Packers give Raji, Guion another chance
Mike McCarthy feels strongly that the Green Bay Packers' defensive line is close to being the deepest it's been during his tenure as head coach.
On Monday, his team took a major step toward keeping it that way.
An NFL source confirmed the Packers are bringing back veteran Letroy Guion on a one-year deal that's worth $2.75 million, according to an ESPN report. They also retained B.J. Raji on a one-year, $3.5 million deal that could be worth up to $4 million, according to an NFL Network report.
On the surface, the deal closely resembles the one-year, $4 million contract Raji signed with the Packers last March. The former first-round pick was projected to be the Packers' starting nose tackle before he tore his right biceps in the team's third preseason game against Oakland.
Guion, who came to Green Bay on a one-year, $1 million contract, stepped in for an injured Raji and had a career year with 32 tackles and 3-1/2 sacks in 18 games (including playoffs). His camp was working toward a contract before a February arrest in Starke, Fla., for felony possession of marijuana (roughly three-fourths of a pound) and a firearm.
Guion reached a plea agreement of no contest last week that included him paying a $5,000 fine and having the charges dismissed. Guion's civil forfeiture case remains open, though. He's still looking to reclaim about $190,000 in cash and his 2015 Dodge Ram truck that was seized during the arrest.
The Packers have monitored Guion's situation throughout the process and McCarthy reiterated on several occasions that he wants to have the 6-foot-4, 315-pound defensive tackle back in 2015.
It appears general manager Ted Thompson has granted his wish.
"I think to a man, everybody would like to see Letroy be a Green Bay Packer," said McCarthy at last week's NFL annual meeting in Phoenix.
Whether Guion sees all of that $2.75 million remains uncertain. He's still subject to discipline by the NFL for violation of the league's substance abuse and/or personal conduct policies, offenses that could carry a possible fine or suspension.
Guion, 27, started to receive interest from other NFL clubs after his criminal case was resolved last week. He visited with the Seattle Seahawks before a return to Green Bay.
Raji, 28, stayed in Green Bay the remainder of the year after undergoing season-ending surgery in September. He'll return with the same goal of reigniting his career after a disappointing 2013 season in which he had a career-low 17 tackles. Raji's last sack came in a 27-15 win over Detroit on Nov. 24, 2011.
If the reported numbers are accurate, it appears to be a favorable deal for Raji when analyzing the market for defensive tackles. Three players — Nick Fairley, Terrance Knighton and Henry Melton — all accepted one-year deals in the $3.75-5 million range.
Guion's and Raji's contracts should leave the Packers with roughly $16.5 million in salary cap room for next season, though next month's NFL draft likely will eat up another $4-5 million in cap room.
The return of the two veteran linemen gives the Packers some security at a position that lacked interior options last season after Raji's injury. They drafted Southern Mississippi's Khyri Thornton in the third round of last year's draft, but he was on the roster bubble before injuring his hamstring in the preseason finale against Kansas City.
After Thornton spent the season on injured reserve, McCarthy praised him during the NFL annual meeting for the strides the 6-3, 304-pound lineman has made in the team's strength and conditioning program.
Undrafted rookie Mike Pennel (6-4, 332) wound up making the roster and spelled Guion in 13 regular-season games, finishing his rookie year with eight tackles. Raji took a liking to Pennel early in the season, comparing his makeup to former Tennessee and Washington defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth.
The presence of Raji, Thornton and Pennel should give Green Bay some cushion if the NFL suspends Guion for any length of time. The prove-it deals also allow Raji and Guion another crack at a long-term deal in Green Bay or elsewhere if they perform well.
For the Packers, it gives them another year to determine if Guion and Raji have a future in Green Bay. It also allows them to develop the young core behind the two veterans. More help could come in the draft, as well. Thompson has selected at least one defensive lineman in each of his previous 10 drafts as general manager.
Guion and Raji are the fourth and fifth unrestricted free agents the Packers have re-signed this offseason. They still have four others on the market: fullback John Kuhn, cornerback Jarrett Bush, quarterback Matt Flynn and linebacker Jamari Lattimore, who recently visited the New York Jets.
Earlier this month, the Packers re-signed two critical offensive pieces in receiver Randall Cobb and tackle Bryan Bulaga. On Monday, they retained the two most experienced members on the defensive line.
"You look at Randall, Bryan, same with Letroy, B.J., shoot, we want all those guys back," McCarthy said last week. "We want all of our guys back, especially our big guys. I think our offensive and defensive line has a chance to be as strong as it's ever been combining both units."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.