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New Packers Safety Xavier McKinney Doesn’t Feel Pressure

With an enormous contract comes enormous expectations. New Packers safety Xavier McKinney said he is bringing "heart, competitiveness and playmaking ability."
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Xavier McKinney signed with the Green Bay Packers, a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

By total value ($67 million) and annual salary ($16.75 million), he became the fourth-highest-paid safety in the NFL.

He’s joining a team in dire need of a safety. With three interceptions and 11 passes defensed last year, he had more ball production by himself than the team’s three veteran free agents, Darnell Savage, Jonathan Owens and Rudy Ford, combined.

He’s joining a defense led by a new coordinator, Jeff Hafley, who counts on his safeties to play major roles in the scheme.

That’s a lot to live up to. The expectation is for McKinney to play great so the team can become great.

“I don’t think it’s pressure,” though, McKinney said during his introduction to Packers beat reporters on Friday in the Lambeau Field locker room. “I’m here to perfect my craft. So, I don’t really feel any pressure ever. I just try to go out there and play my best and compete.

“I’m trying to win, at the end of the day, and I know what that takes to be able to win games and win championships. So, I don’t ever really feel pressure. I know that a lot of these guys in here are super-motivated and are hungry. I’m the same way, so it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a fun time.”

While Morgan Burnett and HaHa Clinton-Dix had their moments, McKinney is the team’s best safety since Nick Collins helped the Packers win their last Super Bowl in 2010.

He’ll have to be a great safety for the Packers to take the next step.

During Hafley’s introductory news conference, he detailed what he’s looking for in a “post” safety. While McKinney lined up deep, in the box and in the slot with the Giants, his skill-set suggests he’ll be tasked with being the one deep safety – a true last line of defense.

The job description is extensive.

“I want a guy who can erase things,” Hafley began. “We’ve got to eliminate explosive plays when we play this defense. If a run hits up the middle, this guy’s got to come out of the middle field with his hair on fire, he’s got to be able to get a guy down. I also want him to be a guy, when a ball-carrier is wrapped up, he goes and he finishes off the pile.

“I want a guy who can go from sideline to sideline and take the ball away. I think that position has to be a guy with high ball production, meaning he’s got to be able to intercept the ball. He’s got to be a guy that can communicate and he’s got to be a guy that can get guys lined up and make some calls back there. And I’d love a guy that can play man.”

Hafley said he was describing the “perfect” safety. It’s a role McKinney should fit, well, perfectly. He’s shown the ability to take the ball away (eight interceptions during his healthy seasons of 2021 and 2023) and take the ball-carrier to the turf (116 tackles and only seven misses in 2023).

“I don’t think any player’s perfect, but I will tell you that I’m striving for that,” McKinney said. “Every day I go out at practice, it’s going to be everything that I’ve got, 100 percent, and same way for the games. We actually had dinner last night and we talked for a little minute. He seemed like a great guy, and I know we’re going to have a lot of fun together, for sure. I’m just looking forward to being part of the defense and seeing where I can help and try to make plays and help us to be successful and win.”

McKinney isn’t preoccupied with where he’s going to line up. He said he wants to do whatever’s best for the team for that particular matchup.

Wherever he lines up, production will follow. From 2021 through 2023, 16 safeties had at least 200 tackles, 20 passes defensed and five interceptions. From that group, McKinney was 13th with 254 tackles, second with 26 passes defensed and seventh with eight interceptions, even while missing half of 2022 due to injury suffered in an ATV accident.

“Heart, competitiveness and playmaking ability. Instincts are really high,” he said in describing his style. “Just making the guys around me a lot better and pushing them. Just trying to put on a show, really. That’s my goal is to go out there and play as best that I can and be able to help the team and put the team in the best position to be able to win games. That’s why I’m here and that’s what I’m going to be here to do.”