The sixth of a 10-part position-by-position analysis of the Green Bay Packers' roster and how they should proceed during the offseason.
UNDER CONTRACT: Mike Daniels, Jerel Worthy, Datone Jones, Josh Boyd
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly, C.J. Wilson
Where they stand
The Packers are at a crossroads when it comes to their defensive linemen, with four slated to become unrestricted free agents and all of them facing serious questions. Raji had a somewhat disappointing season considering he was in a contract year, Pickett is 34 and near the end of the line, Jolly must overcome a potentially serious neck injury, and Wilson spent eight games on the inactive list last year.
Raji might look elsewhere and might want to play where he can showcase his talents and not spend so much time eating up blocks and doing grunt work behind the scenes. He reportedly turned down a contract offer last year from the Packers that averaged $8 million per season. Considering his less-than-stellar 2013 season, Raji will be lucky to command a deal that comes close to that.
At the NFL combine last week, coach Mike McCarthy denied reports that the Packers plan to get smaller and quicker on the line. As an indication the team is considering all options, McCarthy suggested the Packers could experiment with using linebacker Nick Perry as an elephant defensive end in spots.
Daniels, a fourth-round draft choice in 2012, took a big leap from Year 1 to Year 2 and looks like he could be a force for years to come. Jones, a first-round draft choice in 2013, didnít see a lot of playing time as a rookie but the Packers are hoping he displays the same kind of improvement as Daniels. Boyd, a fifth-rounder last year, got better as his rookie season unfolded and is loaded with potential. Worthy, a second-round pick in 2012, spent a year recovering from knee surgery and has much to prove.
The Packers should put a priority on re-signing Raji, who despite a so-so season is still capable of making an impact. General manager Ted Thompson likes to say big men are hard to find, so weíll find out whether he really means it in Rajiís case. The Packers shouldn't and won't break the bank on Raji, and the guess is the two sides will struggle to settle on money and he will likely go elsewhere. If that happens, the Packers should try to bring back Pickett for one more season. He hasnít hit the wall yet and his veteran leadership could help the young players on the roster.
Considering Jolly was out of football for three seasons because of a drug suspension, he played well and should be given every opportunity to return. As they did on game days last fall, the Packers can take or leave Wilson. Selecting a defensive lineman high in the draft should be strongly considered.