In the wake of the Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews contract extensions, many of us have been wondering how the Green Bay Packers will utilize their remaining cap space. How they use it will depend a lot on the current players who will be free agency following this season. Not counting the recent restricted free agent tenders and offseason signings, there are a total of fourteen Packers players entering their final year of a multi-year contract.
One of the major concerns, though, is that four of those players – or over a quarter of them – are defensive linemen. And not just any defensive lineman. They accounted for 38 starts, 51 total games played, and 2,108 defensive snaps in 2012. Take a look:
- Ryan Pickett, DT, 33, 13th yr.
(2012: 16 starts, 16 games, 658 snaps – 2nd DL, 3.8 PFF grade – 2nd DL)
- B.J. Raji, DT, 26, 5th yr.
(2012: 14 starts, 14 games, 768 snaps – 1st DL, 6.5 PFF grade – 1st DL)
- Mike Neal, DE, 25, 4th yr.
(2012: 0 starts, 10 games, 323 snaps – 5th DL, 3.4 PFF grade – 3rd DL)
- C.J. Wilson, DE, 26, 4th yr.
(2012: 8 starts, 11 games, 359 – 4th DL, -2.1 PFF grade – 6th DL)
Obviously, Pickett and Raji are the two biggest names to be worried about. They are the workhorses of the defensive line and pretty much have been since their first years in Green Bay. Neal and Wilson aren’t every-down players, but they’ve proven their worth and could still show some improvement.
Unfortunately, the contract situations of these players are being pressured by multiple forces. Ted Thompson has drafted four defensive linemen in the past two drafts, who could each be major players: Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, and Josh Boyd. (There’s also Jordan Miller and Gilbert Pena looming in the shadows.) But in addition to the performance pressures, there are also going to be financial ones. Some other big-name players are going to be hitting the market in 2014, as well. Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, James Jones, and Marshall Newhouse are all going into their final contract year, plus Evan Dietrich-Smith and Sam Shields are currently on restricted free agent tenders that last just a year.
It’s going to be intriguing watching how things develop, to say the least. Should Ryan Pickett not show a significant decline in performance due to his age, then there’s a good chance he will be signed again, but at a reduced rate. His cap hit for this season is $6.7 million, which is fifth highest on the team. Pickett also said in his interview with Cheesehead Radio on Thursday that he “definitely” wants to end his career with the Packers, suggesting he might take a smaller contract if the Packers still want him.
B.J. Raji could command the largest payment of the group, since this will be his second contract of his career. He’s already taking up about $6.6 million of the team’s salary cap this year, which is right behind Pickett. Though Raji hasn’t produced quite up to the level expected of him, it could be hard to let him walk if he has a good 2013 season.
C.J. Wilson and Mike Neal have the most to worry about this year. They only saw half of the snaps that Pickett and Raji saw last year, and they graded out lower according to PFF’s grading system. Despite both of them coming from the 2010 draft class, Neal was a second rounder, while Wilson was taken in the seventh round. Strangely, Wilson seems to have been the most productive during his time with the Packers. Of course, this was mostly due to Neal’s injuries and suspension. With all of the young blood coming in to compete for starting jobs, these two linemen will need to have stellar training camps and seasons if they want to be back in 2014.
A lot will depend on how the entire defensive line group performs come training camp. It wouldn’t be terribly shocking to see one of these four players cut before the season begins, and I could also see Ted Thompson letting these guys test the free agent waters in a year, depending on how well they perform in the regular season. There’s no rush to sign any of them, but the clock is also ticking, and decisions will have to be made by the end of the season.——————Follow @ChadToporski