Editor's note: Prior to the start of the new league year in March, Press-Gazette Media is counting down the top unrestricted, restricted and exclusive-right free agents the Green Bay Packers will have to decide on this offseason.
Sean Richardson finally had the opportunity to show what he could do in 2014.
The former Vanderbilt safety had his career interrupted by a neck injury he sustained near the end of his rookie season. The incident required a cervical neck surgery to fuse his C-5 and C-6 vertebrae. The recovery process caused Richardson to miss a full calendar year.
Richardson, 25, was cleared near the end of the 2013 season, but it wasn't until last offseason that he had a chance to catch up on lost time. After a solid preseason, he went on to make Green Bay's initial 53-man roster as a backup safety.
He played in all 16 regular-season games for the first time in his career in 2014, finishing with 25 tackles. Much of that production came on special teams, where Packers coach Mike McCarthy often praised Richardson for being the unit's bright spot.
According to the coaches' statistics, Richardson led the Packers with 17 special-teams tackles. The team was so impressed that defensive coordinator Dom Capers even installed a big Okie package where Richardson subbed in for a cornerback in the base defense, specializing against the run.
One of four undrafted free agents in 2012 to make the Packers' 53-man roster in 2012, Richardson is a restricted free agent this offseason. To maintain his rights, general manager Ted Thompson will have to tender Richardson a contract before the start of free agency in two weeks.
Richardson could be a candidate for a low tender, which was valued at $1.431 million in 2014. The Packers utilized it to hold onto another undrafted free agent and special-teams stalwart, Jamari Lattimore, who played under the one-year deal last season.
Questions remain about the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Richardson's coverage ability, but his size is intriguing at the safety position. It's also what the Packers felt made him a promising option on special teams. On defense, the Packers have mainly used him in the same in-the-box role he filled during his career with the Commodores.
A lot of things went wrong for the Packers on special teams this year. They've already addressed that with the firing of coordinator Shawn Slocum as well as the release of Brad Jones and Brandon Bostick. Two other featured players, Davon House and Jarrett Bush, are free agents.
Richardson's value on special teams might make it worth the tender despite the Packers being deep at his natural position with veteran Morgan Burnett, 2014 first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Micah Hyde ahead of him on the safety depth chart.
After missing 21 games his first two seasons, Richardson seems to have put the neck injury in the past. Now, it's up to the Packers whether they want to take a deeper look at the lengthy safety.
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Sean Richardson, fourth-year safety
The skinny: Restricted free agent.
The snaps: 494 total (133 defense, 361 special teams).
The stats: None.
2014 salary: $570,000.
12. QB Matt Flynn
11. FB John Kuhn
10. CB Jarrett Bush
8. S Sean Richardson