With five defensive linemen remaining under contract for the 2014 season, the Green Bay Packers will definitely need to make some off-season acquisitions in order to shore up the depth and overall talent level at the position. Whether those moves come in the form of re-signing impending free agents or looking outside of the organization remains to be seen.
Given the Packers' tendency to develop their own players, it would be a surprise to see a free agent signing, but there are a few names this year who stand out as possibilities. The 2014 NFL Draft class has no shortage of good linemen, though, so look for Ted Thompson to spend a draft pick or two on the position.
Here are a few players who you might see wearing Green and Gold in 2014.
Many people have voiced their desire to see Raji back in Green Bay, but it's anything but a sure thing. He reportedly turned down an $8 million-per-year deal before the 2013 season, and based on his play this year he won't get that kind of offer from Green Bay again. Expect Raji to hit the open market and only come back to the Packers if other teams aren't interested in his services.
I think Pickett is more likely to don green and gold in 2014 than Raji, even if only because of his price tag. Pickett can still anchor and occupy blockers and could help mentor a young defensive tackle, and at this stage of his career he shouldn't command a massive salary. I could definitely see Ted Thompson bringing Pickett back on a one-year deal to help rotate in and out at nose tackle, especially if he intends to find a young player for that position in the draft.
One name that has been bandied about in some circles is Cody, a mountain of a man who just wrapped up his rookie deal with Baltimore. Cody was listed at 6'4" and 349 pounds this year and could be a rotational player at nose tackle. However, he only started five games in the past two years after starting all 16 in 2011. He could be a short-term stopgap at nose tackle, though, especially since the Packers use a ton of two-man fronts in their sub packages. Cody said he would like to stay in Baltimore, but also has expressed interest in being a full-time starter, an opportunity the Packers could provide.
Jay Ratliff (Bears)
A highly effective nose tackle in the 3-4 defense for the Cowboys, Ratliff was released due to injury concerns midway through the 2013 season and signed with the Bears. In his prime, Ratliff provided a surprising amount of pass rush from a nose tackle, recording 13.5 sacks between 2008 and 2009, but his 6'4" 300-pound frame would be better suited to an end position in Green Bay. Ratliff might not be interested in the Packers, though - he cited his decision to sign with the Bears instead of the Chiefs as being due to the Bears' 4-3 defense and having an opportunity to start, which he would probably not be guaranteed in Green Bay.
Signed by the Colts to a one-year deal, Franklin could also fit the profile of a veteran nose tackle brought in to compete for a starting job in Green Bay. He spent 2013 in the Colts' 3-4 defense, 2012 with the Chargers, and several years before that in San Francisco, so he's familiar with the scheme. He's very similar to Ryan Pickett, though, as he's only a year younger and provides little to no help in the pass rush and would be substituted out in nickel and dime packages. Franklin only made a little over $1 million in 2013, though, unlike Pickett's $6.2 million.
Louis Nix III (Notre Dame)
I won't get too deep into breaking down Nix right now - I'll instead suggest that you click over to our scouting report on him from the other day.
Ra'Shede Hageman (Minnesota)
A popular name projected to the Packers is Hageman, and his stature is massive - 6'6" and 318 pounds. A productive and explosive player for the Golden Gophers, Hageman could be productive immediately in sub packages as an interior rusher. He excelled doing just that at the Senior Bowl, and though his technique is raw, he has tons of potential.
Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame)
Nix's linemate fits at the end position, and his production in college is impressive - 18.5 sacks in two years from a 3-4 end. Like Hageman, his size (6'6", 310) is perfect at the five-technique spot, and he could stay on the field in sub packages. He needs to work on his technique somewhat, but has all the physical tools one could want in a player at the position.
Justin Ellis (Louisiana Tech)
After good performances in both the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, Ellis is receiving very positive reviews for his play. He's 6'2, 350, but reportedly shows surprising quickness for a player his size. He could be a potential second- or third-day selection who could help the depth in the center of the line.
Brent Urban (Virginia)
A 6'7", 300-pounder, Urban looks the part as a 3-4 end. Rob Rang of CBS Sports complimented his strength when seeing him at the Senior Bowl, but noted that he needs to improve field awareness and technique. One other positive is that Urban led all FBS defensive linemen in pas breakups with nine in 2013. Overall, Urban posted only three sacks at Virginia, but did record 11.5 tackles for loss in his senior year.