The Green Bay Packers suddenly have a large and unexpected hole in the middle of their defense.
Rather than re-sign with the Packers to reprise his role as the team’s starting nose tackle, Raji has decided to step away from the game. The Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Ryan Wood broke the story.
In a statement, Raji said he is taking a "hiatus" from the sport and will not play in 2016, which leaves the door open for the future but leaves the team short-handed in the present.
"I am taking a hiatus from the NFL and will not play during the 2016 NFL season," he wrote. "This decision was made after hours of conversation with close family members and mentors and considerable self-introspection and is one in which I am absolutely certain. I cannot rule out a return to the NFL in the future, but I will definitely not be playing during the 2016 season."
On Monday morning, a source told Packer Report that Raji was “reviewing all his options” — including returning to Green Bay, the place that had been his football home since 2009, when he was the team’s first-round pick and the centerpiece of the transition to the 3-4 defense. Other teams were a consideration, as well, the source said, including Carolina, which brought in Raji for a visit.
Instead, Raji decided to take a year off — at least.
"Coach Lombardi once said that 'unless a man believes in himself and makes a total commitment to his career and puts everything he has into it – his mind, his body, his heart – what’s life worth to him?' That is the approach I have taken with football since I was a 2-star high school recruit," Raji said. "That total commitment was the foundation of my success at Boston College, helped me become a top ten pick in the NFL and helped me both make a Pro Bowl and win a Super Bowl. However, when my agents Brian Murphy and Camron Hahn informed me that they had a new deal with the Packers, I knew that I would not be able to live up to Coach Lombardi’s 'total commitment' standard and made this decision out of respect to this great organization."
Raji, who will turn 30 in July, was instrumental in the Packers winning the Super Bowl in 2010, when he had a breakout season of 66 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Raji was selected to his only Pro Bowl in 2011. However, after a disappointing 2013 season, Raji settled on a one-year contract for the 2014 season. He missed all of that season with an injured biceps, and returned to Green Bay in 2015 with another one-year deal. His return was a big asset. While Green Bay was unchanged in yards allowed (15th in 2014 and 2015) and improved just one notch in points allowed (13th in 2014 and 12th in 2015), the Packers were a top-five defense in terms of points allowed until an offensive meltdown at Arizona in Week 16.
While his 13.44 snaps per tackle ranked fourth on the defensive line, teams averaged 0.49 yards less per carry with Raji on the field.
The Packers’ defensive line was arguably the strength of the team last season. It’s a major question mark heading into 2016, even with the in-season extension for Mike Daniels and the re-signing of Letroy Guion. Down the stretch last season, the Packers went with Raji, Mike Daniels and Mike Pennel as their No. 1 line in the base defense. Now, there will be no Raji and no Pennel to start the season as he served a four-game suspension for a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy.
That leaves Daniels, Guion, Datone Jones and Josh Boyd, who missed most of last with an injured ankle. Practice-squad players Christian Ringo, William Campbell and B.J. McBryde round out the unit. Fortunately for Green Bay, this is considered a super draft for defensive linemen.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.