Free-agent countdown: DT B.J. Raji
Editor's note: Prior to the start of the new league year in March, Press-Gazette Media is counting down the top unrestricted, restricted and exclusive-right free agents the Green Bay Packers will have to decide on this offseason.
B.J. Raji was looking for a fresh start in a familiar place.
The Green Bay Packers' defensive lineman was coming off the worst statistical season of his six-year NFL career. His contract was also expiring. Facing a quiet market for his services, Raji returned to Green Bay on a one-year contract and an agreement he'd move back from end to nose tackle.
Before Raji could press reset, however, the 6-foot-2, 337-pound nose tackle tore his right biceps against Oakland in the Packers' third preseason game. It required surgery to reattach the tendon, which ended his season before it even began.
Raji underwent surgery in early September and was given a 6-to-9 month timeline for recovery. He remained in Green Bay the entire season and traveled with the team to all of its road games.
With Raji out for the season, the Packers leaned heavily on veteran reserve Letroy Guion, who responded with 32 tackles and 3½ sacks in 16 regular-season starts. Working on a one-year deal of his own, Guion had started talking with the Packers about an extension prior to being arrested last month for marijuana possession.
While Guion's camp believes his situation should be resolved soon, recent developments could entice the Packers into bringing back Raji on another short-term, incentive-laden deal. There is mutual interest between the two sides for Raji to return in 2015, but nothing set in stone.
Raji turns 29 in June. He doesn't possess the same kind of explosiveness he did during his best pro season in 2010 when he had 39 tackles and 6½ sacks, but stands to benefit from the changes the Packers made to their defensive line last season.
In moving away from a two-gap scheme, the Packers allowed Guion and blossoming interior rusher Mike Daniels to get after the quarterback more. This year, the team's defensive line racked up 10½ sacks.
Raji, a first-round pick in 2009, would need to pass a physical to re-sign, so time could be a factor. The Packers have one true nose tackle on the roster in 2014 undrafted free agent Mike Pennel, who credited Raji for helping him adapt to life in the NFL. Several others have said his presence in practice and the locker room was helpful in the wake of Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly's departures
Whether that equates to another contract is for general manager Ted Thompson to determine. Raji is three seasons removed from his last sack in an NFL game. He still has plenty to prove. After an impactful start to his NFL career, Raji is hopeful to get it back on track.
-Ryan Wood contributed.
B.J. Raji, seventh-year defensive lineman
The skinny: Unrestricted free agent.
The snaps: None.
The stats: None.
2014 salary: $3.7 million.
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