ESPN Wisconsin’s Jason Wilde continues his position-by-position outlook of the Packers by delving into Green Bay’s defensive line and linebackers. With regards to the defensive line, NFL Insider Ian Rapoport recently reported that the Packers would try to remake the unit with smaller and more athletic players, which DC Dom Capers has historically preferred. If the team does go in that direction, it could simply let unrestricted free agents B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly, and C.J. Wilson–all of whom offer more size than speed or athleticism–find a new employer. The biggest name of that group, of course, is Raji, whose rejection of an $8MM/year offer last fall suggests that he is unhappy with his role in the Packers’ scheme and that he is ready to move on. In any event, Green Bay is looking at a great deal of turnover on the defensive line, and it remains to be seen if they will add depth to the unit via free agency, the draft–the Packers have used a high pick on a defensive lineman in each of the past two years–or both.
As far as their linebackers are concerned, the big question the Packers face is what to do with Mike Neal. Neal was a revelation in 2013, moving from defensive end to outside linebacker and thriving in that role. While that was good news for Green Bay last season, Neal, an unrestricted free agent, is well-positioned to receive a significant offer from another club this season. With 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry still an unproven commodity at this point–injuries have shrouded each of his first two years in the league–the Packers may have no other choice but to retain Neal, lest they face another season with Clay Matthews as the only legitimate play-maker in the linebacking corps.
More notes from the NFC North:
- As noted by our own Rob DiRe last week, Vikings GM Rick Spielman wants to add another two picks to the team’s 2014 draft. ESPN.com’s Ben Goessling thinks the best way to do that would be for Minnesota to trade back from its No. 8 overall selection. Such a move would be especially tempting if the draft’s top quarterbacks are off the board at that point. Goessling adds that, even if the Vikings could not get a top-flight QB with the eighth overall pick, they would be wise to grab Clemson’s Sammy Watkins if he’s still available. Watkins could team with Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, and Adrian Peterson to form a formidable group of offensive weapons.
- ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein believes the top priority for the Lions this offseason is at wide receiver, a belief reinforced by the recent release of Nate Burleson. Tight end would also be a high priority, particularly if the Lions cannot re-sign Brandon Pettigrew. As noted last week, Detroit’s outlook at tight end beyond Pettigrew is uninspiring.
- Although ESPN.com’s Michael C. Wright opined last week that the recently-released Roman Harper would probably cost too much for the Bears to sign, he does note that Harper would still be a viable option if another team does not spend big on him.