Compromise Gets Raji a Contract

The Packers announced the signing of first-round draft pick B.J. Raji on Friday afternoon. The No. 9 overall pick, who has missed 14 practices, reportedly agreed to a five-year contract that is worth more than even the No. 8 pick received last year. With exactly one month until the regular season kicks off, will Raji be ready to contribute?

The Green Bay Packers on Friday afternoon announced the signing of first-round pick B.J. Raji. He was placed on the active non-football injury list. That means Raji must pass a physical before being allowed to practice. He counts on the roster, though, so the team put undrafted receiver Patrick Williams on season-ending injured reserve.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy confirmed a report that a deal was close Raji on Thursday night.

"I hope so," McCarthy said after Thursday night's practice ended. "Love to see him. I hope, I hope, I hope. I know we're close. That's what I was told before I came to practice."

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the five-year deal would be worth $28.5 million and include $18 million in guaranteed money.

Raji's deal is a considerable increase over what the Cincinnati Bengals handed to No. 9 pick Keith Rivers last year (five years, $23.8 million, $17.2 million guaranteed). In fact, it's close to the middle ground between the deal the New Orleans Saints handed to No. 7 pick Sedrick Ellis (five years, $32 million, $19.5 million guaranteed) and what the Jacksonville Jaguars gave to No. 8 pick Derrick Harvey (five years, $23.8 million, $17.2 million guaranteed) a year ago.

A league source confirmed the parameters of the contract to Packer Report late Thursday night. The source — the same person who predicted the lengthy holdout because of No. 10 pick Michael Crabtree's demand for top-five money — said talks heated up on Thursday after it became clear to both sides that Crabtree and the 49ers were nowhere close to a deal.

Raji's agent, David Dunn, was hoping to wait for Crabtree to sign to ensure his client would sign a bigger contract. There's no guarantee that will happen now, but it appears the Packers also compromised by spending considerably more than Harvey and Rivers received from last year.

The news began filtering through Ray Nitschke Field as the Packers were in the early stages of their 14th practice of training camp on Thursday night.

Obviously, Raji won't be ready to play on Saturday night against Cleveland. Just how soon the massive and athletic defensive lineman from Boston College is ready will depend on his conditioning. His last practice was on June 24 — about seven weeks ago. A lot was expected of Raji back then. He was the starter at left defensive end, the primary backup at nose tackle and a fixture in the nickel package. That ambitious plan will have to be scaled back, at least in the beginning.

"Need to see him. Need to see him work out. Need to see what kind of shape he's in," McCarthy said. "Obviously, there will be an adjusted plan. Any time you bring in a player this late, you have to be real smart because he's at a whole different level as far as his conditioning (and) football shape than his teammates. That's something we'll have to evaluate once we get more information."

Fortunately for the Packers, they kick off the regular season exactly one month from today. Plus, Raji was present for organized team activities, when the entire defense was installed, so the mental part shouldn't be a huge issue. However, starting with Monday's 2 p.m. workout, there are only 11 practices remaining in training camp, including the final two-a-days on Tuesday and Thursday. With the bulk of training camp in the rearview mirror, Raji has missed a ton of practice time. Even if the 337-pounder has kept himself in good shape, there's no substitute for on-the-field conditioning.

"In-line players have the opportunity to get into football shape because we've obviously been in a lot of padded practices, and that's something we can't make up," McCarthy said. "We've got to make sure we're putting him in position where he can achieve that training that's needed to play in a competitive environment like a live game."

As for Williams, an undrafted free agent from Colorado, he missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury but returned for Thursday night.

Four first-round picks remain unsigned: No. 6 Andre Smith (OT, Cincinnati), No. 8 Eugene Monroe (OT, Jacksonville), No. 10 Crabtree and No. 11 Aaron Maybin (DE, Buffalo).


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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