Lions, Vikings, Seahawks, Cowboys & Bears…Oh My!
All coming to Lambeau this year! Grab your spot from us in late April.
By CHRIS HAVEL
Fritz Shurmur, the Packers’ feisty but sage defensive coordinator in the 1990s, once said, “If you don’t have a defensive line, you don’t have a defense.”
Shurmur had one of the NFL’s finest defensive lines of all-time with Reggie White, Santana Dotson and Sean Jones flanking Gilbert Brown, the Gravedigger, to torture opposing offenses.
Today, the Packers took measures to field a D-Line and thus, a defense. Letroy Guion and B.J. Raji will return, according to numerous reports.
Guion, 27, earned the starting nose tackle job last year in training camp when Raji, 29, suffered a season-ending biceps tear. The Packers’ decision to re-sign Guion and Raji makes sense for several reasons. They come at a below-market price not because of a lack of talent, but because of circumstances.
Guion’s deal is for one year worth $2.75 million, according to ESPN sources. Raji’s offer also is for one year at less than $2 million. That’s considerably less than the Lions paid Haloti Ngata.
True, Guion and Raji aren’t Ngata. But both are highly motivated.
Guion, who was arrested on felony marijuana and firearm possession charges in February, finalized a plea agreement last week. Then, he visited the Seattle Seahawks before electing to return to Green Bay. Without knowing what, if anything, the Seahawks offered it’s difficult to know why he chose the Packers. Then again, does it matter?
Guion isn’t in a position with great leverage given his off-field mistake. And Raji, who is coming off the biceps tear, has to prove himself fit and willing to play hard and at a respectable level.
Guion, who became the starter because of Raji’s injury, now finds himself in a battle to see who’s going to be in the lineup. That’s because Raji may have to start at the beginning of the season due to Guion’s possible suspension. The NFL is determining what course to take but it is likely Guion could miss two to four games to open the season.
Raji will have time to show what he can do. If he flashes his old form it sets him up for a nice payday after the season. It’s the same with Guion, who lost $190,000 cash and his new pickup truck in the arrest.
The Packers’ nose tackle signings also impact the draft. Now, the Packers are free to focus on inside linebacker, cornerback and tight end with the 30th pick overall. No matter what happens with the first 29 selections the Packers are assuredly going to be in position to add a top-notch defensive player. The decision may come down to which of the remaining players at those positions are the highest-graded on their board.
Clearly, Packers GM Ted Thompson hasn’t painted himself into a corner. He has great flexibility in the draft, and he has more than enough ammo and acumen to go up or move down, whichever he sees fit. It is possible he could have to choose between the top inside linebacker and a cornerback they really like. It will be interesting.
Guion started every game in Green Bay last year. He finished with 3 ½ sacks and 62 tackles. He earned as much praise as money from the team, and he received unwavering support from head coach Mike McCarthy soon after his off-season arrest in Florida.
“I think to a man, everybody would like to see Letroy be a Green Bay Packer,” McCarthy told reporters at last week’s NFL annual meetings in Phoenix.
The Packers have now signed or re-signed Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga, Scott Tolzien, Guion and Raji.
In the big picture, the Packers had the NFL’s most potent offense last season. They haven’t lost any key figures and actually have added depth with Bulaga’s re-signing and Don Barclay’s return from injury. They should be able to score more than enough points to win a lot.
What they lacked was depth in the defensive line, competence at inside linebacker and quality special teams’ play.
McCarthy has already addressed the special teams, and Thompson will do likewise with inside linebacker, corner and tight end in the draft.
That’s the setup to having a really fine off-season.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.