2023 salary.
Gary’s increased 2021 playing time did not lead to his option cost climbing, due to the 2019 and ’20 seasons he spent largely as a backup behind Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. The Packers broke up their edge-rushing Smith tandem this offseason, cutting Za’Darius to leave Gary a clear path to a starting role. The 2019 No. 12 overall pick impressed in his first extended run as a starter, registering 9.5 sacks and 28 QB hits. During a season in which Za’Darius Smith missed 16 games, Gary became a key part of Green Bay’s defensive future.
Green Bay traded out of the 2018 first round, allowing New Orleans to select Marcus Davenport. This gave the Packers a 2019 first, which became Savage after the Packers traded up to No. 21 with the Seahawks. Savage became a Day 1 starter in Green Bay. He has started all 46 games he’s played — including 17 last season — to help the Packers to three consecutive playoff byes. While Pro Football Focus viewed Savage’s 2021 as a step back from his 2020 showing, the Maryland alum’s lower option price allowed for a sensible pickup.
Jay Gruden is currently unattached, with the Jaguars hiring Urban Meyer last month. Darrell Bevell is the team’s new offensive coordinator. Gruden, who coached Washington from 2014-19, remains interested in returning to the sidelines.
However, the longtime NFL play-caller does not expect to coach this season. Gruden, 53, said, with staffs having mostly filled up over the past few weeks, he will likely sit out in 2021 before reassessing his options, Ben Standig of The Athletic notes (subscription required).
Gruden made some noise recently when he made a candid remark about Washington owner Daniel Snyder‘s draft involvement. The six-year Washington HC indicated the team’s owner “would come in off his yacht and make the pick” after Washington’s coaching staff and front office prepared for the draft. Gruden expanded on that assessment.
“Well, first and foremost, he is the owner. So if he wants to come off his yacht, or if he wants to come off his tennis court, wherever he’s at and make a pick, he has that right,” Gruden said. “(Dan) has the ultimate say, and that’s not going to change until he decides he wants to change.
“So I guess he’s given up total responsibility and total power to coach (Ron) Rivera, which is a good thing, I think. But when I was there, that wasn’t the case. He had final say over everything. He and (former team president) Bruce Allen would talk about it, and they would make the decision. I signed up for that. I knew that was the case going in, and that’s just the way it was.”
Like Gruden, Allen is no longer with the franchise. Snyder dismissed the 10-year team president after the 2019 season. But the Snyder-Allen-Gruden power trio was in place for nearly six seasons. The last of those, a 3-13 season that involved Gruden being fired after an 0-5 start, transpired after a controversial draft.
It has been long reported Gruden was against drafting Dwayne Haskins, a Snyder- and Allen-driven move. Gruden said one of the team’s plans involved taking Montez Sweat at No. 15; Washington later traded back into Round 1 and drafted the edge defender at No. 26. Gruden also mentioned being high on safety Darnell Savage, whom the Packers drafted at No. 21 overall.
“We knew we needed a quarterback, though. I mean, so at the end of the day, it’s not like Dwayne was not a good prospect. He’s a young football player with a lot of talent. So it’s not the end of the world we took Dwayne,” Gruden said, via Standig. “We just didn’t think we had to take him that high. It’s just what we thought … if we lost Dwayne that there were a couple of other ones later we might be able to get to come in and maybe compete with Case. Plus there was still hope in the back of our minds that Alex would come back.”
Coming off a 50-touchdown pass 2018 season at Ohio State, Haskins was viewed as a surefire first-round pick. The Giants were connected to him at No. 6 overall, though they surprised most by drafting Daniel Jones. Haskins fell to No. 15, becoming the third quarterback off the 2019 board. Some in Washington’s organization were believed to have placed a third-round grade on the quarterback.
Gruden said during the interview Haskins “wasn’t quite ready” when a Case Keenum injury first summoned him into action in Week 4 of the ’19 season. The organization quickly soured on the quarterback, benching him early in the 2020 season and putting him on the trade block. The Rivera-led regime waived Haskins in December of last year.
Snyder overruled Washington football-side brass on other occasions, Gruden said. Washington now has Rivera, Martin Mayhew and Marty Hurney atop running football ops.
“For the most part, I’d say 85-90% of the time, we were making pretty much football decisions that were good for the football team, and they were (decisions) that everybody agreed on. … The majority,” Gruden said. “But there were a few picks (during my time) that we had nothing to do with it.”
The currently unattached coach also discussed Kirk Cousins‘ exit. The Allen-led Cousins negotiations led to animosity, two franchise tags and the quarterback’s departure in free agency in 2018. Rather than a trade haul, Washington only received a third-round compensatory pick for its four-year QB starter.
“For the most part, I was given every opportunity to succeed there. We just didn’t get it done,” Gruden said. “There are some decisions there that I wish we could have had back. Obviously, we should have gotten more for Kirk Cousins. That’s the biggest thing, that I think we should have got more for Kirk Cousins than a third-round pick.”
October 12th, 2019 at 6:01pm CST by Andrew Ortenberg
There’s been a lot of drama with the Vikings this season, as their offense has once again been a disappointment. Minnesota bounced back with a big win over the Giants in Week 5, but it’s unclear if that will be enough to smooth things over. Adam Thielen publicly called out Kirk Cousins, and Stefon Diggs has made it clear he hasn’t been happy with his role. There’s been plenty of trade speculation surrounding Diggs, but it appears it’s little more than just speculation. Speaking recently on a WEEI radio appearance, Peter King of NBC Sports said he’s been told it’s “highly unlikely,” that Diggs gets dealt.
Just earlier today we heard that the Patriots were hoping to pry Diggs away, but it sounds like they’ll have to look elsewhere for receiver help. Diggs is still only 25, under contract through the 2023 season, and the Vikings don’t have any clear replacement for him on the roster, so it makes sense why they’re insistent on keeping him. Minnesota is attempting to establish a run-first identity in 2019, and Diggs has grown frustrated with his usage. The Maryland product has only topped three catches once this season, and he only has put up more than 50 yards on one occasion as well.
Here’s more from around the NFC North:
The Lions have been doing something pretty unusual with their offensive line this year. Instead of sticking with their five-man unit at all times for chemistry purposes, Detroit has been rotating three guards in all of their games. Graham Glasgow has been starting at right guard, Joe Dahl has been starting at left guard, and Kenny Wiggins has been mixing in for series’ here and there at both positions. The system was the idea of offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “There came a time, obviously in that first week (of the season that) I’m sitting here trying to agonize over who’s winning the starting job and all that stuff there,” Davidson said. “To me, it was clear who owned the starting jobs, but I also believed that Kenny Wiggins earned the right to be on the field and it’s just a way to be able to get that done also.” As Birkett points out both Glasgow and Dahl have received strong marks from Pro Football Focus, but the team doesn’t plan on changing things anytime soon. The Lions have gotten off to a better start than just about anybody expected, so it’s understandable why.
The Packers will be playing Detroit on Monday Night Football in a pivotal divisional game, and they’ll be a little shorthanded. We already know they’ll be without top receiver Davante Adams, but they also just ruled out starting safety Darnell Savage, who picked up an ankle injury in their win over the Cowboys. The rookie first-round pick from Maryland has been an every-down player for Green Bay, so it’s a big loss. Fortunately for them, starting center Corey Linsley has cleared the concussion protocol and will play here after leaving the Dallas game early.
Speaking of Monday Night Football injuries, Lions defensive tackle Mike Daniels will have to wait a bit longer for his revenge. The longtime Packer was released in July and signed with Detroit shortly after, but he’s going to miss his second straight game with a foot injury. Daniels signed a one-year, $9.1MM deal with the Lions just two days after getting cut.
September 18th, 2019 at 6:25pm CST by Sam Robinson
Here is the latest from the injury front at the midweek point, beginning with another NFC South quarterback encountering injury trouble.
Jameis Winston is now battling a foot injury. The Buccaneers quarterback, who is in a contract year, appears on the team’s first Week 3 injury report with this issue. Winston joins Drew Brees and Cam Newton as injured NFC South quarterbacks, but his malady doesn’t appear to be nearly as severe. Winston practiced fully on Wednesday and appears in line to face the Giants.
Austin Blythe needed a cart to leave the field Sunday at Los Angeles Coliseum, but the Rams‘ starting right guard looks to have dodged significant trouble. The fourth-year blocker said (via ESPN.com’s Lindsey Thiry, on Twitter) he suffered a low ankle sprain. Blythe is not certain how much time he will miss, but considering how he left the field, this may have been the best possible outcome. If he cannot return for Sunday’s game in Cleveland, 2018 sixth-rounder Jamil Demby would be in line to start.
Cowboys defensive tackle Antwaun Woods suffered an MCL sprain in Week 2, per Todd Archer of ESPN.com. Second-round pick Trysten Hill stands to be called to action if Woods is out against the Dolphins on Sunday. Hill has yet to be active this season. Woods started 15 games as Dallas’ nose tackle last season and has reprised that role this year.
Darnell Savage left Sunday’s Packers-Vikings game in a walking boot, but the rookie safety looks to have received good news. Savage shed the walking boot, per The Athletic’s Matt Schneiderman (on Twitter), and has been diagnosed with a shin injury. It looks like he will be good to go for Week 3’s game against the Broncos.
The Packers have already signed first-round draft pick Darnell Savage Jr. to his rookie contract, as NFL Insider Adam Caplan tweets. Savage is the first 2019 first-round choice to put pen to paper.
Savage was Green Bay’s second choice in the first round, and the Packers traded two fourth-round selections to move up nine spots to land the Maryland product with the No. 21 overall pick. Savage, a safety, has a great chance to become an instant starter alongside free agent acquisition Adrian Amos and should help solidify the Packers’ defensive backfield. He represents yet another example of the Packers’ attempts to shore up their defense this offseason.
Savage’s stock rose pretty dramatically in the weeks leading up to the draft. He put himself on the map as a junior with 59 tackles, eight pass breakups, and three interceptions, and he delivered yet again last year with four picks, two pass breakups, and 52 tackles (5.5 tackles for loss). He really impressed in workouts, however, and evaluators began to see him in a whole new light.
At 5’11 and 198 pounds, Savage lacks ideal size for the next level. However, the Packers feel that his athleticism, combined with his football IQ and his instincts, will make him a success story in the NFL.
Savage’s contract will be a standard four-year pact with a fifth-year option, and he will earn $12.5MM over the first four years of the deal.
The Packers are moving up. ESPN’s Field Yates tweets that Green Bay has acquired pick No. 21 from the Seahawks. In exchange, Seattle will receive No. 30, No. 114, and No. 118.
The Packers will use their new pick to select Maryland safety Darnell Savage. The defensive back was a three-year starter with the Terrapins, including a 2018 campaign where he compiled 38 tackles and four interceptions. Savage also has limited experience returning punts.
Standing at 5-foot-11, Savage is a bit undersized for safety. However, the prospect makes up for his lack of size with blistering speed and an ability to read receivers. In passing situations, Savage should use his ball-hawking ability to break up passes. In running situations, the safety has shown the ability to smother the ball carrier.
Savage will join a young defensive backs corps that includes a pair of 2018 picks in cornerbacks JaireAlexander and JoshJackson. The rookie should start immediately alongside free agent addition AdrianAmos.