By Jon Meerdink
Following our look at the Packers’ offensive free agents, let’s take a look at some decisions they may look to make on the defensive side of the ball.
Letroy Guion – DT
The Good – Guion remains a monstrous presence along the Packers’ defensive front. When he’s at his best, he can be a disruptive force as both a tackle and end.
The Bad – Was consistent in 2015 than 2014 and missed three games with legal entanglements at the start of the season. Lost out on playing time to the ascending Mike Pennel.
The Verdict – Cut. Guion is a replacement level player who is becoming redundant with the improving play of the aforementioned Pennel. If the decision comes down to a choice between Guion and B.J. Raji, however, Guion could be more affordable.
Casey Hayward – CB
The Good – He’s still a decent cover corner, though he lacks high end speed.
The Bad – Hayward’s knack for creating turnovers has abandoned him following his rookie year. He failed to record an interception this season, the second time in the past three year’s that’s happened. He’s also facing increasing competition from younger players.
The Verdict – Cut. Much like Davon House last year, Hayward doesn’t provide anything special enough to merit keeping him around, especially given the contributions of younger players like Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. Micah Hyde can also fill Hayward’s slot corner role just fine.
Mike Neal – DL/LB
The Good – Neal continued in 2015 much as he has over the past couple seasons: serving as the ultimate front line jack-of-all-trades. He plays a little bit of everything and kept up that effort in 2015, earning reps as an outside linebacker, defensive end, and interior rusher in sub packages.
The Bad – Nothing performance-wise factors as much of a negative for Neal. At this point in his career, he is what he is (and that’s much in his favor!) The only bugaboo for Neal is his age, which at 28 (turning 29 in June) puts him on the track for replacement sooner rather than later. Also, he blocked me on Twitter for no reason, and if that’s not bad, I don’t know what is.
The Verdict – Keep. Neal should be an affordable option that provides depth at multiple positions.
Nick Perry – OLB
The Good – The Nick Perry we saw in 2015 was basically the same Nick Perry we’ve seen since he was drafted: a stout, stiff defensive end who’s miscast as an outside linebacker. He flashed occasional burst as a pass rusher (just ask Washington!), was mostly above average against the run, and was generally just a rotation-type pass rusher.
The Bad – I wonder if things ascribed to Perry as “bad” would be thought of as bad if he were a third round pick instead of a first rounder. He’s never been extremely unproductive, just inconsistent. It’s worth wondering if he’s just a poor man’s Mike Neal. He’s not a star, but I don’t know if we’d be expecting him to be one if he wasn’t picked in the first round. Still, he was a first rounder (and taken one pick ahead of Harrison Smith, who would be a terrific leader for the Packers’ young secondary. And no, I will not let that go.)
The Verdict – Keep. He’s not terrible, and he should be affordable enough to justify keeping around as a rotational rusher.
B.J. Raji – NT
The Good – Playing at his more natural nose tackle position, Raji had his best season since 2011. That’s sort of a backhanded compliment, since he was a virtual no-show in 2012 and 2013 and was out all of last season with a biceps tear. Still, he looked livelier than he has lately and was a solid starter.
The Bad – He’s not getting younger, has been injury plagued, and had performed inconsistently over the recent past. He’s also likely to command a higher price than the Packers’ other free agents in the front seven. He still hasn’t recorded a sack since 2011.
The Verdict – Keep, but only at an affordable price. If it comes down to Raji versus Guion, the cheaper option may be the pick.
Sean Richardson – S
The Good – Made a handful of plays in the preseason and early going that showed the Packers’ investment may not be for naught.
The Bad – Reinjured an already suspect neck, shelving him for the season.
The Verdict – Cut. He’s been injured too frequently, and his next neck issue could be tragic. This is probably the end of his NFL career.
Restricted Free Agents
Andy Mulumba – OLB
The Good – Mulumba gets an “incomplete” grade for his 2015 season. He made the roster again, which is saying something for a guy who’s still very much learning how to play football at a high level. However, his season was cut short again due to injury problems, so the Packers didn’t get much of a look at Mulumba in his third season.
The Bad – He’s one of many linebacker prospects with middling returns. Injuries have slowed his growth, and contributions from players like
The Verdict – Cut. He hasn’t been able to stay on the field, and more polished and productive prospects like Jayrone Elliot merit a longer look.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents
Chris Banjo – S
The Good – A core special teams player, Banjo played in all 16 games in 2015. He’s probably never going to be more than a stopgap player on defense, but his special teams acumen is valuable.
The Bad – See the “good” section. There’s no reason to discount Banjo outright, but his position on the roster makes him expendable almost by default.
The Verdict – Keep, for now. He’ll be cheap, which is good, but he’ll have to fight for a roster spot this year.