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Free Agent Spotlight: S, Haha Clinton-Dix

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Could the Bucs add a talented player to their secondary?

Atlanta Falcons v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers drafted Ha’Sean ‘Haha’ Clinton-Dix with the 21st pick of the 2014 draft. He was nicknamed “Ha ha” by his grandmother because people were mispronouncing the “Sean” in his name as ‘shawn’ when it was intended to be ‘seen’ - exactly what I bet you just did. Clinton-Dix was a two time national champion at Alabama under Nick Saban. The Packers picked up his fifth-year option after the 2017 season, and former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy even called him one of their core players. But halfway through the 2018 season the Packers traded Clinton-Dix to the Washington Redskins for a fourth-round pick. Now that Clinton-Dix’s rookie deal is up, who might he play for next?

HAHA CLINTON-DIX’S CAREER

To say that Clinton-Dix has been productive would be an understatement. Since he came into the league in 2014 he leads all safeties in solo tackles with 363 and is second in total tackles. To put that in perspective, of all the safeties that have played in approximately the same number of games (a whopping 80) since then, nobody is within 30 tackles of Clinton-Dix. He’s also tied for 10th in sacks with 5.5 and tied for 21st in passes defensed. As if that wasn’t enough, Clinton-Dix is tied for 6th with 14 interceptions. In short, Clinton-Dix has been one of the best, most productive safeties in the NFL since he entered the league. So why did the Packers trade him for just a 4th?

It was likely due to several factors. First, the safety market seemed to be weirdly depressed last season. A lot of safeties sat on the market in free agency with few bidders. Second, there were comments that Clinton-Dix’s play was overall inconsistent and that he gave up far more big plays than he should have and had a tendency to avoid contact or give poor effort tackling. For what it’s worth, Clinton-Dix made the Pro Bowl in 2016, and Pro Football Focus graded him highly in 2018 before the trade:

WHY THE BUCCANEERS NEED HIM

Are you kidding? The Bucs have a ton of young talent at safety, but nobody that really stands out. Justin Evans is clearly the most athletic of the bunch, but he has problems breaking down ball-carriers in the open field. One reason Clinton-Dix is valuable is because he’s so versatile. He’s no Derwin James when it comes to rushing the passer, but at 6’0 and 208 lbs Clinton-Dix is comfortable around the line of scrimmage. He can play the robber coverage role in the middle of the field, and he also has the range to play as a single-high safety. In other words, because Clinton-Dix can do everything he allows a defense to be creative and effective in disguising the coverage. The Buccaneers could very much use someone like that. Whether due solely to poor coaching over the years or not, Tampa Bay’s safety position has struggled for a long time. Having someone like Clinton-Dix could instantly vault the Bucs’ defense into not just respectability, but maybe even...good? Is that allowed?

WHAT WILL CLINTON-DIX COST?

That’s an interesting question. Eric Berry re-set the safety market with a per-year value $1 million more than the next highest-paid safety and a total of $7 million more guaranteed. The Vikings’ Harrison Smith and the Dolphins’ Reshad Jones are similar players to Clinton-Dix in terms of production. Both are the second and third highest-paid safeties after Berry. They are getting paid $10-12 million per year on deals with a total value of approximately $50 million dollars. Even if you just go by guaranteed money, it’s $30 million. Unless the safety market continues to be in a slump, Clinton-Dix could command a hefty salary.

WILL IT HAPPEN?

It’s not out of the realm of possibility. With a new coaching staff, and with cornerback M.J. Stewart rumored to be switching to safety where general manager Jason Licht intended him this whole time, it’s possible the Bucs are still sifting through their current players and learning about their strengths and weaknesses and where they might find a role in new defensive-coordinator Todd Bowles’ scheme. With all the depth and competition it’s possible they expect to sort it out, but it’s also possible they don’t really love anyone that they already have. Gone (or at least not currently under contract for 2019) are Chris Conte, Josh Shaw, Andrew Adams, and Isaiah Johnson. That still leaves Justin Evans, Jordan Whitehead, and M.J. Stewart.

How do the Bucs feel about the safety prospects in the draft and about the guys in free agency? Safeties on the potential free agency market might include Lamarcus Joyner, Earl Thomas, Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Gilchrist, Terrance Brooks, Landon Collins, and many, many more. Rookie draft prospects include Deionte Thompson, Nasir Adderley, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Juan Thornill, Taylor Rapp, Darnell Savage, and many more talented enough to go in the top 100 picks.

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered before Tampa Bay would probably think about positioning themselves for a player like Clinton-Dix. If Washington doesn’t resign Clinton-Dix and he does hit the market, who knows how much he might ask for. As long as teams don’t get into a bidding war that drives the cost up Tampa Bay could make room for him, but it might have to give up significant assets to do so. DeSean Jackson comes to mind since his cap hit is $10 million. Is the opportunity cost worth it? But if they get there and free agency repeats itself from last year where a bunch of safeties are just sitting there, they may be able to snag Clinton-Dix or someone like him for a steal.