Seventh in a series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ unrestricted, restricted and exclusive-rights free agents in advance of the start of the 2017 league year and NFL free agency March 9.
GREEN BAY - It was a slip screen to the slot. The kind of quick-whip pass a quarterback makes without thinking. Surely Dallas Cowboys rookie Dak Prescott didn’t expect this second-and-1 to be any different.
He took a hop back at the snap and threw as soon as his feet hit the ground.
And Micah Hyde was waiting for him like a shortstop catching a soft liner.
Hyde’s third-quarter interception in last month’s NFC divisional playoff win in Dallas personified what he brings the Green Bay Packers secondary. Where some might see a ‘tweener — not quite a cornerback, not quite a safety — the Packers see a defensive back with instincts and rare versatility.
The Packers long have found value in Hyde, even if he’s one of their hardest players to classify. He is a jack of all trades in the defensive backfield. A solid contributor, if not a game changer. Hyde needs a defense that can be creative in how it uses him, and that’s what he found in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ scheme.
For years now, Hyde has split his week juggling meetings and reps with cornerbacks and safeties. With awareness and an ability to support against the run, his best position might be in the slot as a nickel corner. Hyde also has value on special teams, where he has been a punt returner in each of his four seasons.
Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix described Hyde as “one of a kind” with his versatility.
“Get him back,” Clinton-Dix said one day after the Packers’ loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game. “He’s a great player, man. He’s available all of the time. He competes. He can play all positions. I’ve never seen him complain, quit, give up. His effort is unbelievable. He’s very talented, a guy that I watch.
“Since I’ve been here, it’s a guy that I had to compete with in order to get this starting spot that I have now, and it’s still amazing to see him play each and every week. I would definitely love him back.”
The smart bet is Packers general manager Ted Thompson finds a way to re-sign Hyde when he becomes a free agent next month. Like several Packers free agents, the likelihood of Hyde returning largely depends on the interest he generates around the league.
His market will be interesting to watch. Hyde, a solid player, has plenty of limitations. Though he intercepted Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford as a perimeter cornerback in the regular-season finale, he only moved outside after injuries left the Packers no other choice.
Because he’s unable to play significant snaps on the perimeter, Hyde’s next contract doesn’t figure to match former Packers cornerback Casey Hayward’s market. Hayward signed a three-year, $15.3 million contract that included $6.8 million guaranteed last offseason with the San Diego Chargers. Hyde might be looking more at the $3 million range.
That kind of deal wouldn’t break the bank for the Packers. Even though Hyde started last season as the third safety on their depth chart — a backup player in a part-time role — he performed when injuries to teammates increased his role.
When the Packers needed a big play from their depleted secondary late last season, Hyde was one of the few who could provide it. Each of his three interceptions came in the season’s final four weeks, leading up to his interception in Dallas. Though Hyde struggled in coverage against the Falcons in the NFC title game, he hardly was alone.
Hyde became even more important to the Packers’ defense when safety Morgan Burnett started lining up more as a linebacker in their nickel defense. Burnett could be a solution to the struggles the Packers have had covering from the linebacker position, something that has persisted for years. If Burnett plays more linebacker next season, the Packers will want insurance at the safety position.
They can find it with Hyde.
“Whatever happens,” Hyde said, “happens. I don’t really have much of a say in that. I would love to. This place is the best place for me. At the end of the day, it has to be a business decision. It’s kind of out of my control.”
NOTE: Packers coach Mike McCarthy finalized some changes to his coaching staff Monday. David Raih moves from assistant offensive line coach to the new position of offensive perimeter coach. Raih's former job will be assumed by Jeff Blasko, who served as a coaching administrator last season. And as reported earlier this month, Tim McGarigle has joined the Packers as defensive quality control coach after spending the 2016 season as linebackers coach at Illinois.
Micah Hyde, fifth-year defensive back
The skinny: Unrestricted free agent.
The snaps: Played 63 games, 33 starts in four seasons mostly at slot corner and safety.
The stats: 3 interceptions, 9 defended passes, 1 sack, 45 tackles last season; 8 interceptions, 25 defended passes, 4 sacks, 189 tackles in career. Also 11 punt returns, 64 yards last season.
2016 salary: $1.67 million.