NFL Nation: Ryan Pickett

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers signed Julius Peppers and Letroy Guion in free agency to bolster their defensive line, not necessarily to replace certain players.

That was the takeaway from comments coach Mike McCarthy made at the NFL annual meetings this week when asked about the possibility that free-agent defensive linemen Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett could return to Green Bay.

Both remain on the open market.

However, their situations are different.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Jolly
AP Photo/Tom LynnJohnny Jolly recently was cleared to resume normal offseason workouts after neck surgery in January.
Jolly's is mostly a medical one. He had neck surgery in January to repair a bulging disc that bothered him late last season. Doctors fused together his C-5 and C-6 vertebrae using bone from his hip. He recently was cleared to resume normal offseason workouts.

McCarthy said the Packers remain interested in bringing back the 31-year-old, who returned to football last season after sitting out for three years while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and also spending time in prison.

"Yeah, if it definitely works out, I mean we're monitoring that," McCarthy said. "I think Johnny did a nice job last year. You have to be very pleased for where he started and where he finished. I think he gave us every inch of what he had and then some. I was very pleased with Johnny's contribution last year."

Jolly played last season for the veteran’s minimum of $715,000.

Pickett, 34, made $6.2 million in base salary and bonuses last season in the final year of a four-year, $24.925 million deal. Although he played in all 16 games for the second straight season and missed only four games during his most recent contract, his production dropped off last season, when he recorded only 19 tackles, his fewest since his rookie season of 2001.

"We'll watch what's going on with Ryan," McCarthy said.

There might not be room on the roster for both Jolly and Pickett. Even though McCarthy said Peppers will work mostly with the linebackers, he still has a deep defensive line group. The Packers return Josh Boyd, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones and Jerel Worthy -- all four of which are still on their rookie contracts. They also plan to return Mike Neal back to the defensive line, at least on a part-time basis, after playing almost exclusively at outside linebacker last season. Nick Perry and Peppers also could split time between the two spots in what McCarthy calls the elephant position.

The Packers also re-signed nose tackle B.J. Raji and brought in Guion, who played for the Minnesota Vikings.

"Let's not forget about Letroy," McCarthy said. "I thought he was an excellent acquisition that we haven't even brought up. I thought he's played very well the last three times we played the Vikings. So he's been an excellent addition to our defensive front."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Even after signing or re-signing seven players since the start of free agency, the Green Bay Packers still have enough salary-cap space to do more.

According to the latest figures from ESPN Stats & Information, which includes all the contracts the Packers have done in free agency to date, the Packers still had more than $15 million in salary-cap space. To be exact, they were $15,742,829 under their adjusted salary cap of $141,821,209 (which includes room they carried over from 2013).

Only six teams had more cap room left than the Packers, as of Monday. They were: the Cleveland Browns ($37.1 million), New York Jets ($30.4 million), Jacksonville Jaguars ($25.7 million), Cincinnati Bengals ($27.1 million), Miami Dolphins ($19.2 million) and Philadelphia Eagles ($16.3 million).

The Packers will need around $5 million in cap space for their rookie salary pool.

They still have a few of their own free agents they could sign -- including fullback John Kuhn and perhaps defensive linemen Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett -- but general manager Ted Thompson also knows he must leave room to extend the contracts of receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. Both are entering the final year of their current deals.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Sometimes, NFL players outperform their contracts.

Without tearing up those deals, there is a way for players who fit that description to earn more money. It’s called the NFL's performance-based pay distribution in which each team can allot a total of $3.46 million in additional play to its players.

It typically benefits players in their first NFL contracts or minimum-salaried free-agent signings who become key contributors.

For example, Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick with a base salary of $405,000 last year, will receive an additional $256,882.22 in performance-based pay, according to documents obtained by ESPN.com. Bakhtiari started every game last season as a rookie. He received the largest pay increases among Packers' players. According to the NFL, those payments will be made on April 1, 2016.

The smallest distribution to a Packers' player went to backup tackle Derek Sherrod, who will receive $2,154.55. He was active for seven games but only took six snaps on offense all season.

Here’s a list of the top-10 and bottom-10 performance-based bonuses on the Packers’ roster:

Top 10
Bottom 10

Free-agency review: Packers

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
9:00
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Peppers
Most significant signing: Re-signing perhaps their top three defensive free agents -- cornerback Sam Shields, defensive tackle B.J. Raji and outside linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal -- was important, but that didn't necessarily make the Green Bay Packers' 25th-ranked defense better. They hope the addition of defensive end Julius Peppers does that. Peppers had seven sacks in a down season last year for the Chicago Bears, yet that was more than any of the Packers' defensive linemen had last season. Even at age 34, expect Peppers to be motivated to bounce back and energized playing for a team he considers a Super Bowl contender.

Most significant loss: When Evan Dietrich-Smith signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, it ensured that quarterback Aaron Rodgers will take snaps for a fourth starting center in as many seasons. It also broke up an offensive line group that started all but two games together last season. The most likely internal replacement is second-year pro JC Tretter, but he was a college tackle at Cornell who did not play a single snap last year as a rookie.

Jones
Jones
Biggest surprise: Apparently 24 touchdown catches over the last three seasons doesn't count for much on the free-agent market. How else to explain why it took a week for anyone to sign former Packers receiver James Jones, who finally landed a three-year deal with the Oakland Raiders on Monday? Maybe it's that Jones will turn 30 on March 31. While Jones caught only three touchdowns last season, he had 14 in 2012 and seven in 2011. Last season, he caught 59 passes for a career-best 817 yards despite missing nearly three full games.

What’s next? Even after Jones signed, the Packers still have 10 of their own free agents still unsigned. Among them are quarterback Matt Flynn, fullback John Kuhn, tight end Jermichael Finley (visited the Seattle Seahawks), tackle Marshall Newhouse (scheduled to visit the Cincinnati Bengals) plus defensive tackles Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The one-year deal that B.J. Raji agreed to on Friday to return to the Green Bay Packers does a couple of things:
  • It gives Raji the chance to test the free-agent market again next season with the hope that he shows more productivity than he did in his disappointing 2013 season.
  • It allows the Packers to move Raji back to his natural position, nose tackle.
Raji
The two things could go hand in hand. Back at the spot where he had his most productive seasons in 2009 and 2010, Raji should be motivated to become a playmaker again. While Raji was solid last season in his role as a defensive lineman who occupied blocks, he rarely stood out as he did in his first two seasons, when he combined for 8.5 sacks (including the playoffs).

The Packers’ decision to move Raji back to the nose tackle likely was one of the reasons he was willing to return to Green Bay. Of course, the lack of interest on the free-agent market was clearly another.

However, it also represents a philosophical shift by defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who was asked shortly after the season why Ryan Pickett played more at nose tackle last season while Raji played more at end.

"They do different things better," Capers said at the time. "We play Raji at nose when he's head-up [over the center] in what we call zero-technique. He's a little bit better at that. Pickett has played a lot more of the tilted nose. We just felt the best combination when we were in the tilted nose [was] to play [Pickett at] the tilted nose and Raji in the 3-technique on the guard.

"When we went playing a balanced front, [we would] play Raji in the middle and Pickett out at the end. Tilted nose is a little to one side or the other [of the center]. That's a technique you have to work on to be able to deal with both the guard's and the center's blocks."

Like Raji, Pickett was in the final year of his contract last season. At age 34, Pickett's return remains uncertain, although he showed remarkable durability by playing in every game each of the past two seasons.

While Raji's productivity wasn't there last season, what helped him to return was the fact that he never publicly complained about his role.

"I'm a firm believer of your resume speaking for you," Raji said late last season. "And whatever's going to happen is going to happen."

What's going to happen now is that Raji gets to prove himself all over again.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – If he gets out of Kansas City without signing with the Chiefs, free-agent defensive tackle Vance Walker will visit the Green Bay Packers.

His agent, Tommy Sims, said on Thursday a visit with the Packers has been set up but an exact date has not yet been finalized. That could depend on what happens during Walker's visit with the Chiefs on Thursday.

Walker, 6-foot-2 and 305 pounds, played for the Oakland Raiders last season under a one-year, $2 million contract.

He appeared in 15 games and posted 40 tackles with three sacks. Originally a seventh-round draft pick in 2009, Walker played his first four seasons for the Atlanta Falcons. He played 10 games as a rookie and then appeared in all 16 games each of his next three seasons.

The Packers' entire starting defensive line -- Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji -- became free agents on Tuesday. None have been signed.

Walker, 26, would be the second player known to have visited the Packers since free agency began on Tuesday. They had former Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels in on Wednesday.

Other than re-signing three of their own free agents – cornerback Sam Shields, outside linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal and tight end Andrew Quarless – the Packers have not signed anyone in free agency.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The rehabilitation of the Green Bay Packers’ defense is still in its early stages, but they no longer have to worry about their cornerbacks.

[+] EnlargeSam Shields
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsLocking up Sam Shields means the Packers are set at cornerback and can focus on other parts of the defense.
By re-signing Sam Shields on Saturday to a four-year, $39 million contract, Packers general manager Ted Thompson now can focus on restoring the other parts of the defense to what they were early in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ tenure.

All along, Shields was the Packers’ top free-agent priority after finishing the best season of his career in 2013. At 26, the Packers believe he is an ascending player whose speed won’t leave him any time soon.

Shields did not come cheap. Over the first three years of the contract, he is expected to make $30 million (including $15 million this season). Among cornerbacks currently under contract for 2014, Shields would be the second-highest paid at his position behind only Darrelle Revis ($16 million) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It also means, barring any change in Tramon Williams’ status, the Packers will shell out $22.5 million to their starting cornerbacks this season. Williams is scheduled to earn $7.5 million ($6.9 million base salary and $600,000 in bonuses) this season.

With the expected return of Casey Hayward from last season’s hamstring problems, the Packers have to feel good about their cornerbacks.

And Thompson still has enough money and salary-cap space to use on what could be a significant overhaul to the defensive depth chart.

All three of the Packers’ starting defensive linemen are scheduled to become free agents on Tuesday. B.J. Raji is mulling a one-year deal to return as a nose tackle, while Ryan Pickett’s agent, Kennard McGuire, said Saturday that he plans to stay in contact with the Packers throughout free agency. The other defensive line starter, Johnny Jolly, is awaiting clearance from his doctors after undergoing neck fusion surgery. Pickett and Jolly likely could be had for low- to moderately-priced deals.

With Shields in the fold, perhaps the biggest issue facing Thompson is the safety position. There’s been no indication that he plans to offer M.D. Jennings a restricted free agent tender, and the Packers know they need to upgrade that position.

For now, though, Capers and his staff have to feel better about their secondary knowing Shields will return. Several times last season, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt acknowledged that while the defense, which finished last season ranked 25th in the league, did not play up to its standards as a whole, the same could not be said for Shields.

“You can’t take that away from him,” Whitt said late in the season.

“He’s trying to make that next step to: can he be in the conversation with some of the those top corners that are out there?” Whitt added.

And now he will be paid like one of them.

Free-agency primer: Packers

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

 
Key free agents: TE Jermichael Finley, CB Sam Shields, DT B.J. Raji, DT Johnny Jolly, DT Ryan Pickett, WR James Jones, OLB Mike Neal, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, RB James Starks, QB Matt Flynn, FB John Kuhn.

Where they stand: The Packers, who have $35 million in available salary-cap space, on Thursday moved closer to re-signing Raji, one of their three starting defensive linemen who were in the final years of their contracts. Last month at the NFL scouting combine, coach Mike McCarthy sounded optimistic that Finley would be cleared to play again after undergoing neck fusion surgery in November. The Packers were in on-and-off negotiations with Shields dating to this past June, but they remain significantly apart, making it more likely he will hit the open market next week. There's a chance that many of, if not all, the remaining free agents could do the same. That doesn't mean they won't re-sign, but it means the Packers will let the market help determine their value, which means they could risk losing them.

What to expect: Everyone knows that general manager Ted Thompson does not use free agency as a tool for restocking his roster very often. But Thompson usually tries to retain many of the players who have come through the organization. He could lose more of them than usual if he can’t get any more deals done before Tuesday. However, it remains to be seen what kind of market there will be for players like Jones (who will turn 30 on March 31), Dietrich-Smith (who has just one full season as a starter to his credit), Starks (who has a long injury history) and Flynn (who failed to win starting jobs in Seattle and Oakland).
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The official three-day negotiating period before free agents can sign contracts with new teams doesn't begin until Saturday, but the agent for B.J. Raji no doubt has spent the last several weeks gauging his client’s value on the open market.

The information gathered by David Dunn likely wasn't overly positive.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Raji
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceB.J. Raji is close to returning to the Packers for the 2014 season.
Why else would Raji return to the Green Bay Packers for just a one-year deal, as ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported on Thursday was on the verge of being completed?

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the one-year deal would pay Raji about $4 million.

By most accounts, Raji did not play well enough in 2013 to warrant a sizeable contract. He went without a sack for a second straight season, although during that stretch his playing time on third down decreased significantly from early in his career.

Two years after playing 79.1 percent of the defensive snaps, Raji's playing time was reduced to 58.7 percent despite not missing a game.

"I don't label myself as a two-down defensive lineman," Raji said late last season. "I'm just a two-down defensive lineman for us this year."

Raji, 27, never complained about his diminished playing time or how he was used in coordinator Dom Capers' defense, but it was worth wondering if he would have preferred to test his skills in a defense that gives its front players more freedom to rush the passers rather than just eating up blocks, which is what Capers asks his defensive linemen to do the majority of the time.

"He's been a very good leader for us this year," Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said late in the season. "I think he understands the value that he has to us. Now, at the end of the year, who knows?"

While it's a risk for Raji to do just a one-year deal, if he returns to his 2010 form, when he had 7.5 sacks (including the playoffs) then he could be in line for the kind of contract he was hoping for this time around.

Raji's best seasons -- 2009 and 2010 -- came with him playing primarily at nose tackle, a role that Ryan Pickett (who also is scheduled to become a free agent) has taken over the last three seasons.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy suggested several times this offseason that there are tweaks coming to Capers' defense. With smaller but athletic defensive linemen like Mike Daniels and last year's first-round pick, Datone Jones, expected to take on greater roles, perhaps moving the 6-foot-2, 337-pound Raji back to the nose might be in the works.

McCarthy also said at last month's scouting combine that he preferred Mike Neal as an inside rusher rather than an outside linebacker, where he played almost exclusively last season. If the plan is to re-sign Neal, who also was in the final year of his contract last season, then it could be another reason to move Raji back inside. However, there was no indication on Thursday that the Packers had even initiated serious talks with Neal.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly expects to be able to play this season and might even be cleared to return to football by the time free agency opens next month.

Jolly’s agent, Jack Bechta, said on Thursday that his client underwent single fusion neck surgery on Jan. 10 to repair a bulging disc in his neck between the C-5 and C-6 vertebrae.

It’s the same surgery that Packers safety Sean Richardson had last January. Richardson was able to return midway through last season and play an active role on defense. Jolly is expecting the same prognosis, if not better.

Jolly
Jolly
Bechta said Jolly has already begun light exercises and is scheduled for another MRI on March 11, the first day of free agency.

“I talked to the Packers [last week] about Johnny at the combine, and they said they love him,” Bechta said. “They’re just in a wait-and-see mode.”

The C-5/C-6 fusion surgery is much easier to come back from than fusions that are done higher in the neck. Former Packers safety Nick Collins had a C-3/C-4 fusion and was never cleared. That's the same fusion tight end Jermichael Finley had last season, although last week coach Mike McCarthy expressed optimism that Finley would be cleared.

Jolly’s comeback story was one of the more remarkable ones in the NFL last season. He returned to the league after serving jail time and a three-year suspension for violating the substance-abuse policy. He was open about his addiction to codeine.

Once viewed as a longshot to make the roster, he showed early in training camp that he could still be a factor. In part thanks to him, the Packers' run defense was ranked in the top five in the NFL the first half of the season. He played last season on a one-year, $715,000 contract.

Jolly, who turned 31 last week, began experiencing symptoms of weakness in his arm late in the season but wasn’t sure what it was. He finally dropped out in the first half of the Dec. 15 game against the Dallas Cowboys with what at the time was called a shoulder injury. A week later, he was placed on injured reserve.

“He played a couple of games and said he was losing strength,” Bechta said. “In typical Johnny fashion, he didn’t say anything right away to the doctors; he just played through it.”

Tests showed that Jolly had a bulging disc and that surgery was the best option for a return. Doctors took bone graft from Jolly’s hip to fuse his neck.

“It’s actually not the neck that’s limiting him right now but the hip where they take the graft from,” Bechta said.

The Packers’ entire starting defensive line – Jolly, B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett – are scheduled to be free agents next month.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews hasn’t spoken to reporters since he broke his thumb for the second time in a little more than two months last December, but on Tuesday he was making the rounds on national radio and television on behalf of one of his sponsors, Campbell’s Soup.

So it was interesting to hear his take on several topics on both The Herd with Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio and on SiriusXM NFL radio.

Perhaps the most interesting point was one that has been on the forefront of most people’s minds since the Packers’ defensive collapse last season: How will the defense improve?

Matthews
Matthews said on SiriusXM that it was time for the defense to catch up with Aaron Rodgers and the offense.

“On the defensive side of the ball, we need to have more playmakers and get off the field more often and put the ball back into our offense’s hands,” Matthews said. “It’s a time for guys to step up and make a name for themselves, myself included, as well as hopefully adding a few guys through the draft.

“Any time you have a top-five offense, you need to back that up with a top-five defense, and we had that in our Super Bowl year. At times we carried our offense and at times they carried us, but over the past few years it’s been a little more offense dominated.”

Matthews acknowledged that there could be significant changes in personnel coming on defense, where the entire starting defensive line -- Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji -- is headed for free agency, along with cornerback Sam Shields.

Perhaps that’s why Matthews lobbied for more defensive help through the draft.

“Obviously being defensive minded and oriented, I hope they can provide another playmaker on the defensive side of the ball,” he said. “As I’ve continued to say, our offense is doing fine just finishing top five every year. Now it’s our time to start picking up the slack, so I’d like to see a player anywhere on my side of the ball be able to help this team out.”

Here’s what Matthews had to say on the two shows on:

His thumb injury: “It’s been doing well. I’ve been getting physical therapy three times a week. I’ve been able to work out with a few limitations, but from talking with the doctors there shouldn’t be any limitations once next season rolls around. It’s just been a pain because obviously you look at it, it’s just a broken thumb. But it’s such an aggravating injury for a pass-rusher, especially in the manner in which I did it twice and having to have it surgically repaired twice, it doesn’t make it for an easy offseason in recovery.”

Losing his position coach Kevin Greene: “It was hard to see him leave because not only did he play this game but excelled at it, especially at outside linebacker in a 3-4, which is exactly what I play. He’s been very instrumental in my development through these first five years, and I’m excited about these next five years for myself. But I learned a great deal from him, and it will be interesting to see the direction of the linebackers in which we go now that the inside and outside linebackers are together within one room. Hopefully that will help with our continuity of working together and playing off one another and kind of seeing where that leads us. But ultimately it’s always sad to see a coach go, especially one that’s taught me so much, that’s been there since my rookie year. I think it’s just the nature of the game.”

NFL locker-room culture in light of the Miami Dolphins situation: “It’s part of the business, in all honestly. Guys are brought up from all over the country and different races, religions and sexual orientation. But that’s what makes the NFL locker room so great -- the fact that we all play for a common goal and you’re not judged on anything else. That’s what makes the locker room so tight, is that you can bring these guys from all over and make them one. Getting all philosophical, if the world could behave more like a locker room, I think there’d be less issues and less problems.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- The full scope of the changes the Green Bay Packers have planned defensively remain unclear, but coach Mike McCarthy insisted that getting smaller up front will not be part of the process.

Still, what can’t be dismissed is the distinct possibility the Packers might let go of all three of their starting defensive linemen -- Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji, a combination that weighed 1,000 pounds.

[+] EnlargeJoe Webb
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsB.J. Raji is among the defensive linemen who might not return to the Packers this coming season.
All were in the final year of their contracts last season, and there has been little or no conversation about bringing any of them back.

“I’ve never been part of a conversation that you want your D-linemen to be smaller,” McCarthy said Friday at the NFL combine. “That’s not accurate.”

McCarthy revealed last week that he has plans to make changes to a defense that ranked 25th in the NFL last season. Part of that included a minor restructuring of defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ staff following the resignation of outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene.

But there will be adjustments in scheme and personnel that will play out over the next several months.

“We want to continue our process as far as evaluating our D-linemen,” McCarthy said. “We will be a little different on defense as far as how we utilize our defensive players, particularly our front players, because we do have a number of players who can play both the rush outside position and maybe make some plays from the inside position.

“But our evaluation as far as what we’re going to do, bringing defensive linemen into our program, if anything you always want to get bigger, stronger and faster and things like that. We’re definitely not going to be a smaller.”

In fact, ever since Capers was hired as the Packers defensive coordinator in 2009, he has made it no secret that one of the keys to his scheme has long been having big, run-stopping defensive linemen in his base 3-4. Through Week 9 of last season, the combination of Jolly (325 pounds), Pickett (338) and Raji (337) played a major part in the fact that the Packers ranked 5th in the league in rushing defense, a figure that plummeted to 25th by season’s end.

“I think we have a very solid defense coming back in terms of personnel,” Packers general manager Ted Thompson said Friday. “Like I said, we like to have our own guys back, and if we can find value in the free agent market to help us we’ll do that, too. We’ll do whatever, as will the 31 other teams. They’re all going to go about this the same way.”

There is reason to think the Packers might be trending smaller up front. They have added more young, quick-twitch defensive linemen like Mike Daniels (fourth-round pick in 2012) and Datone Jones (first-round pick in 2013), and McCarthy on Friday mentioned specifically getting the 285-pound Jones more involved in his second season.

“There’s a number of packages that he was a big part of, a primary part of, and frankly we really didn’t get to a lot of them just because of the way the season went with our injuries,” McCarthy said. “Getting him back in the offseason, I feel he’s one of those second-year players who take a huge jump. That will be my expectations for him.”

Packers could learn from Seahawks

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
7:00
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INDIANAPOLIS -- You'll never see a picture of a shirtless Ted Thompson wearing a championship belt, but the Green Bay Packers' general manager might do well to emulate his counterpart with the Seattle Seahawks, John Schneider.

And we're not talking about questionable fashion decisions.

[+] EnlargeTed Thompson
AP Photo/Morry GashPackers GM Ted Thompson had a big hand in winning a Super Bowl, but he could still learn a thing or two from his protege and Seahawks counterpart John Schneider.
For five years in Green Bay, Thompson listened to Schneider's opinions about all things personnel -- free agency, the draft, trades, waiver claims ... you name it. Not that Thompson, conservative by nature, always acted on Schneider's suggestions, but it was the protege's job to offer opinions and suggestions from his office down the hall at Lambeau Field.

Now, they sit more than 1,900 miles apart, competitors, not colleagues. Yet as Thompson faces one of the most important offseasons since he took over the Packers' personnel department in 2005, there are things he could learn from the man who put together a Super Bowl-winning roster.

Not that Thompson doesn't know how to do that; he built much of the roster that won Super Bowl XVL. But since the Packers' last championship, they have won just one playoff game -- against the Minnesota Vikings, who were forced to start backup quarterback Joe Webb at the last minute.

If there's a common denominator in their playoff exits, it's that their defenses failed them.

With salary-cap space to use and holes to be filled, Thompson might want to examine how Schneider built the Seahawks' top-ranked defense.

Although Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said shortly after the Super Bowl that it would be unrealistic to expect the Packers -- or any other NFL team -- to play at the same level as the Seahawks did last season and in their 43-8 destruction of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, there are some things Thompson might be able to do to help bridge the gap between the Seahawks' dominating defense and the Packers' half-broken unit that slipped to 25th last season.

"If you're able to acquire players that can run fast and are big and are good-looking, then you've got a shot," Schneider said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine.

The Schneider formula for acquiring speed and size on defense goes like this:

  • Make your early-round draft picks count -- see outside linebacker Bruce Irvin (2012 first round), inside linebacker Bobby Wagner (2012 second round) and safety Earl Thomas (2010 first round).
  • Find gems in the middle and late rounds -- see cornerback Richard Sherman (2011 fifth round) and safety Kam Chancellor (2010 fifth round).
  • Retain key players before they hit free agency -- see defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, a third-round pick by the previous administration who in 2011 signed a five-year, $25 million contract extension.
  • Dip into the free-agent market but don't break the bank -- see defensive ends Michael Bennett, who signed a one-year, $5 million contract, and Cliff Avril, who signed a two-year, $13 million deal.
  • Work some trades -- see defensive end Chris Clemons, who was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Thompson has tried to employ some of those strategies. He used his first six draft picks in 2012 on defensive players with only minimal success. He signed safety Morgan Burnett to a four-year, $24.75 million contract last offseason only to see Burnett fail to come up with a single interception last season. But he hasn't touched free agency in any significant way since 2006, when he signed Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett.

With the 21st pick in this year's draft, Thompson could be looking at defensive players again. Given the copycat nature of the NFL, it's worth wondering if another team, say the Packers, could duplicate what Schneider and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll have done on that side of the ball.

"It wouldn't be very hard, I don't think," Schneider said. "Just [get] more speed. It's just about having guys that are willing to teach and play young players, and [the Packers] have that. They have a young team. They have good teachers."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said last week defensive coordinator Dom Capers' unit "is going to change some" and that he would "set the vision for the defense and Dom Capers and the defensive staff will carry it out."

To do so, Thompson might have to take more aggressive measures to rebuild a defense that in the Super Bowl season of 2010 ranked fifth in the NFL and ranked second in 2009.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Of the 17 Green Bay Packers players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents next month, only two might demand what would be considered blockbuster contracts.

If general manager Ted Thompson can keep only one of them, should he re-sign defensive tackle B.J. Raji or cornerback Sam Shields?

Shields
Raji
Raji reportedly turned down an $8 million per year offer last season. Shields likely is looking for something similar.

On Tuesday's edition of NFL Insiders on ESPN, former St. Louis Rams general manager Billy Devaney offered his opinion on which one he would re-sign.

“I'm sure Green Bay's working hard trying to figure out a way to keep both of these guys, but to me, keeping the corner that has speed and can cover over a defensive tackle that is pretty much just a guy, that's a no-brainer,” Devaney said. “You've got to keep the corner.”

Three years ago, no one would have called Raji “just a guy.” He was coming off a 2010 season in which he posted 6.5 sacks in the regular season plus one more in the playoffs. He also returned an interception for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game.

But since then, he has recorded just three sacks (all in 2011).

“Green Bay does have problems along the defensive line,” Devaney added. “Raji is a free agent. Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly and C.J. [Wilson] are all free agents, so they need to do something to address that defensive line.”

Meanwhile, Shields is coming off his best season, and at age 26 he is still improving.

In an ESPN Insider post Insider, Mike Kurtz of Football Outsiders agreed with Devaney. He wrote that Shields is likely to be “the beneficiary of [coach Mike] McCarthy's organization first-spending strategy.”

Kurtz added that “regardless of whether Raji stays, the defensive line is thin and likely to be thinner.”

The Packers have other issues to deal with before free agency. Veteran receiver James Jones also is scheduled to become a free agent. So is Evan Dietrich-Smith, who is coming off his first full season as the starting center. On the defensive side, Mike Neal is at the end of his contract and had his best NFL season after moving to outside linebacker from defensive end.

But the biggest -- and most expensive -- decisions are on Raji and Shields.

Countdown to combine: Packers part 2

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
1:00
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As we head toward the NFL scouting combine, which starts Wednesday in Indianapolis, it’s a good time to look at the Green Bay Packers' greatest needs this offseason and which prospects general manager Ted Thompson might be taking a closer look at during workouts and interviews this week.

Which position is the greatest need could be debated, but there’s no arguing that it’s on the defensive side of the ball. Before things get underway at Lucas Oil Stadium, we’ll look at three areas on defense where the Packers need help.

Monday was dedicated to the safety position.

Now, we look at the defensive linemen.

Why the Packers need help: All three of the preferred starters – Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji – are scheduled to become free agents next month unless the Packers work out new deals. Even if some or all of them return, the Packers need more from their front, especially in terms of a pass rush. That trio combined for just one sack (by Jolly) last season. To be sure, they don’t get many third-down pass-rushing opportunities, but they haven’t cashed in on many of their rushes of late. Raji hasn’t had a sack since 2011, while Pickett has been sackless since 2010.

The Packers have a couple of promising, young defensive linemen in Mike Daniels (6.5 sacks last season) and Datone Jones, their 2013 first-round pick, but Jerel Worthy (second round in 2012) hasn’t produced yet.

Dom Capers will always need a sturdy nose tackle in his 3-4 scheme, but considering how little base defense he plays, there may be a greater need for smaller, athletic linemen.

Defensive linemen the Packers should be watching:

Louis Nix III, Notre Dame: It’s a thin defensive tackle class, so it’s possible the 6-foot-3, 340-pounder from Notre Dame could go in the top half of the first round, and he might be the third-best defensive line prospect behind South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan. Clowney could go No. 1 overall and Jernigan is better suited for a 4-3 scheme. Nix is an ideal 3-4 nose tackle and could replace either Raji or Pickett.

Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame: Nix’s teammate is a versatile lineman who could play either end or tackle in the Packers’ scheme. A high-motor player who gives maximum effort, something not all 6-6, 303 pounders can do.

Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota: Viewed as better pass-rusher than run-stopper who has rare athleticism for a 6-6, 318 pounder. Also has shown flexibility to play multiple positions on the defensive line, something Capers likes.

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