Grading on a Salary Cap Curve: Safeties

In Part 10 of our series, we grade the performance of a unit rejuvenated by improved play from Morgan Burnett and the addition of top pick HaHa Clinton-Dix. (Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY)

We’re taking a different spin on everyone’s favorite end-of-season exercise — player grades — by grading on a curve. Building a roster means building around the restraints of the salary cap, so our grades are based relative to the players’ salary-cap worth on the roster.

Part 10 of our “Grading on a Salary Cap Curve” series continues with the safeties. Salary cap figures are from a source with access to NFLPA salary data. Stats are regular season only unless noted. Statistics are from the team and ProFootballFocus.com.

Morgan Burnett

2014 cap number: $4,843,750.

2014 recap: Burnett had a team-high 125 tackles, one interception, one forced fumble, one recovery and six passes defensed on defense, plus tied his career high with 11 tackles on special teams, in what the coaches called the best season of his five-year career. No different than last season, Burnett lived in the box. Based on total snaps against the run, Burnett lined up in the box 48.7 percent of the time last season and 48.9 percent of the time this year. Against the run, he was productive both seasons. In 2013, he finished third in PFF’s run-stop percentage, which measures impact tackles per snap played against the run. In 2014, he finished fourth. He did tackle better this season, going from 11 missed tackles in 13 games in 2013 to nine in 15 games. Because he plays at the line of scrimmage, his contributions in coverage are meager. In fact, he’s gone from 14 passes defensed in 2011 to 13 in 2012, nine in 2013 and six this year. In the one game he missed, the Packers yielded a season-worst 44 points. That shows his value, physically and mentally, more than anything else. Overall, he ranked 16th in the league among all safeties, according to PFF. In terms of cap, Burnett had the 12th-highest charge, according to OverTheCap.com.

Season grade: B-minus.

HaHa Clinton-Dix

2014 cap number: $1,516,091.

2014 recap: The first-round pick looked ridiculous in the first game of the season against Seattle, when his feet got stuck in concrete on a touchdown pass to Ricardo Lockette in the second quarter. And he looked ridiculous again in the last game of the season against Seattle, when his feet got stuck in concrete on the two-point conversion late in the game. It ruined a two-interception game in which he was arguably the team’s MVP. Even while starting only 10 games, he finished second on the team with 95 tackles and tied for third with 11 passes defensed en route to all-rookie honors. Compared to M.D. Jennings, Clinton-Dix was all-world. But that’s like looking for the tallest jockey at Churchill Downs. Where Clinton-Dix made a big difference was in coverage. In 2013, Jennings allowed 88.9 percent completions with five touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 148.8, according to PFF. In 2014, Clinton-Dix allowed 52.0 percent completions with no touchdowns, one interception and a rating of 53.3. His presence played a role in Burnett’s bounce-back season. Clinton-Dix is an aggressive, hard-hitting defender. He needs to play with better control, as his 15 missed tackles were unacceptable by any standard. (Jennings only missed nine.) Among the six rookie safeties who played 25 percent of their team's defensive snaps, Clinton-Dix ranked fifth, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He did play by far the most snaps, which shouldn't be discounted.

Season grade: C.

Sean Richardson

2014 cap number: $571,668.

2014 recap: Richardson’s career was in doubt after a neck injury sustained late in 2012. He returned late last season and made a splash this season with a team-high 17 tackles on special teams. In 16 games, he played 121 snaps on defense, mostly in short-yardage packages and in a “Big Okie” package in which he replaced a cornerback. He made a thumping tackle on a fourth-and-1 play against Carolina. He’s big and fast but too stiff to be much more than a situational player on defense, but those tools make him a potential special-teams ace. Richardson will be a restricted free agent. It’s hard to imagine the Packers handing over the minimum tender, which was $1.431 million last year and will be at least $1.50 million this year. Then again, they gave Jamari Lattimore that $1.431 million tender last offseason.

Season grade: D-plus.

Chris Banjo

2014 cap number: $87,353.

2014 recap: The Packers’ problems on special teams all season begged the question of why Banjo spent most of the year on the practice squad. As a rookie in 2013, after all, he finished second on the team with 10 special-teams tackles. This year, he had one tackle in each of his three games and added three more in the postseason. He’s smart, unselfish, fast and willing to hit. His future as a role player is bright.

Season grade: D.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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