B.J. Raji hopes to be back with the Green Bay Packers in 2015, but the first thing is getting healthy again.
The sixth-year defensive lineman underwent surgery two weeks ago to reattach his right biceps tendon and faces a 6-to-9 month recovery process. He sustained the injury in the Packers' third preseason game against Oakland on Aug. 22.
"The tendon popped off, so he had to kind of like anchor it down, suture it up and let it heal, let it scar around the areas," Raji said. "And then I can start my rehab process."
Coming off a down 2013 season, Raji re-signed with the Packers on a one-year deal for $4 million in March. He and the coaching staff felt a conversion back to nose tackle would help improve the former Pro Bowler's production.
Raji still feels it can. He'll just have to wait at least another year to find out if that's the case. The question now is if the Packers will be interested in bringing back their former first-round pick?
"It's obviously crossed my mind, like you know potentially I could be seeing my last games at Lambeau," Raji said. "I've thought about it, but it's not my primary concern at this point. My primary concern is being around the team, trying to help when I can, still traveling with the team. Being around the team, that's going to help a lot, but also making sure that when I'm cleared to work out that I do everything I can to ensure that I'm in shape."
The night the injury occurred, Packers coach Mike McCarthy told the media Raji was "pretty confident" about the initial exam, though what Raji might have been confident about was the severity. Raji said McKenzie told him in the locker room there was an "80-85 percent" chance that he popped the tendon on a routine play where he was reaching out to make a tackle.
There was a chance Raji could have returned after six or eight weeks if it was just a tear, but since the tendon was ripped from the bone it required surgery to reattach it by sewing the the tendon back to the elbow.
By the time he was watching from the sideline, Raji understood the severity of his situation.
"That night even though I didn't have the scan until the next morning, I was kind of like OK, this guy's been doing this for 30 years, I'm pretty sure he knows what a torn tendon looks like," Raji said. "I kind of bought into it and he was right. That night was probably the toughest night out of the whole process. But I got a good night sleep that night and the next morning, it was just like, listen this is the path that I'm on."
Raji continues to take part in meetings and has made several appearances on the sideline at practice, relaying advice to a defensive line that averages 24.8 years of age.
When he's finally ready to return, Raji knows another prove-it deal might be waiting for him once the season is over, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Dallas defensive tackle Henry Melton tore his ACL last year with Chicago. The one-year contract he signed with the Cowboys has an option for three more years. It becomes a four-year contract if he starts next season on their roster.
Raji, who will turn 29 years old next July, still feels like there's time to prove he's worth a big-time contract.
"I'm not really worried about bouncing back from this injury," Raji said. "I'm more focused on my rehab, staying in shape, not getting completely out of shape. I think that the way, knock on wood, the way my career has been going up to this point, this injury being an anomaly. I've done pretty well from an injury standpoint, so I believe the way that I'm built, number one, and just the way my body holds up physically, the type of work I do in the offseason I can play a number of more years."
Could it be with the Packers?
"I would love to be a Packer, but obviously who knows at this point?" said Raji, who has 129 tackles with 10.5 sacks in 76 career regular-season games. "I'm more worried about my rehab and just being around the team and trying to be a help to the young guys."