FanPost

The Case to Replace Ryan Pickett

I like Ryan Pickett, but I wonder if it's time for him to go. He and Donald Driver are in very similar situations - both respected veterans on the team, but both are expensive, getting on in years and ready to be supplanted by younger players. A major difference is that while Driver's replacements are presumably on the roster now, Pickett's replacement would be through free agency. (Yes, even Ted Thompson uses that from time to time - after all, that's how Ryan became a Packer.)

Ryan Pickett is a man without a true starting position on the Packers at this point. He's a capable nose tackle, but the Packers have one of those (and an increasingly expensive one, due for a contract extension soon) in BJ Raji. The Packers have been using him at defensive end, where he's great at holding up against the run but offers next-to-nothing in the base defense as a pass rusher. He's not a true five-technique DE, a player that can hold against double-teams in the run and at least threaten the offensive tackle's outside shoulder via the pass rush. As a starting DE in a 3-4, he's miscast.
The Packers didn't really have one of those last year. Mike Neal played hurt and ineffectively when he played at all, and no combination of CJ Wilson, Jarius Wynn or Howard Green were able to generate much pass rush at all in base defense - hence the Packers playing so much nickel, which didn't work out much better. The Packers need true defensive ends badly, perhaps second in need only to an OLB opposite Clay Matthews, and have only one late first-round pick with which to work. Fortunately, there are at least two hitting the market this spring, both of whom would be upgrades in some senses to the revered Mr. Pickett.
The Miami Dolphins' Kendall Langford is a much more typical 3-4 DE at 6'6" and ~300 lbs, in the mold of the Steelers' Aaron Smith (once considered the prototype five-tech end) or the Cardinals' Calais Campbell: long, strong and athletic enough to be a pass-rush threat. Unlike Smith, he's young at only 26, and unlike Campbell he wasn't franchise-tagged. Having played for the Dolphins he knows the 3-4 and is out on the market, and the Dolphins may not want him back because they're switching to a 4-3 defense. The Packers front office has surely done their homework on him and will contact his agent if they feel he'd be a good fit.
The other major free-agent option would be from literally the other end of the country: the Seahawk's Red Bryant. He's a hybrid end/tackle who sacrifices speed for power, and while older than Langford is younger than Pickett by five years or so. Unlike Pickett, he's a player on the ascent, and the Seahawks want him back badly. He's good enough at multiple DL positions that his market is likely to be high - or at least more than the 'hawks are willing to pay.
If the Packers either renegotiate or cut Pickett all but about $1M of his nearly $6M contract becomes available for other players. The Packers need to become younger and better on the defensive line, and they may need to use both the draft and free agency to do so. Either Langford or Bryant would be good fits for what the Packers want and need, and replacing an expensive older veteran with a comparably expensive younger player is what good GMs seek to do. If the Packers were able to renegotiate Pickett's contract to free up cap space and keep him around as BJ's backup, that would be good. Finding a young cheap nose tackle in the later rounds of the draft would be even better from a salary perspective, though perhaps not from a performance one.
Though I'd love to be wrong, I don't see a breakout from Wilson or Wynn as answering the bell at DE, and neither Pickett nor Green are the players the Packers want at that position. The only other two candidates on the roster, Lawrence Guy and Johnny Jones, are completely unknown quantities. The Packers have a number of needs to fill via the draft and only so many picks with which to do it. DE seems like the obvious place for them to explore the suitable free-agent options available - potentially at the expense of Mr. Pickett.

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