With the Green Bay Packers' big splash in free agency in 2014 likely behind us, there is still one position that weighs heavily on the minds of the team's fans: safety. Though the big names like Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward are off the market, several other veteran safeties could be in play as Ted Thompson will likely look to bolster the talent at the position by any means possible.
Here are a few names to watch for in the next few weeks, as they could be bargains for the Packers.
Chris Clemons, Dolphins
Clemons is the favorite option of many around here, myself included. Playing free safety for the Miami Dolphins in 2013, Clemons missed only nine snaps all season long. He finished the year ranked 19th among 86 qualifying safeties according to Pro Football Focus, grading in at +4.1 overall.
Where Clemons appears to play best is in coverage. He intercepted one pass in 2013 and broke up six others (according to PPF), and the passing numbers by opponents in his coverage are impressive - only 11 of 21 passes were completed for a total of 127 yards and two touchdowns. His best performance may have come in week 2 against the Colts, when he was targeted five times but allowed only one reception for three yards and had a pass breakup. In 2012, he did not allow a touchdown, giving up 16 completions on 28 targets for 218 yards.
Clemons is not a terrific tackler, however, as his run support and missed tackle numbers showed in 2013. He was credited with 14 missed tackles in 2013, three more than Morgan Burnett. And while Burnett had several great games in run support to balance out some struggled, Clemons was more regularly average to below-average on a game-by-game basis.
All told, Clemons would make an good addition as a back-end safety who can drop back in coverage on passing downs and allow Burnett to roam more and play closer to the line of scrimmage. Adding a young safety in the draft should still be a priority even if Clemons is brought aboard, though.
James Ihedigbo, Ravens
More of a traditional strong safety, Ihedigbo's grades from 2013 show a much more effective run defender who was inconsistent in pass coverage. However, he may not suit the Packers' needs, as they tend not to have defined "free" and "strong" safety roles, preferring instead to use their safeties more interchangeably.
Still, Ihedigbo stepped up in his first year as a starter in Baltimore (and second year as a starter overall), recording three interceptions and an additional four passes defended. However, he was targeted more often than Clemons in the passing game (28 completions on 44 targets) and allowed 344 yards in his coverage.
Quintin Mikell, Panthers
Mikell, a veteran safety and starter for three teams over the past several years, had a respectable season in 2013 on a one-year deal in Carolina, after a very good season in St. Louis the year before. He will turn 34 in September, but he tailed off in the second half of 2013, as teams began to target him more, with regular success.
Mikell allowed six touchdown passes in 2013, including a four-game stretch from weeks 14-17 in which he was beaten for a score in every game. He also struggled to stop completions, allowing almost 68% of targets to be completed and defending only five passes.
In 2012, his best contributions came against the run and blitzing, as he picked up three sacks, two more QB hits, and nine additional hurries. He should sign with some NFL team at a low price as a rotational safety, as his coverage skills have clearly deteriorated.
Jim Leonhard, Bills
A fan favorite of Badgers from his time at the University of Wisconsin, Leonhard is another veteran safety who should be available at a low price. He is one of the few safeties in the group whose coverage skills are significantly better than his run defense, which was a major struggle in 2013. He even addressed his personal interest in coming to Green Bay, noting that as a native of Wisconsin he would "love" the idea.
Leonhard has recorded at least one interception in each season since 2007, including a career-high four in 2013 with Buffalo. He also has extensive experience in 3-4 defenses, as he played under Rex Ryan in Baltimore and with the Jets for a total of four years. The other benefit that Leonhard brings is the ability to play on special teams, which he has done throughout his career. He could also serve as an emergency punt returner in the event that Micah Hyde needs a rest or gets injured.
All in all, Leonhard would come cheaply (probably at a veteran minimum salary) and would help provide a veteran presence on the back end of the Packers' defense. The big question about him is whether or not his run support will be effective, as he struggled in that area in 2013.
Chris Crocker, Bengals
Another veteran option is Cincinnati's Crocker, who played a hybrid safety/slot cornerback role for the Bengals in 2013. Crocker just turned 34, but has been productive as a starting safety for the last decade in Cincinnati, Atlanta, and Cleveland.
All told, Crocker has recorded 15 interceptions and 7 forced fumbles in his 11-year career, but five of those picks came in the past two seasons. Like Leonhard, Crocker might be valuable as a veteran who can rotate in and out of the lineup and contribute on special teams.
There you have our recap of some of the remaining available safeties on the free agent market, though the team appears poised to add a young safety through the draft as well.