This summer, John Lynch will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame after a stellar 15-year career playing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos. So when the current San Francisco 49ers GM talks in-depth about what it takes to patrol the middle of field in today’s NFL, it's worth taking heed.
Just how much the safety position has changed since Lynch suited up owes much to NFL rule changes that had led to the passing game increasingly coming to dominate the game; consequently the need for a hybrid safety that can run with receivers is highly sought after.
In San Francisco, Lynch has safety Jimmy Ward who performs in a specialized role and he also recognizes what his former team has in its own Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons.
“When I first came in, there were a lot of safeties that kind of looked like me: 220-pound, bigger thumpers that dealt with big running backs," Lynch said via his pre-Hall-of-Fame Zoom call with local press. "I think clearly now the guy we have in San Francisco in Jimmy Ward is a great illustration, a guy who has cornerback skills who can get down and cover tight ends but can also line up in the slot against receivers. Justin Simmons in Denver is another example, a guy who's got enough size to mix it up and play physically but also can hold up in coverage. I did a lot of that throughout my career, but I wasn't asked to cover receivers in the slot."
Just how much the Broncos covet their centerfielder was revealed when new GM George Paton made Simmons the highest-paid player at his position this offseason. It’s Lynch’s opinion that safety is now regarded as a position that can genuinely influence games by creating flexible defensive matchups providing you have the right personnel.
“I think it’s appropriate because I think that position really has an impact on football, the reason being you’re asked to do a little bit of everything, so you can get really involved in a game,” Lynch said. "Your coordinators can move you around and find ways, and it’s tough to deal with if you have a player that can do multiple things you have to be able to do at those positions.”
Kudos to first-year GM Paton, for not only securing the 27-year-old for the long-term but also playing some high-stakes poker to release, then re-sign, fellow safety Kareem Jackson on a team-friendly deal that ensured the last line of the Broncos defense remains intact.
Lynch will soon be enshrined in the hallowed halls of Canton alongside legendary fellow thumper Steve Atwater, and in an all-new age of NFL safeties, the Broncos' tradition of fielding game-changing players on the backend is poised to continue and flourish with Simmons manning the middle.
Follow Keith on Twitter @KeithC_NFL.
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