The Green Bay Packers' safety position looked full of potential.
It didn’t take long for that to blow up.
Five games into the 2018 season, it’s perhaps the biggest weakness on defense, and there’s little reason to think it will change anytime soon.
But the safety position sure could.
Clinton-Dix -- the 2016 Pro Bowler whose statistics (three interceptions and a sack while playing every snap so far in five games) would indicate that he’s a must-re-sign player as he heads toward free agency -- believes he’ll be a goner after this season.
Jones, the 2017 second-round pick, can’t get on the field.
It was earlier this week when Clinton-Dix told the Wisconsin State Journal that he believes his football future will be elsewhere.
"Right now, I’m playing each and every game like it’s my last. I don’t think I’m going to be here next year," Clinton-Dix said. "That’s how I look at it. I just [have to] be honest with myself. You’ve got to play it game by game. Whether we’re losing by 60 points, you’ve got to go out there and perform. This is my biggest interview of my career. So I’ve got to perform, regardless of what the record says."
And then Jones, on USA Today Network-Wisconsin’s online show "Clubhouse Live," made his plea for more playing time.
"That's what I'm here for: You ain't going to [draft] a player in the second round to not contribute to the team," Jones said. "I mean, am I right or am I wrong? Everybody plays this game for different reasons. Some guys play this game because of what comes with it and what they can get out of it. Some guys, they enjoy just getting a check every two weeks. They're OK with just being mediocre and not improving and just being one of the guys on the team. Me? I want to work for what I get. I don't just want to get a check and feel like I didn't do nothing for it. Especially when you know you can be out there, you can contribute to the team. That's what hurts the most. It's tough, trust me. It's real tough."
For someone who leads all NFL safeties in interceptions since the start of the 2016 season with 11, there are plenty of question marks. Clinton-Dix is playing this season under the fifth-year option contained in all first-round draft picks' contracts and will make $5.957 million. He will be looking for a deal that averages well more than that per season in free agency.
Someone might give Clinton-Dix something in the $8.25 million range that Eric Weddle makes with the Ravens; Weddle is second to Clinton-Dix in safety interceptions the past two-plus season. But it’s not likely to be the Packers. They did not re-sign their two most recent free-agent safeties, Micah Hyde and Morgan Burnett.
"Well, I think like anything that's in the paper, when a player probably gives an honest answer to a question or answers a question, when it comes to business, I don't ever comment on those types of things," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of Clinton-Dix’s comments. "But I just trust the relationships and the conversations that I have with each and every player and that's no different with Ha Ha."
Clinton-Dix is seemingly a good fit for new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme, and Clinton-Dix said he loves playing in the system. But his play has mirrored the defense as a whole: a few flashy moments ruined by some poor tackling and missed opportunities. He’s improved from last season, when he was far away from too many plays, whether by scheme or his own doing, but it might not be enough to convince the Packers to re-sign him.
Jones' present situation
It came as a surprise when former undrafted free agent Kentrell Brice -- not Jones -- opened the offseason program as the starter next to Clinton-Dix. Jones played the second-most snaps (731) of any Packers safety last season, behind only Clinton-Dix (who played all but eight). Brice was fourth (with 289) behind Burnett.
Jones missed the first three games this season because of an ankle injury he sustained late in the preseason. He played only on special teams during his Week 4 debut against the Bills and then played his only four snaps on defense of the season in Week 5 at Detroit. He’s also had two special-teams penalties in as many games: an offside on a punt against the Bills and a hold that wiped out a 64-yard kickoff return by Ty Montgomery against the Lions.
Still, the 61st player taken in the 2017 draft remains behind Brice and perhaps even another former undrafted free-agent safety, Jermaine Whitehead.
"I like the fact that Josh Jones is pissed off that he’s not playing, because if he wasn’t, then I’d be concerned," McCarthy said as part of a longer answer. "The fact that he’s hungry and wants to get out there, I think that shows you something about him. But there’s more to it than that."
Added McCarthy: "You’re talking about Josh, who went through an injury phase throughout training camp, throughout the preseason, really wasn’t ready there early in the season," McCarthy said. "Just like anything when you leave the door open for opportunity and guys like Whitehead and K.B. jump through it, you have to recognize that, too. It’s never really just about one player, it’s about creating opportunities for all your players. And draft status doesn’t equate to game-day opportunities or responsibilities each and every week.
"Josh, he’s a battler. I really like the things he’s doing on special teams, and I know [special-teams coordinator] Ron [Zook] is excited about giving him more opportunities, and he needs to just keep battling because just like anything, his chance to play again will be there. We’ve just got to make sure he’s ready, and that goes for everybody that is not playing as much as they’d like to play."