As of this moment, the Green Bay Packers have one true nose tackle signed to their roster through 2015: Mike Pennel, who was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent last offseason. While Pennel has shown some minor flashes of ability, the team will not be able to proceed into 2015 without adding to the depth at that position.
Two players on the 2014 squad will be hitting free agency in a little over a week, but free agency also offers up a few other potentially intriguing options. We'll run down five possible Packers signings to bolster the nose tackle position.
6'4", 315 pounds; 7 years experience
2014 team: Packers
2014 stats: 16 games played, 16 starts; 41 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass defended; -7.7 overall grade (Pro Football Focus)
You know the story - Guion stepped in for an injured B.J. Raji (more on him in a bit) and played every game for the Packers at nose tackle, stabilizing the position. After a successful stint on a one-year deal, Guion was poised to cash in with a long-term deal from the Packers before being arrested and charged with two felony counts related to drug possession.
Still, head coach Mike McCarthy expressed his desire to bring Guion back and the hope that his legal situation would be settled quickly.
6'2", 337 pounds; 6 years experience
2014 team: Packers
2014 stats: none
Raji, the long-time starter on the Packers' 3-man line, signed a one-year, $4 million contract last offseason. He got off to an excellent start in training camp, but then tore a biceps tendon in the third preseason game and was placed on injured reserve.
However, Raji stayed in Green Bay throughout the season and is expected to be fully recovered by the time training camp begins. Furthermore, his odds of re-signing in Green Bay appear good; Bill Huber of Packer Report recently reported that an NFL source says that Raji is "expected" to re-sign. If he is indeed fully recovered, a full-time return to nose tackle might be just what Raji needs to return to his Pro Bowl form.
6'2", 327 pounds; 5 years experience
2014 team: Cardinals
2014 stats: 16 games played, 9 starts; 38 total tackles, 1.0 sack, 1 pass defended; +11.9 overall grade (PFF)
A former first-round pick back in 2010, Williams is hitting free agency for the first time after his five-year rookie deal expires next week. Manning the nose in Arizona's 3-4 defense, Williams has started in 40 games over the past four years and participated in all but nine games over that same span. He has also been a plus player each year of his career according to Pro Football Focus, with 2014 being his best season.
Last year, however, he was on the field for only about 40% of the Cardinals' defensive snaps, suggesting that he would be best used in a heavy rotation and in the base defense only. But then again, the Packers have several players who are able to contribute as interior rushers in sub packages, so a run stuffer might be just what the doctor ordered.
The problem with Williams is that he is likely to be one of the best, if not the top nose tackle on the free agent market this year, and will likely command a fairly high salary, quite possibly more than the Packers would be willing to pay.
6'2", 325 pounds; 7 years experience
2014 team: Browns
2014 stats: 13 games played, 11 starts; 28 total tackles, 1.0 sack, 1 pass defended; -14.3 overall grade (PFF)
Perhaps you're wondering why Rubin is even on this list. Not only was he a poor run defender in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus, but he had a rather astounding contract. After his rookie year was finished in 2011, he received a three-year, $26.5 million deal with $18 million guaranteed. Granted, Rubin had started all 16 games and recorded 5 sacks in 2011, but that deal was still astounding and left the Browns committed to Rubin.
However, now that he's made his money, Rubin likely will find the market for his services pretty weak, and could come at a serious bargain. As a rotational player, he might have some value as a nose tackle who could provide some pass-rushing help. However, his play against the run has always been somewhat suspect, suggesting that he would not be a good fit for the Packers.
6'4", 303 pounds; 9 years experience
2014 team: Washington
2014 stats: 8 games played, 3 starts; 7 total tackles, 1.0 sack; -9.2 overall grade (PFF)
One of the better veteran fits at nose tackle might be Washington's Cofield, who was released a few days ago in an effort to free up salary cap space. We know that Ted Thompson likes to sign cap casualties, since they do not affect potential compensatory picks. Cofield also missed the first half of the 2014 season with ankle and groin injuries, and though he came back for the final seven games, his level of play was diminished.
If Cofield can convince a team that his poor play was injury-related, he may be a tempting player to sign on a bargain deal. Cofield should be available for a team-friendly deal. He missed just one game over his first eight years in Washington and New York, and could help provide some push in the pass rush from the nose.