<
>

Packers can re-build their defense around Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With free agency less than a month away, it’s a good time to take a look at who the Green Bay Packers have returning and what they might need to add this offseason at each position.

Safeties

Under contract for 2017: Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Kentrell Brice, Marwin Evans, Jermaine Whitehead.

Free agents: Micah Hyde.

Position review: Burnett and Clinton-Dix evolved as a duo in part because of the amount of time they spent on the field together. Clinton-Dix played every defensive snap in the regular season and playoffs on the way to his first Pro Bowl selection, while Burnett was on the field for nearly 89 percent of the plays; he missed one game (Week 3 against Detroit because of a groin injury).

“When you have premier players on your defense and they line up and play 1,000 plays, to me that says it all,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

Hyde proved to be a jack-of-all trades defensive back, playing both safety and in the slot positions in the nickel and dime defense. He had four interceptions in the last seven games, including playoffs. Among them were a game-clincher in the Week 17 win at Detroit and one in the divisional-round win at Dallas.

The big-hitting Brice, a highly touted undrafted rookie, gained valuable experience, mostly in the dime when Burnett moved up closer to the line of scrimmage in what was essentially an inside linebacker position -- something new for Burnett in 2016.

Position outlook: The Packers will either pick up the fifth-year option on Clinton-Dix’s rookie contract or work out a long-term extension. Despite some occasional lapses in coverage, he is defensive coordinator Dom Capers' best playmaking safety since Nick Collins.

If there’s someone Capers and McCarthy can build around on defense, it’s Clinton-Dix. He is arguably general manager Ted Thompson’s best first-round pick since Clay Matthews in 2009 or Aaron Rodgers in 2005.

Burnett signed a four-year, $24.75 million extension in 2013, and while he’s been solid, it’s worth questioning whether he’s worth an average salary ($6,187,500) that still ranks 13th among all NFL safeties more than three years later.

The big decision will be Hyde. He’s likely seeking a deal in excess of $4 million per season. The Packers will have to figure out whether they value his versatility and dependability enough to make that kind of an investment. If they don’t, surely another team will.

The potential of Brice and Evans, who played more on special teams than on defense, could be a reason the Packers pass on Hyde if that's the price tag.

The Packers have plenty of work to do on defense, but not necessarily at this position; pass-rushers and cornerbacks are a much bigger priority on this side of the ball.

Level of need (low, medium or high): Low.

By the numbers

5: Interceptions by Clinton-Dix in the regular season, which led the Packers and tied with Landon Collins of the Giants for most in the NFL by a safety.

2,335: Combined snaps out of a possible 2,472 played this past season by Clinton-Dix (1,236) and Burnett (1,099), including playoffs.