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BOCA RATON, Fla. - Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday he respects B.J. Raji’s decision to walk away from football and believes the 29-year-old defensive lineman will make a comeback after the 2016 season.

Raji announced last Monday that he was stepping away from football after playing six seasons, calling it a “hiatus” in a carefully crafted 500-word statement his agent first released to USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. Raji revealed the Packers had offered a “very, very nice” long-term deal but said his heart no longer was in the game and that he wanted to spend more time with ailing family members.

His mother, Mamie, is hypertensive and on dialysis as well as dealing with diabetes. His aunt, Grace Patterson, is fighting breast cancer.

“I had a long conversation with him and I respect him and told him I was proud of him,” McCarthy said from the NFL owners meetings. “I was aware of the health, in reference to the woman who raised him. I didn’t realize the stage it was in when we talked about it before in training camp. He took me through the whole history of it, (and also) just what’s going on with his father. It’s something he’s given a lot of thought to. I respect what he’s doing. We talk about family first and he’s exercising it. It says a lot about the man.”

Is B.J. Raji Done in the NFL?

Raji left open the door to returning after the 2016 season, whether with the Packers or elsewhere. That has been met with some skepticism, given the difficulties that 337-pound defensive lineman can encounter trying to stay in playing shape while taking a year off from the game. But McCarthy said the likelihood of pulling that off depends on the individual.

“I think we’ve all seen B.J. grow up in Green Bay and really the way he’s matured with some of the things he’s done the last couple of years, he’s very self-conscious and his working out and things he does away from the facility the last couple of years,” McCarthy said. “To answer your question, I don’t think that’s a major concern. Who knows what’s going to happen in the next four months?

“I think he’ll play again. But it would have to be at the right time. He needs to go through this process of his life. But he’s also open to other challenges and opportunities out there. But this is purely a family-focused decision.

So for the present, where does that leave the Packers at the nose tackle position? When Raji suffered a torn biceps muscle that sidelined him for the entire 2014 season, Letroy Guion assumed the role and performed well. Guion was re-signed for the 2016 season in February.

McCarthy said he is confident that Guion can be counted on again, even after he was required to sit out the first game of the 2015 season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

“Once again, we’ve addressed the things from the past and you really focus on what’s going on yesterday, today as we move forward,” McCarthy said. “So, Letroy has been at the facility pretty much all offseason. I know he left for a birthday party for his kids, a short trip. So, he’s in really good shape for this time of year. I look for him to stay on the path and really represent the Packers the right way.”

Raji's exit surprising, return unlikely
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