It is being reported that free agent safety Michael Huff has a visit scheduled with the Green Bay Packers later this week. Huff has previously spent all of his seven seasons in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders, who selected him with the seventh overall pick in the 2006 draft (just two spots after the Packers selected linebacker A.J. Hawk).
Huff has already met with the Dallas Cowboys and keep in mind that he grew up in Texas and starred with the Longhorns during his college days. But Dallas has salary cap issues and can’t sign Huff right now. He is also scheduled to meet with the defending champion Baltimore Ravens this week. Huff recently turned 30, which in NFL terms is when players tend to gain the “aging” moniker. If signed by the Packers, he would bring some experience to a secondary that just got a lot younger with the departure of long-time veteran Charles Woodson.
Currently, the Packers have Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian and Sean Richardson as true safeties on their roster. If you count the 2010 season that Burnett missed most of due to injury, that’s a combined eight years worth of experience. They certainly have enough men, but do they lack some savvy with such a green group at the safety position? If so, is Huff the answer?
Let’s take a look at a little Packers history first. Prior to the 2006 season, Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson was gearing up for the team’s first season under his new head coach, Mike McCarthy. Ted was still working with some of the leftovers from the Mike Sherman era and needed to turn around a team that had finished 4-12 the year prior.
The team needed defensive help but more so, they needed leadership. At the time, Woodson was a free agent after spending his first eight seasons with the Raiders. The Raiders weren’t interested in bringing him back and he was getting next to no interest on the open market. Woodson was 29 years old, coming off of an injury and there were concerns about his ability to play at a high level again. Woodson had a few offers, but none near what he was looking for. Thompson entered the fray and was the highest bidder.
Today, that sounds strange to hear, given what we have seen from Thompson in free agency since that time. However back then, Packers fans saw Thompson as a GM who was willing to get after guys on the open market who could seemingly help the team. He had already signed free agent safety Marquand Manuel to a hefty deal and didn’t seem afraid to spend where there was a need. We all know how the Manuel signing turned out, but for the purposes of this discussion, put yourself back in “pre-2006” mode.
In the end, Woodson was signed and all he did was spend the next seven seasons in a Packers uniform racking up 38 interceptions (nine for touchdowns), 11.5 sacks, one Defensive Player of the Year award (2009) and helping the team to their fourth Super Bowl victory a year later. Looking back, the Woodson signing has been debated as one of the best in Green Bay history, second only to Reggie White’s arrival in 1993.
It was a gamble that paid huge dividends for Thompson and the Packers. They got the player and the man in Woodson. Now, I’m not comparing Michael Huff to Charles Woodson, but there are similarities in the scenario surrounding his scheduled visit to Green Bay: Former Raider defensive back, 30 years old, still unsigned well into the free agency period and having already met with other teams.
That, to me, is where the parallel ends. As I said, Huff is no Charles Woodson. In 2006, Woodson signed a seven year, $52 million deal with the Packers. Huff won’t get close to that kind of money and certainly (also ironically) not from the same GM who engineered that Woodson deal.
Many have speculated that it was that very contract that Thompson gave to Woodson that caused him to abandon the use of free agency and concentrate more on the draft. The pressure that Thompson was said to have felt in hoping that Woodson would live up to the money he was given caused him a lot of anguish and lost sleep. Again, that was speculation, but it’s believable as Thompson has rarely dipped into free agency since and certainly has not spent much in doing so when he has.
That said, it stands to reason that the only reason Huff is likely coming to Green Bay this week is because his price has likely been driven down by his extended time on the open market. Ironically, the fact that Woodson himself is also unsigned is another reason why Huff won’t command top dollar. There are still a few good veteran safeties out there and the market is a bit soft. Huff can likely be had for as little as $3 million/year or less. Not a bad deal for a veteran safety of his caliber and that is the kind of money that Thompson would realistically spend if needed. Again the question is: Is it needed?
Huff has been durable throughout his career and has appeared in all 16 games in each season but one. He missed four games during the 2011 season. Beyond that, Huff doesn’t have anywhere near the stats that Woodson has had during the same span. Huff has just 11 total interceptions (none returned for a score) and 5.5 sacks in his career.
Yes, bringing in Huff would add some experience but it would also stall the development of both Jennings and McMillian, who would lose valuable snaps with Huff in the fold. McMillian showed some promise last season and needs this 2013 season to show the Packers what they have in him. It’s not certain that Green Bay is sold on Jennings at safety and I have heard some rumblings that they may move Casey Hayward to safety in order to keep the playmaker on the field. That would further diminish the need to add a new face to the mix.
To me, all of this says that the Packers are either much less sold on their two young guys at safety and Huff would potentially fill a bigger hole than was previously thought, or they’re simply kicking the tires and doing their due diligence. In my opinion, the Packers should pass on Huff. They have enough promise in McMillian and Hayward to focus on that or add some young depth via this year’s draft.
If they really want to add a veteran defensive back who can bring the most value to the team, Green Bay should consider none other than. . . . Charles Woodson. This idea is based on the premise that the Packers are bringing in Huff to potentially add a veteran presence to the defensive backfield. In Woodson, the Packers not only have a veteran who already knows the scheme, but he gels well with the current safety unit and also now knows his market value. He’s not going to get top dollar and may become viable to return at a bargain rate for a bargain-shopping GM.
McCarthy has often said that he prefers guys that he knows over someone new. It’s not that crazy of an idea. In Woodson, the Packers get some of that savvy back and virtually have a player/coach on the sidelines. Clearly Woodson wouldn’t be a starter anymore but it’s worth arguing that he can still add value as a part-time player.
I realize that the team let Woodson go for a reason and they may have no intention of even looking his way. But when I read that the Packers were bringing in Huff, I couldn’t help but ponder a better alternative: a Woodson/Green Bay reunion before all is said and done.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: