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BOCA RATON, Fla. – B.J. Raji’s decision to step away from football — at least for a year if not permanently — took the Green Bay Packers completely by surprise, president and CEO Mark Murphy said Sunday.

“Oh yeah, he had been communicating with Russ (Ball, the Packers’ chief negotiator) and we thought we had a deal done,” Murphy said at the NFL owners meetings. “I think it surprised his agent.”

Raji, a 29-year-old free-agent defensive lineman, announced last Monday that he was stepping away from football after playing six seasons and acknowledged that the Packers had offered a “very, very nice” long-term deal.

Raji called it a “hiatus” in a carefully crafted 500-word statement his agent first released to USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.  Citing a desire to spend more time with ailing family members, Raji left open the door to returning after the 2016 season, whether with the Packers or elsewhere.

Raji's exit surprising, return unlikely

Murphy, a former star safety for Washington, said he respected Raji’s decision.

“It’s not an easy decision,” Murphy said. “The easy thing to do is take the money. Especially the letter he wrote. He obviously thought things through.

“I was surprised. I’m happy for him. He obviously gave it some thought. Some of the illnesses in his family affected him as well.”

Murphy, whose playing career was cut short after eight seasons by injuries, said he could relate to the choice that Raji faced.

“My career ended – it wasn’t my decision – I wanted to keep playing, desperately,” Murphy said. “I wanted to keep playing but I wasn’t able to. As I look back on it, it’s probably the best thing that happened to me. I think most players will play as long as they can but I think you can play too long. If your heart isn’t in it and you’re not passionate about it, it’s probably the best thing to do, step away from the game.”

Asked if he thought Raji might return after one season of sitting out, Murphy said, “Everybody is different. Obviously, that’s going to be B.J.’s decision. I was really pleased that he pointed out and thanked Russ Ball and people in the organization. It obviously meant a lot to him throughout his career.”

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