Brian Gutekunst accomplished more for the Green Bay Packers on Day One of the legal tampering period to address the safety position than Ted Thompson did in his entire post-Nick Collins administration. Josh Jones offers flashes, but clear limitations stand out. Even Gutekunst was content to move along with the Kentrell Brices of the NFL last season, after an era where Thompson tried to make due with M.D. Jennings and Charlie Peprah far too often. Adrian Amos represents a sea change, a tide of competency awash on the Lake Michigan shore.
In order to find a capable partner, the Packers could continue its free agent bender, cut Tramon Williams to save nearly $4 million, and continue improving this roster for 2019. But given the talent levels of the remaining free agent pool, such a move provides only a salve on the safety wound. It’s a temporary fix. After finding a tent pole at the position, Gutekunst’s aim should turn to this draft class, one deep and rich with playmakers, to find the next long-term support for this this secondary.
Amos won’t fool anyone into believe he’s Ed Reed, but he’s a solution to a damning problem for the Green Bay defense. Or at least he’s a start. Over the life of his contract, Amos should be in his physical prime, providing reliable play as a heady defender in the back end capable of playing deep or in the box. With Mike Pettine’s designs of playing big nickel with three safeties, one player he can trust won’t be enough. Amos won’t turn 26 until April, which means he’ll play his entire contract before turning 30.
Tramon Williams didn’t wow anyone with his play last season, but in an emergency capacity, Williams provided more or less what was expected. He made more than one play Ha Ha Clinton-Dix never would have, even if he didn’t provide the kind of splash plays Clinton-Dix showed he could offer in stretches. With an offseason to prepare for the position and another year in Pettine’s system, it’s likely he provides a better solution in 2019 than going the free agent route with another safety like Tre Boston or Glover Quin coming into this secondary sight unseen.
Williams also brings experience with these young cornerbacks, providing the gravitas and leadership this team has lacked for years under a rotating cast of misfits, busts, and hand-me-downs. His skillset, as an instinctive cover man with enough speed to run with most players, pairs well with Amos, a less adept man coverage player but a much more capable tackler.
As a bridge safety, Williams allows Amos to do only what he’s best at, while also allowing Josh Jones to play in the box and as a man coverage player. His struggles as a deep safety preclude him from being a potential long-term option in this, or probably any defense in the modern NFL. Amos isn’t a niche player, best suited for a specific role, but Williams and Jones are. That’s not a problem necessarily, but it’s something that must be taken into account.
The long-term answer next to Amos isn’t on the roster and likely can’t be found in free agency. Boston or Quin could be suitable upgrades in 2019, but given the complicating factors of experience and institutional knowledge, that upgrade would be marginal. Even if a safety drafted in 2019 won’t play a majority of snaps this season, he’ll be able to learn the defense, play a part-time role and assume the starting job in 2020 when Williams’ contract is up.
Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Alabama’s Deionte Thompson, and Delaware’s Nassir Adderley each possess the deep safety resume likely to fit best next to Amos as players who can play deep and cover among likely top-50 picks. Johnathan Abram, a Mississippi State star, offers plenty of speed at the position and while he’s not ideally suited to play in man coverage, has the athletic ability to be a roving playmaker with thunder in his shoulder pads. With Abram next to Amos, receivers would know on Monday morning they’d played the Packers on Sunday by the way they felt getting out of bed.
Washington’s Taylor Rapp lacks the top-end speed to be an ideal partner for Amos in the back end, but his versatility and short-area quickness profiles as a potential difference making closer to the line of scrimmage and in coverage. If the Packers feel comfortable with Amos playing more single-high safety (he played deep 63% of snaps last season according to Pro Football Focus), Rapp’s skillset mirrors that of Jones, which could allow each to be used interchangeably as overhang defenders, capable of playing in the slot, blitzing, or covering underneath, rather than in the deep half.
With Amos in place as a fixture in this defense, the Packers don’t have to rush to find a running mate for him even with one-year deals. Williams could have been in line to be a cap casualty, but with the Packers eschewing Bashaud Breeland in free agency, Williams offers emergency depth at cornerback along with a complementary skillset at safety. That’s a one-year fix, but it’s a fix nonetheless. Rather than paying for a marginal upgrade, Green Bay can comb this draft class to find the ideal pairing, and there will be plenty of options for Gutekunst and company. Armed with multiple picks in the first round, three in the top-50, and six in the top-120, the Packers will have plenty of avenues to amplify their biggest move at the position in a decade.