2014 free-agent countdown
20. Chris Banjo, safety
19. Seneca Wallace, quarterback
18. Kahlil Bell, running back
17. Robert Francois, inside linebacker
16. Marshall Newhouse, offensive lineman
15. C.J. Wilson, defensive lineman
14. M.D. Jennings, safety
It’s no longer optional for the Green Bay Packers to address the safety position this offseason.
If the NFL’s 25th-ranked defense is going to turn things around, general manager Ted Thompson will need to look deep into the same back end he neglected last offseason.
It starts with Morgan Burnett rebounding from a lackluster follow-up to a four-year extension, but the Packers also have to re-examine their other starting spot at safety.
M.D. Jennings, one of three undrafted rookies to make the Packers’ roster in 2011, has started the past 26 games next to Burnett at safety. He has 116 tackles during that stretch, but a mere three pass deflections and one interception.
Jennings, 25, has been durable, but his struggles in 2013 illustrated the Packers’ misfire in failing to bring in camp competition for both him and 2012 fourth-round pick Jerron McMillian, whose struggles led to his December release.
Ultimately, the Packers failed to get an interception from one of their safeties for the first time in at least 50 years.
“Any DB will tell you first and foremost, they want to get interceptions,” Packers safeties coach Darren Perry said. “Not to make excuses, but there are some mitigating circumstances. I mean everything’s tied in hand in hand. Charlie Peprah was a guy who had five interceptions and he was gone the next year, so, you know it’s just all relative. I think more importantly we’ve got to make sure we’re looking at quality of play more than anything else.”
After the Packers released Charles Woodson and didn't drafting a replacement at safety, Jennings allowed a team-high five touchdowns in his coverage with an allowed quarterback rating of 148.8, according to Pro Football Focus.
Signed out of Arkansas State for a $2,500 bonus in 2011, Jennings has played more than 2,000 snaps in exchange for his modest $1.4 million over three seasons.
However, the need for change could leave Jennings’ spot vulnerable in the Packers’ secondary with the organization locked into Burnett for the foreseeable future.
It's up to the Packers to determine whether Jennings is worth the same low-round tender they gave to starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith last year or whether he'll be non-tendered like former outside linebacker Frank Zombo.
Editor's note: Prior to the start of the new league year in March, Press-Gazette Media is counting down the top 20 unrestricted, restricted and exclusive right free agents the Green Bay Packers will have to decide on this offseason.
No. 14 M.D. Jennings, third-year safety
The skinny: Restricted free agent.
The snaps: 974 total (789 defense, 185 special teams).
The stats: 74 tackles, one sack and one pass deflection.
The 2013 salary: $560,250.