The middle linebacker was once widely viewed as the quarterback of the defense in the NFL. Since they reside in the center of the defense, manned the intermediate level of the field and would be the player responsible for relaying the calls from the defensive coordinator, they were valued and compensated accordingly.
However, with proliferation in scoring and the new innovative ways in which teams are moving the ball down the field and exploiting mismatches, having a rangy safety that can roam the secondary, orchestrate the back end of the defense and play that center fielder role is now more important than having that thumper up near the line of scrimmage.
Safeties have the ability to disguise coverage prior too and after the ball is snapped. They can cause confusion for opposing quarterbacks and disrupt or dictate how a play develops. The great ones are renown for not only being able to cover a lot of ground in an instant but also play a mental game of chess with opposing team’s quarterback as well as offensive coordinator throughout the course of a game.
Despite this growing phenomenon, teams across the pass-happy league aren’t willing to pay top dollar or even market value for some of the top safeties in the game today, opting to go with younger or less expensive alternatives.
This year’s crop of unrestricted free agent safeties that are getting ready to hit the open market next week is abnormally deep and happen to be loaded with top tier talent especially. Right now, there are seven former Pro Bowl safeties scheduled to be unrestricted free agents.
Seattle Seahawks’ six-time Pro Bowler Earl Thomas headlines the class and is joined by New York Giants’ Landon Collins who has made the Pro Bowl in three of his four years, Houston Texans’ Tyrann Mathieu who can also play inside or outside corner in a pinch and seasoned vet Eric Weddle who made the last three Pro Bowls as a member of the Baltimore Ravens and was a key cog in the team’s No.1 ranked defense last season.
There are even some young up and comers at the position that have been balling over the last couple of seasons and look to make a name for themselves in the league from an under the radar playmaker to among the league’s elite. Chicago Bears’ strong safety Adrian Amos, Washington Redskins free safety HaHa Clinton-Dix and Los Angeles Rams free safety LaMarcus Joyner are all expected to be either retained by their current teams or receive lucrative deals elsewhere.
Some believe that the reason that the safety market has been so undervalued in recent years is due to the influx of younger players that have come into the league via the draft over the past few years. Bears’ Eddie Jackson, New York Jets’ Jamal Adams and Los Angeles Chargers’ Derwin James are being viewed as the next generation greats at the position as each of them has made the Pro Bowl in their first two seasons in the league. James was named to the All-Pro team after his sensational rookie season last year.
Of the top safeties that are slated to hit the market next week, Weddle (34) is the only one among them that is over the age of 30. These are still young playmakers in or entering the prime of their careers and will most certainly cash in this offseason, despite the recent cold shoulder that has been given to the position. These playmakers and new age quarterbacks of the defense will be impacting the game on whatever team they sign with and will prove to be worth the investment.