Packers Free Agent Overview: Defense

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CB Sam Shields headlines the list of Packers free agents on defense.

With 17 free agents and just under $10 million in salary cap space carrying over into 2014, changes are coming to the Green Bay Packers roster.

Debate about whether it’s time for Packers general manager Ted Thompson to finally dip into free agency will heat up as the offseason rolls along. Just as important for Thompson is deciding which of his own free agents to retain and which to let walk.

Everyone asks if the Packers should resign (insert name of pending free agent). The answer to that question is almost always, “Sure, if the price is right.” Unfortunately for the Packers, the price isn’t always right and not everybody can be retained.

Let’s take a look at pending free agents on offense and dig into a few reasons why they might stay or go. We’ll examine free agents on offense later today.

CB Sam Shields
Getting Shields signed to a long-term deal should be the Packers top offseason priority, but it might not be possible. Shields will likely command around $9 million per season and a shade under $20 million guaranteed. That’s a lot of dough to squeeze under the salary cap and remain flexible enough to address other areas of the team. With Casey Hayward coming back, I wouldn’t be surprised if Shields walks. And if the Packers want to slap the franchise tag on Shields, it will likely cost around $11 million, so that probably won’t happen.

DL B.J. Raji
Raji became the first player to depart his team via free agency smack dab in the middle of the season. Wait, what? You say Raji didn’t leave the Packers in the middle of the season? He was on the active roster the whole time and even on the field while real live games were going on? Hold on a minute, what? Repeat that again, please? You say that not only was Raji still on the team after week seven, but he turned down an $8 million per season contract extension? LMFAO. Quit kidding around. This is a serious football site with serious football analysis. Nobody in their right mind would offer Raji $8 million per season ever again would they? Right?

DL Ryan Pickett
The Packers need more athletic defensive linemen, which leads me to think Pickett is as good as gone. His age doesn’t help, either. That said, it’s going to be tough to see him go. I’ve been expecting a serious decline from Big Grease for the past couple of seasons, but it hasn’t came. He’s still effective in his role tough as hell.

DL Johnny Jolly
Could Jolly replace Pickett as the old-man space eater on the defensive line? The neck injury worries me, but it could actually work in the Packers favor if it heals. Jolly’s age (30), combined with his past arrests and current health status could scare off other teams and keep his price low enough for the Packers to retain.

C.J. Wilson
I doubt any other team will be inclined to offer Wilson a significant contract so he could wind up back in Green Bay as a backup run stuffer. I always thought Wilson showed flashes of athleticism, but he hasn’t been able to put it together and become a difference-maker.

OLB Mike Neal
I laughed hysterically when the Packers announced that Neal was going to convert to an outside linebacker. Turns out, he wasn’t half bad. I wonder if Neal is the type of player that could command a decent chunk of change from a team desperate at outside linebacker and willing to take a gamble on a young and still developing project. Hey, the Packers fit that criteria. Brad Jones and the Packers were in a similar situation at inside linebacker last offseason and Thompson gave him a $20 million deal.

LB Robert Francois
A torn ACL leaves Francois’ status up in the air. The Packers could always use solid special teams players, so maybe he comes back at the minimum.

*LB Jamari Lattimore
Lattimore became the defensive version of a backup quarterback late in the season: A fan favorite mainly because the starter in front of him was struggling. Lattimore showed promise in early game action with Jones sidelined, but he looked slow and lost when he got another chance against Pittsburgh. The Packers could slap the lowest tender on him because of play on special teams and chance for further development.

*S M.D. Jennings
I don’t see any reason to keep Jennings around.

*restricted free agent

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Adam Czech is a a freelance sports reporter living in the Twin Cities and a proud supporter of American corn farmers. When not working, Adam is usually writing about, thinking about or worrying about the Packers. Follow Adam on Twitter. Twitter .

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58 thoughts on “Packers Free Agent Overview: Defense

  1. That’s a lot of beef on the D front hitting the FA market, including our starting D line. This will be interesting to see how this unfolds. Would like to see Jolly back and Pickett ,as a rotational run stopper , for the right price. Raji is worth nothing more than 5-6M a year. I don’t think the Packers can afford shields, but, I hope it works out

    1. WHen was the last time Thompson let a young ascending player leave? Shields will get done somehow. Not worried in the least.

    2. “That’s a lot of beef on the D front hitting the FA market, including our starting D line.”

      Likely why TT has drafted DL and kept more than the norm this year at cutdowns.

    3. I think Shields is likely gone, which will be really hard to see, but he will have such a high price tag. House looked good and physical in coverage against the 9ers. Hyde looks very promising to develop into a great DB. Heyward was almost DROY last year.

      We are Corner rich, Shields is a luxary that the Packers can likely not afford.

  2. Jolly ,Pickett and Raji, .. I would think at least one of these guys will stay, because who is going to replace them? Wilson is nothing more than a back up and Worthy and D Jones are completely Unprovens who showed nothing in their first year on play. The draft for immediate help for next year? Just look at Worthy and D Jones (and Harrell) to see how reliable that strategy could work. Is TT going to dip in FA to pick up a quality D lineman? This is going to be interesting. Our D line could be worse next year than it was this years. I hope that’s not the case. I hope we have cap room to address this whole D because we also need a safety and another stud LB and we are probably going to lose shields. Plus there’s FA on the offense that need to be addressed

  3. Being a “Free agent” doesn’t mean your going anywhere! The way the packers played this year I don’t know who would want to offer big bucks to any of them, certainly any of the defense players. The defense was terrible so if they loose any of those players it would be a blessing. Shields is a ok player but I wouldn’t put him in the all star range, he seems to be hurt a lot. How many of those big dollar wishers were put on the all star team this year? None! It is not hard to replace a player that isn’t contributing. If there not hungry and 100 percent committed I’m sure that for 5 or 6 million dollars you can acquire some one that is.

  4. i say lets look at faster and a bit more slimmer dl members. need help at safty and cb also. don’t need to rush right into things and maybe look at the free agents and there might be a market place with low price. don’t forget the o-line also

    1. oline will be fine if they re-sign EDS. interior graded second highest in the league behind Philly. the return of Bulaga and continued development of Bak, Barclay, and Sherrod should provide a fix for the tackles

  5. Since this is a defensive overview, I’d say either TT starts hitting draft choices, especially on defense OR he fire Capers. WHY? In a previous post I was roasted by our resident HC, DC, OC, Team Doctor, GM, and all around know it all STROH. He (Stroh) maintains it takes 3 years to learn Capers defense. Raji, Pickett, Neal, Matthews, Williams, Shields, Burnett, Jones, Hawk, and House are all players in this system for 3 years or more. Because I’m no coach or GM and depend on nothing more than cold hard data, and stats, this is what I found out. Dick LeBeau, who runs the exact same defense in Pittsburgh as Capers, came to Pittsburgh in 2004. For some reason it didn’t take the Pittsburgh Steelers 3 years or even two to learn the system. Now to be fair, the Packers were near the top in Capers first 2 years, just like every other team he’s coached. Good for 2 years or so, then it’s all downhill. This blows holes in Strohs idea of 3 years all the more, but here’s what I found out.
    These are Pittsburgh’s rankings in total yards since 2004 when LeBeau got there. 1st, 4th, 9th, 1st, 1st, 5th, 2nd, 1st, 1st, and 13th this year. Pittsburgh’s rankings in points allowed for his defense since 2004 have been ranked 1st, 3rd, 11th, 2nd, 1st, 12th, 1st, 1st, 6th, and 14th this year.
    Now I’m no coach, just a guy that works hard to provide for my family, loves the Green Bay Packers, and coming here to talk about the Packers with you guys. I never attack people on here, call them names or call them stupid, uninformed, or a moron like Stroh feels the need to do.
    I’m sorry to have taken up so much space guys and normally ignore Stroh. I just thought I’d show you guys the DATA / STATS it doesn’t take 3 years to learn Capers defense and maybe just maybe, it’s Capers.

    1. I have an idea. Let’s fire Capers and then re-hire him since he only seems to do good for the first 2 years of his contract.
      I remember noticing that trend when the Packers hired him, I hope that will change because I don’t think the Packers want to fire him.

      1. Then is it TT? I don’t know where the blame lies. I’m a fan, just like you. I just pointed out that when compared to LeBeau, Capers falls short. Look at Lamarr Woodleys career stats. By year two he had double digit sacks. I know the Packers are crippled every year by injuries too. Perhaps another area that needs to be looked at. Let’s just hope for a few FA signings, a excellent draft like 2013 and a SB victory next year!

        1. They made the playoffs! Why blame anyone?

          I think the Packers may have almost everything in place for a great year next year. Think of the OL competition. Dujuan harris back (why was always next to McCarthy during
          Games?). Alot to look forward to.

          The Packers were a play away from beating the 49ers. Capers planned for Hyde to be where he was, had Hyde hung on, Capers is awesome.

        2. Matthews had 13 sacks his 2nd yr. James Harrison didn’t start till his 5th year. Player develop at different rated. Quite pigeon holing players! Dl abd 34 OLB are the hardest to excel at.

    2. Pittsburgh regularly fields one of the older teams in the league, and this might be why.

      Also, they’ve regularly had the advantage of a heady, playmaking safety in their secondary. Packers haven’t had that in years and it should be a priority this off-season.

    3. LeBeau **returned* to Pittsburgh in 2004.The first time he was there was in the early 1980’s.

      It didn’t take the Steelers 3 seasons to learn the system because they had already been running it for 15+ years, under Lebeau, Capers, and others.

      Not a roasting — just more facts for you.

      1. He likes ignoring facts. Seems he would rather be uniformed and wrong then learn something that would force him to change what he thinks. Some people fear learning something new and being forced to admit they’re wrong.

      2. Your right Ed, and I didn’t take it as a roast. He was with the Bengals for 8 years, went to Pittsburgh in 1995 and 96 and then back to the Bengals for 6 more years before returning to Pittsburgh in 2004. Obviously it doesn’t take 3 years. The Packers were a top 5 defense in years 1 and 2. Thanks for the input.

    4. Pitts gives tries to give its players 2 full years to learn before they get meaningful minutes! And try not to start them until year 3! The Packers had a lot of vets when Capers arrived, now the don’t have Collins, Woodson, Jenkins, Jolly and Bishop/Barnett, even Peprah was somewhat experienced. That’s at least 5 key positions being replaced by players that are young, due to the draft and develop philosophy, from the time Capers took over. Among others… You didn’t blow holes in anything, you made my point for me! LMFAO

      How many Young players have started games on the Packers D the past 2 or 3 years? Quite few right?!! How do these basic facts continue to escape you?

      Now when you read that article maybe you’ll have learned and be able to comprehend that maybe you’ll be able to have a discussion about FACTS!

      Instead you would rather remain uninformed and start arguments! Says a lot about you actually. That you would rather remain in the dark and clueless instead of learning and having a genuine discussion based on some facts!

      Let me know when you learn enough to carry on a conversation.

        1. Hey he brought me into it w/o me even saying a damn thing! Guess that makes HIM the Jerk!!

          If he keeps his trap shut and actually learns something, we wouldn’t have this argument and maybe this could be a discussion. Instead he throws me into something he really knows nothing about, except what I reference and suggested he read. Not my fault he prefers to be clueless and uninformed.

          He’s the JerkOff!

          1. Easy man. Its kind of a frustrating time.

            You both should be experts, considering the amount of reasearch you both do on the Packers, and on your use of this site.

            I will trust the Packers decision on Capers. They know how to evaluate better than we do, and they have far more information. I would likely vote to keep Capers for at least another season.

            1. Research is all I have Sven. Sure I’ve made comments I regret but never ABOUT another fan. I could show you post after post after post where Stroh gets angry, calls a fellow Packers fan uninformed, and basically nuts up on them. A post on Cheesehead TV on December 15 titled,

              Tundra Vision: The Phillips Brand of 3-4 Could Be Recipe For Success.

              Go ahead a read that article and read the posts from Stroh. Absolutely classic. He actually wanted the credit for the idea from the author of the post claiming his idea was stolen. Oh, and of course he called another fan uninformed on that post too.

              Thank you for your comments, I even respect Stroh’s at times after the countless times he’s attacked me. I mean after all, were ALL just fans voicing a opinion, it should never be made personal.

              1. Ignorance and ignoring facts bother me. Probably why I have issues w you.

                Gave you an article that explained things to you and provided facts. You chose not to read or ignore it. Can only assume you prefer not to learn and remain uninformed.

              2. Hell you called BS onthe article b4 you even read it. And it was on JSOnline, the best most credible source for Packer news!

  6. And this only the defensive side of the ball. Good luck TT hope you can pull a rabbit out of you ars!

  7. I’d argue that 1) If it takes 3 years to learn, then the first two years he was here are a fluke and he cannot take credit 2) If it takes 3 years to learn his system, the system is broke. When talking in the realm average 6 years career life, that’s a 50% waste of time on a players career. And in this case, puts them as a RFA and one year shy of UFA.

  8. With regard to Raji and Pickett, they will keep one or the other. If Pickett goes, they will pay Raji to be the NT, where he has traditionally played his best football. He has been playing DE these past 2 years and doing less, or sometimes not even trying. If they can’t afford Raji, I think they keep Pickett around one more year. — Boyd, Worthy, DJOnes, Jolly and Daniels and a few rookies will make up the line (along with either Raji or Pick). — They say D-line is the hardest position for rookies to pick up so hopefully Jones puts in time in the weight room and becomes the player they think he can be next year. If that’s the case, Jones,Boyd,Jolly actually seems decent for a starting 3. GoPack!

    1. Pickett will likely come back at a much-reduced rate. He’s a locker room and community leader, and he wants to stay.

  9. I think that the last game against the 49ers sums up Dom Capers as a DC. He put together a great game and for the most part the guys executed. Ultimately, we didn’t have enough playmakers to stop Kaepernick. Mistakes by Bush, our LBs and safeties were typical of a defense that just doesn’t have the horsepower to win against the better teams.

    Blame Capers all you want but until we address a very average LB crew and very weak safety play, we won’t get to the next level. Add to this the turnstile of injured players and we are all pinning our hopes on guys like Lattimore, Mulumba and Richardson. And despite all this, we almost pulled it off.

    Don’t get rid of the DC – get some players!

    1. I agree that the Packers are weak at LB and Safety. Very weak. Burnett is probably ok but he needs a running mate as good or better for Safety to be a strength. Both ILBs lack speed and the ability to make game-changing plays. Neal and Perry are DEs being hammered into OLB. Between the 6 spots in the starting lineup, the Packers have 2 covered…Matthews and Burnett. If they really fix the rest, they might be able to get by with Hawk and/or Jones at one ILB spot.

      I further agree that weakness is a fatal weakness for Dom Capers and his system. If you think of all those Steeler defenses since the 90s, most of the names that come to mind are LBs and Safeties. That defense is powered by those positions. The only other position of major importance is NT.

      However, with the CBs and DL depth the Packers do have, another DC could do much better than a 25th ranked defense. Heck, that is all many DCs need. But the Packers can add in a superstar LB capable of wrecking havoc all over the field.

      So the choice is wholesale roster changes or wholesale coaching changes on the defensive side. I know which way I’d go. And which way is much easier to accomplish in one offseason.

  10. Raji will sign with a 4-3 defense. If allowed more freedom to attack, he might actually flourish. That does not mean the Packers should spend any money on him to continue on in his role with this defense.

    In fact, if they stick with this defense (and coordinator), they have little or no need on the DL to re-sign either of their 3 FAs. Or any other FA. Maybe they keep Pickett on the cheap to split time with Boyd at NT.

  11. I wonder what the Packers defense might look like if they went to a 4-3, with Boyd, Jolly, maybe Pickett or Raji, D. Jones, Daniels. Consider the possibility of Nick Perry adding some weight and returning to defensive end (he seems to create a good push from the right side).

    I’m not saying it is the answer, just wondering if these players are better suited for a different scheme.

    I’m hoping for C.J. Mosely (Alabama) in the draft to get tougher up the middle and also Hyde or someone else at safety.

    What do you guys think?

    1. Is the question really: would a defensive philosophy change set the Packers back or move them forward? CMIII best fits as a 3-4 OLB, and not a 4-3 LB. He might be a situational DE in the 4-3, but when you’ve got that much money tied up in a player with his ability, I have a hard time thinking the Packers would shift to a scheme that could harm his production and playmaking ability.

      1. I’ve been on the 4-3 bandwagon for weeks now. In addition to Perry moving to DE, Mike Neal would also play with his hand in the dirt. Add those two to Pickett, Jolly, Raji, Daniels, Worthy, Boyd, Jones and Wilson for a very nice DL rotation. There are pass rushers and run stuffers to mix and match as desired. Of course 4 of those guys are FA but Wilson & Jolly won’t command much $$. Pickett won’t command as much as he has. Raji might be worth more in a 4-3. If there is a soft market for him and the Packers are going 4-3, I’d sure have some conversations with his agent.

        Matthews is the only issue with a switch to 4-3, IMO. He’s not big enough to play DL. Taking him off primary pass rush duty is counter-intuitive to improving the defense, especially after paying him all that money. My solution would be to stick him at MLB. He’s got great instincts & athleticism. He’s a good tackler. He can force fumbles. He might be the Packers best cover LB. What was Brian Urlacher worth to the Bears defense?

        If the call were mine, the Packers would be making the switch this offseason.

        If they don’t make that switch, they simply MUST get better in the middle of the field–at ILB and Safety. Or we’ll see the same thing play out in 2014.

        1. Firmly believe that an experienced, heady, physical safety will make a tremendous impact on this defense. Maybe my perspective is just too simplistic, but I think that one addition would make a world of difference in this defense.

          1. I agree. The Packers are still reeling from the loss of Nick Collins. Even when they had him, his running mate was a journeyman they had to hide schematically. The problem really dates back to the days of LeRoy Butler and Darren Sharper teaming up.

            I’m generally not one to criticize the Packers’ cautious FA approach but this last offseason, with such a dead market for decent players, would have been a good time to sign some guys that might have changed the course of the season for the better.

        2. That would be intriguing to see Clay Matthews have more freedom to roam and make plays (like Brian Urlacher or old number 66 Ray Nitschke. He’s a nasty tackler (ask Kevin Kolb), good speed, size and definitely the right mindset.

          Maybe that Vision will come to fruition.

    2. CJ Mosley would be a great addition and IMO the ideal fit for the Packers scheme. If we don’t land him, then Christian Jones ILB Fl St. is a very athletic approximation and he might be had in the 3rd. Also possible in the 1st are Tuitt and Hageman classic 34 DE at 6’6 310. Might also go OT, depending how they feel about Sherrod since there are a lot of them (6) w/ 1st rd grades in this draft.

      Personally I don’t see the Packers going back to a 43. McCarthy likes the 34.

      1. They don’t have much need for another DL. ILB and Safety are the biggest concerns on defense. They won’t replace all 4 starters in those 2 spots but one can make a good case they should.

        1. You can never have too many capable linemen, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a DL pop up day 1 or 2, but I don’t see an early pick going to the OL unless they’ve decided Sherrod isn’t going to make it back or Bulaga isn’t going to be ready. They’ve got a lot of players they like and only so many roster spots.

  12. We need to keep Pickett, then with Daniels, Boyd, DJones and Worthy we have a start at DL. Maybe Jolly as well depending on his injury. Then we go to draft or FA for some depth. We also need ILBs. Hawk, Jones and Lattimore are nothing more than backups and Special teamers. Gotta get a safety. I don’t care how but we can’t go on with Burnett and Jennings. Maybe Burnett can last if he is paired a good quality player to replace Jennings. We should reisign Shields. Cover corners are tough to find. Probably too many holes to fill this year, but we can’t go on like this. As for Steelers, they had years of high draft picks for a while. They also drafted better than we have on the D side more recently. We have lost a lot of good people to other teams on the scouting and management side in recent years. Price of success and good work by MM and TT building their original staffs. Thanks, Since ’61

    1. If we don’t resign Raji to a team friendly deal (not likely) then we’ve got to keep either Pickett or Jolly (if healthy) or Wilson.

      A rotation of D. Jones/Pickett/Boyd/Jolly with Daniels and Worthy as situational rushers wouldn’t be too darn bad.

      Or they draft a DT high and let Pickett/Jolly/Wilson go.

  13. Good assessment Adam. Whatever TT does, this is a turning point for the team especially on defense. With Rodgers and Matthews under known contracts for the foreseeable future, I hope he can find some solutions that don’t involve churning the bottom third of the roster with UDFAs.

  14. Who is available for FA safety? This year’s crop of draftable safeties doesn’t have me excited, but maybe there is a Collins or Sharper hidden in there. I’m not sure how they can quickly fix the safety issue, even by dipping into FA.

  15. It sounds like this will be more than a year rebuild to get this defense back up to championship caliber. Well see what happens I guess. Probably going to have to hit on a safety in the draft. I doubt FA will pick up a suitor. Thompson hates trading picks as well so there goes that option. An LB like Bowman or Willis would be nice from the draft, HAHA.. I can still dream right?

  16. In reality this is a list of some pretty horrible defensive players. Which makes sense given that another year of a finite career of Rogers was wasted.
    I like Shields and have confidence in him. He grades out as the68th best corner in football by PFF. He is not a superstar and does not deserve superstar money.
    Raji was the 3rd worse 3/4 DE in football this year per PFF. For those of you who think he may be a better DT/NT, he has consistently graded worse as a DT. He should be let go or signed for the minimum only. I do wonder how he would do in an agrressive attacking 3/4 sytem or in a traditional 4/3. But, please don’t pay him on promise. Thompson already screwed up the Finley, Hawk and Burnett deals paying on promise.
    Picket was good. He also is good when fresh which, unfortunately is not often. He graded out as the 33rd worse DT/NT. If he signs for the minimum, keep him.
    I love Johnny Jolly. Unfortunately, he had more bad games than good. He graded out as the 15th worse 3/4 DE in football. Sign for Min only.
    Wilson was the 21st worse 3/4 DE in football. Sign for min only.
    Neal was the 3rd worse OLB in football. Sign for min only.
    No other team wanted Francois in the first place. Why should we? and he’s hurt.
    Lattimore graded out as the 19th best ILB in football. Until the last 3 games, in which he played poorly, he was even graded higher. By all means, sign him to a 3-4 year contract.
    Jennings is the 21st worse Safety in football. Please get rid of him!
    What an awful defense Thompson has put together.

    1. I don’t have an answer on Burnett. We can only hope he plays better with a better “wingman” at safety (which the Packers desperately need).

      As for Finley and Hawk: Finley’s two-year deal, and no extension last off-season, now is starting to look really good given his situation. Hawk actually comes very inexpensively over the next couple years.

      While we look at pay vs. productivity at times, the Packers prior to the coming years just have not been that hard up against the cap. The room to pay those players has been there. Those contracts have not necessarily handicapped the team.

      1. Don’t base all your assessments on PFF. As has been said: when you’re looking at OL, there are very few metrics to assess performance, but there are always flaws and biases. PFF is a support, but not the answer.

  17. Sam Shields is a fine player, especially when you consider he went undrafted. But, if it comes down to signing him or picking up a safety like Jairus Byrd, they better go with the safety.

    I’m a huge TT fan. Love what he’s done, but it’s time to make some moves in free agency.

  18. Quote: I’ve been expecting a serious delcine from Big Grease for the past couple of seasons, but it hasn’t came”. Hasn’t came???
    Your analysis was pretty good, but I laughed when I read that sentence. LOL
    The question I have for everyone is this: if we move on from Pickett (and I’d keep him only as a reserve), Jolly (same with him), and Raji (I agree — 8 million is way too much for him) — then where do we find their replacements? Keep in mind, 90% of the 3-4 teams are looking for guys up front, too.
    I think the “D” line and safety are the two most important positions for this off season. LB’er is key, too — but if we get more push up front, that will help the LB’ers.

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