Packers sign strong safety Johnathan Abram off waivers from Raiders
GREEN BAY – Unable to add any offensive help at the trade deadline, Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst made a move to bolster his No. 6-rated defense, claiming former Las Vegas Raiders safety Johnathan Abram off waivers.
A first-round pick in 2019, Abram started 34 of 36 games in which he played for the Raiders, including six of eight this season.
Known as a hard-nosed, physical strong safety, Abram fell out of favor with the new coaching staff and saw his playing time reduced significantly the past two weeks. The Raiders reportedly tried to trade Abram at the deadline but had no buyers and cut him Tuesday.
“It brings us another guy who will run through walls, hit,” cornerback Keisean Nixon, a former Raiders teammate and one of Abram’s best friends, said Wednesday. “He knows the game. He’s a good person to be around. He’s going to be a good addition.”
To make room for Abram on the 53-man roster, the Packers placed outside linebacker Rashan Gary on injured reserve. Gary suffered a torn ACL in his right knee Sunday against Detroit.
The 6-foot, 205-pound Abram will give coordinator Joe Barry some options in the secondary that he will need with cornerback Eric Stokes (knee, ankle) expected to be out for a while.
When Stokes got hurt against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Rasul Douglas moved from the slot to corner and Nixon took over the slot. The addition of Abram will allow Barry to use safety Darnell Savage in the slot if he chooses because Abram can fill his normal position.
Barry said last week that he thought Savage would be an “unbelievable” slot corner but said he didn’t have a safety to replace him if moved.
Abram suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during his rookie season and then started 13 games in 2020 and 14 games in ’21. He only has three career interceptions, but the Raiders used him around the line of scrimmage and he had 86 tackles (three for loss) in ’20 and 116 tackles (five for loss) in ’21.
This season, he started out with 12 tackles in the season opener, but the Raiders weren’t thrilled with his pass coverage and started Duron Harmon and Tre’von Moehrig ahead of him starting with the New Orleans game Oct. 30.
He played 22 snaps against the Saints and 32 against Jacksonville last week.
According to Pro Football Reference statistics, he allowed five touchdown passes last year but had not allowed one this year. The Raiders blitzed him several times a game on average, but he has no career sacks and nine quarterback knockdowns.
If the Packers may want to use him on early downs to play the run because he plays hard and tackles with force. According to Pro Football Reference, he missed just two tackles this season after missing 14 last year and 13 the year before.
“He’s a real smart guy,” said guard Elgton Jenkins, who played with Abram at Mississippi State. “He loves to hit. He loves to come down and shake things up.”
Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia was with the Raiders when they drafted Abram and used him on about 25% of the unit’s snaps in ’20 and ’21. There’s a good chance Bisaccia will be able to use him on special teams right away.
"He's not going to just bring help to the defense, but he’s going to bring help to everything just being on the team," Nixon said. "Great guy to be around. He’s going to work. He’s going to talk, too, but he’s going to work.”
Abram's weakness in pass coverage most likely led the Raiders to decide this spring not to execute the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which would have cost them a guaranteed $7.9 million '23. Abram, who will be a free agent in the off-season, has a base salary of $2.062 million, half of which the Packers will have to pay and count against their salary cap.
In another roster move, the Packers released wide receiver Kawaan Baker from the practice squad.