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An overdue swap for Packers' Raji, Pickett

5/19/2010

When Green Bay drafted defensive lineman B.J. Raji in 2009, and then re-signed nose tackle Ryan Pickett in 2010, you knew there was going to be at least one highly paid part-time player on the Packers' defensive line. The answer to that riddle revealed itself Wednesday during the first organized team activities session open to the media.

Raji
Raji

Pickett
PickettAccording to multiple reports from the practice, Raji was working at nose tackle and Pickett at left end. That's a reversal of last year's arrangement, and it's one that makes sense on many levels. Here's where I'm coming from:

  • Raji was the No. 9 overall pick of the draft last year. A player taken at that spot has to be a full-time contributor. His path was unclear last season after he held out and then battled through an ankle injury, but there is no doubt he should be the Packers' starting nose tackle. I think it's fair to say that most people would choose his ability to provide interior pass rush over Pickett's, a subtle attempt to elevate last year's pass defense.

  • If you agree with that supposition, you might object to the Packers giving Pickett a four-year contract extension that averages $7 million per year. After all, Pickett will be on the field only when the Packers are in their base defense. When they play nickel, Raji and Cullen Jenkins will be the primary defensive linemen. But I think that type of argument is less relevant in 2010. With no salary cap in place, the Jenkins contract isn't inhibiting any other moves. If the Packers want to pay Pickett $7 million per year to play on running downs, more power to them. And if Pickett had some reservations about making the move, I'm sure his generous contract helped soften the pain.

  • You might have some concern about moving the older and less athletic player from tackle to end. But a 3-4 end gets much more help in terms of sideline contain. The quickness issue would be a much bigger deal in a 4-3 scheme.

  • This arrangement will also reduce the Packers' reliance on Johnny Jolly, a restricted free agent who isn't participating in OTAs and has a looming trial for felony drug possession in Houston. Jolly was the Packers' primary left end last season.