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Free Agent Pitch Sees Packers Nab $11 Million Defensive Back

Matt LaFleur, Brian Gutekunst

Getty Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur (left) speaks with general manager Brian Gutekunst (right) during an OTA practice session in May 2023.

The Green Bay Packers will lean on their defense this season, and the secondary is liable to be key to whatever level of success the franchise ultimately finds in 2023.

Though this particular path has been tread and re-tread, it does bear repeating — the Packers need to upgrade at safety so as not to leave their talented corps of cornerbacks alone on coverage islands too frequently. Green Bay knows this, which is why its two free agent additions thus far this offseason have come at the safety position via Jonathan Owens and Tarvarius Moore.

But the notion that those two players can combine to adequately replace Adrian Amos — who had a down year in 2022 during his fourth season with the Packers before bolting for the New York Jets this offseason — is a precarious proposition, to say the least. There aren’t many high-profile or proven options remaining in free agency save one, former Cleveland Browns safety John Johnson III.

Safety John Johnson Adds Experience, Insurance to Packers’ Secondary

John JohnsonJohn Johnson

GettySafety John Johnson III, formerly of the Cleveland Browns, remains a free agent as of July 12, 2023.

Even if Owens and/or Moore show enough in training camp to earn a starting nod in Green Bay, the Packers should still add to the position.

Former first-round pick Darnell Savage has been underwhelming over his four seasons in green and gold and is bound for free agency next spring. Meanwhile, Rudy Ford’s one-year, $1.5 million contract says all it needs to about how highly the franchise values his prospects as a long-term contributor. Then there is the ever-present threat of injury, which will trim an already thin group at safety should it strike the Packers’ secondary.

Such serves as a piece of the premise for Maurice Moton of Bleacher Report’s pitch that Green Bay should fork over the cash to add the versatile Johnson to its defensive backfield.

“In six seasons, John Johnson wore multiple hats in the secondary, lining up at both safety positions and in the slot. He’s the quintessential ‘glue guy’ who can move around like a chess piece on the back end of a defense,” Moton wrote on July 7. “Unlike a lot of defensive backs available, Johnson has remained steady in coverage, allowing no more than an 82.8 passer rating in coverage every year since 2018.”

Johnson will play most of the upcoming season at 28 years old and remains a viable starter in any NFL secondary that needs an experienced veteran to patrol the third level of its defense. He signed a three-year, $33.75 million contract ($11.25 million annually) with Cleveland in 2021. Johnson played two of those years before the cash-strapped Browns released him this offseason in order to clear nearly $10 million in salary cap space.

Packers Cornerback Jaire Alexander Voted One of NFL’s Best

Jaire Alexander, PackersJaire Alexander, Packers

GettyCornerback Jaire Alexander of the Green Bay Packers leaves the field after an NFL game against the Minnesota Vikings in January 2023.

Green Bay will be doing its cornerbacks a disservice if the franchise doesn’t improve upon the safety position more than it has to this point in the summer. The player primed to lose the most is Jaire Alexander, who is the best of a quality group of Packers at the position.

A collection of Alexander’s peers — as well as a group of NFL coaches, executives and scouts — voted on positional rankings this week as part of an ESPN series. Alexander finished third in voting last season and was named the fourth-best cornerback in the league heading into the 2023 campaign, per Jeremy Fowler’s poll results.

“A favorite with the voters for his toughness and activity despite a 5-foot-10 frame, Alexander goes back-to-back years in the top five,” Fowler wrote. “His five interceptions last season tied his career total through his first four years. They were also tied for the most by a Packers player over the past 10 seasons.”

One scout told Fowler that Alexander possesses “ideal man-to-man matchup traits,” while a personnel executive described the cornerback’s traits as “smart, competitive, tough, can play inside or outside, run support and ball awareness.”

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