Setting Realistic Expectations for Each Green Bay Packers Free Agent Signing

Michelle BrutonFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2014

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) and Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers (90) meet after their NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012. The Packers won 21-13 to clinch the NFC North division title. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Despite reports that their ample cap room would lead to the Green Bay Packers signing an uncharacteristically-high number of free agents, Packer general manager Ted Thompson made it a priority to re-sign some of the Packers' own free agents, including Sam Shields, Andrew Quarless, Mike Neal, B.J. Raji and James Starks. 

But when Thompson did venture into the outside free-agent market this offseason, he went big, and he stayed local. The Packers signed defensive end Julius Peppers and defensive tackle Letroy Guion from the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings, respectively. 

What role will these two new defensive linemen play in Green Bay's system, and should fans lower their expectations for Peppers, or raise them for Guion? Let's take a look at how the Packers might use their two new additions.

It's not likely that Guion is used in anything more than a reserve role, as the Packers will have Datone Jones, Mike Daniels, Jerel Worthy and Josh Boyd returning—and could still re-sign Johnny Jolly, who has healed from his neck surgery on Jan. 10.

Guion's deal is only for one year and could be worth up to $1 million, per ESPN's Rob Demovsky. Raji also agreed to a one-year deal with the Packers worth $4 million, and it's a motivational deal in more ways than one; he'll be moved back to the starting nose tackle spot. 

Thus, Guion could play a reserve role at nose behind Raji, or he could be a rotational player on the line. But as the Packers look to continue developing their homegrown talent on the defensive front, don't expect to see Guion get too much playing time in the base defense. 

Now that the Packers have re-signed B.J. Raji to play nose tackle, Guion could perhaps be in rotation behind him there.
Now that the Packers have re-signed B.J. Raji to play nose tackle, Guion could perhaps be in rotation behind him there.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Guion was credited with 21 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and one pass defensed with the Vikings in 2013. It's not likely he exceeds any of those stats in 2014, unless injuries elsewhere on the line increase his snaps. 

It's the opposite for Peppers; it seems like the opportunities he provides Green Bay in mixing up their pass rush are endless. 

Peppers had 45 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles, an interception and three passes defensed in 2013 as a defensive end in the Bears' 4-3 scheme. However, he's always preferred playing in a 3-4 scheme, per Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Peppers' seven sacks last season were the fewest in his four seasons with the Bears, and he's entering his 13th season in the NFL. It's not reasonable to expect him, as the Packers transition to a 3-4 scheme, to lead the team in sacks, but he'll certainly help increase Green Bay's opportunities to get after the quarterback.

The Packers will have plenty of ways to use him, and they won't necessarily have to put him at outside linebacker to allow him to notch seven sacks again in 2014.

Peppers can play the end position in base, but Green Bay can also line him up at tackle in certain pass-rushing sub-packages.

It's enticing to think about Peppers beefing up the outside opposite Clay Matthews, but it may be even more effective to line him up on the same side as Matthews, as Cullen Jenkins did in the past. It's not possible to double-team both Matthews and Peppers on the same side. 

Julius Peppers could be a leading interior rusher for the Packers.
Julius Peppers could be a leading interior rusher for the Packers.Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

Neither Mike McCarthy nor Peppers himself have revealed how the veteran might be used, but Peppers did say that the plan for him "was going to be something different" from what he had been doing in Chicago, per Silverstein.

It's reasonable to speculate that he will be placed on the outside, but the truth is Peppers gives the Green Bay defense a versatility it had lacked in recent seasons, even if the role he'll play may be difficult to pin down.

For instance, McCarthy has said this offseason that he'd like to utilize more of an elephant 7-technique, a position in which a defensive tackle lines up on the inside shoulder of a tight end. Nick Perry has been mentioned as a possible candidate for that position, but the 6'7" Peppers could excel there, as well.

Fans often criticize Thompson for taking 4-3 defensive ends, either from college or acquired veterans, and trying to fit them into a 3-4 scheme.

However, with players like Peppers, Perry and Mike Neal who can be asked to do things that either a defensive end or an outside linebacker would traditionally do, the Packers will have multiple rush packages available to them in 2014—and opponents will have a hard time preparing for them.