The Packers defensive line needs will come from four departing free agents that played significant time this season. With their star defensive tackle likely to depart, Packers' GM Ted Thompson will be tasked with finding a replacement for BJ Raji. How do you replace a 6'2", 337-pound run-stuffer that led your defense to a super bowl victory with one of the most dominant runs in recent memory? Apparently, by going smaller.
According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Packers are committed to rebuilding the defense to best suit Dom Capers' philosophy. This means using quicker defensive linemen that can get after the quarterback consistently, like defensive end Cullen Jenkins did in 2010. 30 pounds lighter than Raji, Jenkins recorded 7 sacks in 12 games during the 2010 season (Raji recorded 3.5 sacks over that timeframe). To put that pairing into perspective, Raji recorded only three sacks in the past three seasons without Jenkins (all in 2011).
Thompson's attempts to address the Packers defensive line needs focused on replacing Jenkins through the draft in each of the past two years, taking Jerel Worthy (6'2" 304 lbs.), Datone Jones (6'4" 285 lbs.) and Josh Boyd (6'3" 310lbs). None have had the impact of Jenkins, but all are young and promising, and provide a potentially great rotation. Jones had a solid rookie campaign, and Worthy was recuperating from an ACL tear in 2012. Both had college careers in which they proved an ability to rush the passer. With time under their belts to learn Capers' schemes, expectations will be at their highest this season.
At this point, the only defensive tackle remaining on the roster will be Mike Daniels (6' 300 lbs.), who fits that smaller, more athletic frame that Capers allegedly desires. Daniels will be the immediate replacement for BJ Raji, but the team will have to look at free agency and the draft to build depth. Other than Raji, Ryan Pickett (6'2" 338 lbs.), Johnny Jolly (6'3" 325 lbs.) and CJ Wilson (6'3" 300lbs) all become unrestricted free agents. Wilson has mainly provided depth and relief in his playing time, so Thompson will not actively pursue him. Jolly, while heavier, has proved to be a ball-swatting force in his career. His checkered past and age (30) may scare teams away from a contract, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Jolly back in rotation next year.
It's clear that the Packers defensive line needs are focused on the interior. With over $30 million in cap space, and the alleged intent to use it, Thompson could pull in some major talent. However, Daniels has a bright future, so look for Thompson to be himself and bring in a low-rate free agent and use a draft pick to fill the need.