While many followers of the Green Bay Packers have assumed that defensive lineman B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett would be allowed to leave the team as unrestricted free agents this offseason, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is reporting that may not be the case.
So far this offseason it has been reported that the Packers, looking for athleticism along their defensive front, were content to let both Raji and Pickett walk but according to McGinn, who spoke to head coach Mike McCarthy at the NFL combine, the Packers haven’t ruled out bringing back either player at this point — if the money is right.
Here’s what McCarthy had to say on the subject:
“We’re looking to sign those guys back but we’ll see what happens,” coach Mike McCarthy said at the NFL scouting combine. “Those decisions, a lot of those will be financial. That’s really not practical to keep them all.”
The issue for the Packers along the defensive line is that they have a number of potential five-techniques (a defensive end in the Packers 3-4 alignment) but no one currently under contract who is proven at nose tackle, a critical position in the 3-4 that anchors the run defense.
Mike Daniels, Josh Boyd, Datone Jones and Jerel Worthy are all talented players, who have the chance to make an impact but none have the size of Raji or Pickett to take on double-teams and keep offensive lineman from getting to linebackers at the second level of the defense.
Therefore, it makes sense that the Packers would be open to the return of either Raji or Pickett or both. However, despite what the report says, I believe a return for Pickett is a much more plausible scenario.
Pickett, who is 34 years old, has been with the Packers since signing with them as a free agent back in 2006 and has been one of the team’s most productive defensive lineman ever since. Yet, he is coming off his least productive season with the club, posting just 19 tackles in 16 starts.
While Pickett’s game has dipped slightly over the past couple of seasons, he’s still effective at taking on double-team’s and playing the run. The draft is also not viewed as a very strong for 3-4 nose tackles and the free agent crop is weak as well, meaning the Packers may have no choice but to bring back Pickett, even as a stop gap.
“I think ‘Pick’ has a little bit left,” said McCarthy. “This has really been the healthiest he’s been. He’s done a good job taking care of himself.”
“‘Pick’ is a natural at the nose guard position, he really is,” McCarthy said. “Now does he have the same range he had a couple years ago? Maybe not. But he’s so instinctive. He has a great understanding.”
When it’s all said and done, I believe there is a place for Pickett in Green Bay next season.
On the one hand it will be hard for Pickett to find a better deal then he will get from the Packers but along those same lines, Pickett probably has more value to Green Bay than any other NFL team due to the importance of his position to Dom Capers’ defense.
Raji’s return to Green Bay seems a lot less likely because the chances of him scoring a big money deal on the open market are much better. Earlier last season, the Packers approached Raji with a contract extension worth around $8 million a year with $20 million guaranteed.
Raji turned it down and after a lackluster season with no sacks (for the second year in a row), the offer is now off the table. A deal could still be reached between the two sides but it would likely be a short-term deal similar to the one Jermichael Finley signed after the 2011 season.
A deal like that could give Raji another chance to prove himself, while also giving him a chance to hit the market as a free agent again very soon.
The Packers are transitioning along their defensive line but it would be wise to keep either Pickett or Raji to help ensure the transition is a smooth one and at this point, if I had to choose which one would be back in 2014, my money would be on Pickett.