Over the course of the next several days Cheesehead TV will have a brief position-by-position offseason preview, taking a look at what's in store for the Green Bay Packers in free agency and the NFL Draft..
The story of the Packers' defensive line in 2013 can be summed up by looking at the performance of Mike Daniels and then everyone else.
A compelling argument can be made that Daniels was the team's Defensive Player of the Year after making 6.5 sacks and holding up well against the run despite his small stature. Favorable comparisons to Geno Atkins are starting to be made, and they're not unwarranted.
Apart from Daniels, the performance of the rest of the Packers defensive line was average at best and many times below average.
The wide-bodied trio of B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly occasionally did well holding their ground and controlling gaps, but none was a premier run stuffer, as evidenced by the Packers ranking 25th against the run among all NFL teams.
Among Raji, Pickett and Jolly, none of them excel at rushing the passer and all three of them are scheduled to be free agents in March, along with C.J. Wilson.
It's too early to call first round draft choice Datone Jones a disappointment, but he did little to make much of an impact in 2013 outside of a couple flash plays as a pass rusher. He needs to add weight in order to be more than a situational pass rusher and play end in the team's base defense.
Jerel Worthy, a second round draft choice in 2012, was limited in second year in the NFL because of a knee injury, but he has yet to show anything more than being interior pass rusher that relies on quickness.
The emergence of Josh Boyd late in the year was an encouraging sign, and he could be asked to play a much bigger role next season depending upon what happens to the other defensive linemen in free agency.
Although Mike Neal was used occasionally as a defensive lineman in 2013, he'll be included in the outside linebackers preview.
Long-Range Free Agency Outlook
B.J. Raji––It's probably safe to say the contract extension averaging $8 million per season reportedly offered to Raji is off the table after a season in which he made a career-low 17 tackles in 2013.
The Packers certainly must have considered the age-old argument about motivation regarding Raji, and it's a valid one. If he didn't play at a high level the year before his contract was set to expire, how will he play once he receives a fat contract and has little intrinsic motivation?
It's also fair to say that Raji does some of the dirty work that goes unnoticed in the run game, but it certainly wasn't enough to merit breaking the bank to keep him in the fold.
Because he moves so well as a player who weighs in excess of 330 lbs., Raji will likely receive a generous offer on the free agent market from at least one NFL team, and as the saying goes, all it takes is one. It might not be in the $8 million range, but the Packers will have to decide whether they'll want to match or exceed any other offers Raji receives that will still be worth multi-millions.
Ryan Pickett––The casual fan has probably forgotten that the last time Pickett was a free agent, he actually received the team's franchise tag and a contract that averaged in excess of $6 million per season.
Pickett will sleep easy knowing he's had a very long and lucrative career, but in his next contract, he'll be lucky to get much more than $1 million per season.
In interviews with the media, Pickett has said he wants continue playing and wants to return to Green Bay, and the Packers will probably welcome him back for a minimal investment. At 34 years old, he just may not have many years left in his body.
Johnny Jolly––Jolly was the feel-good story of 2013, returning from a three-year NFL suspension and a stint in prison to turn his life around. He made a positive impact on the football field and was a motivational leader for the team.
Unfortunately for Jolly, his season was ended by a bulging disc in his neck, which complicates his free-agent status.
There's probably not many NFL teams that would be willing to take on the risk of a player with an injury history and a questionable background, which will drive down Jolly's asking price. Taking that into account, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Packers offer Jolly a minimal contract with little guaranteed money and just continue to monitor his progress before clearing him to return, if they clear him at all.
C.J. Wilson––Wilson does a surprisingly good job standing up to the NFL run game, doing his best to track down opposing ball carriers, but offers little in the way of a pass rush.
His value to the Packers may increase if one or more of the afore-mentioned free agents departs, but he's definitely not above replacement value. The Packers will likely let him test the market but may only bring him back at a price they deem to be fair.
Long-Range NFL Draft
So much of the Packers' perceived need at the position depends on what happens to Raji.
Even if Pickett and Jolly were both to return, the Packers can hardly afford to rely upon their biggest run-stuffers to be a 34 year old and one with a serious spinal concern.
To be sure, Boyd figures to add some weight and play a bigger role in 2014, but if Raji departs, the Packers might have to add another big defensive tackle/five-technique end in the first half of the draft.
Beyond big Louis Nix of Notre Dame, however, there's not many nose tackle type of prospects who figure to go on the first two days of the draft.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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