NFL Safeties are getting the short end of stick this offseason


It’s cap casualty season. The new league year begins on March 13, and every team in the league has to be under the hard salary cap by 4 p.m. EST on that date. Teams across the league are bleeding talent to reach the $255.4 million number.

The Buffalo Bills have been hit the hardest. They released three starters and two key contributors. One of those players was safety Jordan Poyer. He was named first-team All Pro at safety in 2021, but he still was a cap casualty for the Bills, who were forced to furiously shed salary after a hard push two years ago for a Super Bowl.

Poyer is also not the only highly-decorated player at his position to get released this offseason. Both Kevin Byard and Eddie Jackson have been first-team All-Pro safeties in their careers, and both of these players in their early 30s were let go. The Philadelphia Eagles traded for Byard midseason to try and boost a struggling defense.

Justin Simmons has not been named first-team All-Pro yet, but he made the second team in four of the last five seasons, including 2023. However, the Denver Broncos have a Russell Wilson-sized pill to swallow. Since the franchise is willing to eat $85 million dead money by releasing him — which can be spread over two seasons — one of the Broncos’best defensive players had to go.

The safety is now the running back of NFL defenses. It is a position of great importance, but it is not as difficult of a position to fill as cornerback or defensive lineman. Weaknesses at those positions are much easier for offenses to expose.

Safeties are more of a last line of defense. If a running back gets through the line and linebackers, the safeties are relied upon to keep the play from turning into a touchdown. Their role in pass defense is also largely to prevent big plays, but defensive coordinators do like to scheme up ways to use them in surprise attacks.

Kyle Hamilton was giving the Kansas City Chiefs the blues during the AFC Championship game, especially in the first half. A player like him with the linebacker tackling talent, but also the athleticism to guard players one-on-one makes him a unique talent.

Others who simply perform their duties, even if they do so better than the vast majority of the NFL, appear to be considered disposable. That is the message that is being sent with talented safeties getting cut so teams can reduce salary Some teams do so simply to gain more cap space as opposed to racing to cut down to $255.4 million.

The NFL is a tough business. Teams in all leagues are looking to limit player salaries. In the NFL though, there are so many players and quarterbacks eat up an enormous percentage of cap space. Being good is not good enough. In the NFL players fall into two categories: indispensable or very dispensable.

Safeties are turning into the most dispensable players, at least on defense. Fortunately, for those players, Derwin James signed the biggest contract in NFL history for that position — 5 years, $76.5 million.

With those types of salaries still being offered for the best players, safeties are not treated just like running backs. But when it comes to defensive players, teams are going to look at that position first when it comes time to get their books in order.

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