NFL Teams Undervalue Safety Position at Their Own Risk

NFL teams can no longer take the safety position for granted. 

A couple of years ago, it seemed like the league was on a mission to devalue the safety, similar to the crypto market. There were some analysts saying teams never draft safeties in the first round, and there were a lot of free agents who had a tough time finding a job. 

If you look at the 2020 and 2021 NFL Drafts, there were no safeties taken in the first round, and it seemed like they were starting to get treated like running backs as far as not having many early selections. 

>> READ: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board 

NFL offenses started exploiting the biggest match-up in today’s game, and that’s athletic running backs and tight ends in the passing game. Travis Kelce, Christian McCaffrey, Mark Andrews, Austin Ekeler. You know the drill. 

In many instances, linebackers don’t have the will to keep up with these shifty runners in open space. Then, the cornerbacks aren’t strong enough to get physical with the tight ends because we all know tight ends always push off. 

There aren’t many players in the league built for that life, which is why we saw guys like Derwin James of the Los Angeles Chargers signing a deal that averages slightly more than $19 million a year. One of the top cornerbacks in the league, Jaire Alexander of the Green Bay Packers, signed a deal for $21 million per year in the league. That’s a pretty small gap for a position that seemed like it was dust in the wind just a few years ago.

I think the value of the safety is here to stay.

Player (CBs) Average Salary Per Year Total Money Total Guaranteed  Contract Length 
Jaire Alexander $21,000,000 $84,000,000 $30,000,000 4 yrs. 
Denzel Ward $20,100,000 $100,500,000 $71,250,000 5 yrs.
Marlon Humphrey $19,500,000 $97,500,000 $66,957,407 5 yrs.
Marshon Lattimore $19,400,000 $97,000,000 $68,346,588 5 yrs.
Tre’Davious White $17,250,000 $69,000,000 $68,346,588 4 yrs. 
Player (Safeties) Average Salary Per Year Total Money Total Guaranteed Contract Length 
Derwin James $19,133,000 $76,532,000 $42,000,000 4 yrs.
Minkah Fitzpatrick $18,247,000 $72,988,000 $36,000,000 4 yrs.
Jamal Adams $17,500,000 $70,000,000 $38,000,000 4 yrs.
Budda Baker $14,750,000 $59,000,000 $33,100,000 4 yrs.
Marcus Williams $14,000,000 $70,000,000 $37,000,000 5 yrs

There were three safeties drafted in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, and teams will continue to make that position a priority. Teams need playmakers who can stop the run. They need guys who can go sideline to sideline from the post. Defenses need speed to stay over the top in a two-shell formation. Coaches need defenders that can come down and play sticky-man coverage against tight ends, running backs and wide receivers in the slot. 

Defenses need guys who can thrive behind the line of scrimmage, whether it’s in the running game or sacking quarterbacks. More importantly, teams need guys who are going to be ball hawks, be playmakers and force turnovers. There aren’t many guys who can do all that and guys, more specifically, who can do all that well. 

So when teams acquire one of these dudes, they need to hold them tight, ignore the noise on social media, and pay that man his money because safeties are again one of the most valuable positions on defense. 

Obviously, James is a stud. I mean, he’s Rick James in cleats. He’s a super freak. The dude can do everything. He runs fast. He can come downhill, attack the run, and he can cover all the perimeter players. We saw him body-slam Kelce on Sunday Night Football in the middle of the season. 

There also are also unique guys like Antoine Winfield Jr. I played with his dad on the Minnesota Vikings. His dad was a house because he could play really well in a running game, and he was more of a cover-two corner. 

Winfield Jr. can play back deep. He comes down in the slot and plays a lot of coverage on the slot wide receivers. He’s effective in the run game. (The Tampa Bay Buccaneers) blitz him a lot, too.  

There’s just not one little key piece that you can just fit into that little chess piece as far as being that Swiss Army knife of defenses. They come in all different shapes and sizes. You have James (at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds), you have the Winfields of the world (he’s 5-9, 200). The common denominator is these guys are game-breakers who make big plays in big-time situations. 

That’s what defensive coaches are primarily looking for. There are all these high-octane offenses, and it’s hard to slow them down because the rules favor offenses. So defenses need guys who can get their hands on the ball by creating fumbles, creating turnovers and getting the ball back into the offense’s hands. That’s what these guys are really good at. 

If you want to look at some of the more premium positions on offense, look at quarterbacks getting paid $40, $50 million a year, look at the top wide receivers getting paid, not that much money, but they have some of the larger contracts on offense. 

>>READ: Every 2023 NFL Free Agent by Position

Which positions directly affect those guys? Obviously edge rushers, because they impact the quarterback immediately, but it’s getting tougher and tougher for those guys to do their jobs because you can’t touch the quarterback. 

Cornerbacks make a lot of money because they’re going head-to-head with the wide receivers, who are some of the most impactful players in the game. But look at what the safety can do. 

The safety can get down in the box, he can rush the quarterback, and he can also affect the running game. He affects the wide receiver because, a lot of times, the safeties help those cornerbacks on the edge. 

More importantly, the safety is the antithesis of the quarterback. He has to quarterback the defense and try to direct everybody that’s in front of him and let them know what’s coming, especially in the passing game on third down. 

So when a team has a key player who knows what he’s doing in those situations and what the offense is trying to do to him, he can use that to his advantage. Then, in the passing game, you have a game-breaker, and he deserves all the money they should get paid. 

Tank Williams played five seasons in the NFL. Follow him on Twitter @TankWilliams13

Scroll to the Top