B.J. Raji will take ‘hiatus’ from football in 2016, leaves void up front

Nose tackle B.J. Raji has informed the Green Bay Packers that he will not play football this upcoming season in 2016.

The 29-year old veteran is leaving football for the foreseeable future after seven seasons in Green Bay, per a lengthy statement Raji released earlier today. Here is an excerpt of the statement:

“I am taking a hiatus from the NFL and will not play during the 2016 NFL season,” Raji wrote. “This decision was made after hours of conversation with close family members and mentors and considerable self-introspection and is one in which I am absolutely certain. I cannot rule out a return to the NFL in the future, but I will definitely not be playing during the 2016 season.”

Raji is currently an unrestricted free agent that was undergoing contract talks with Green Bay and other interested teams around the NFL. A first-round draft pick in 2009, Raji was an integral part of the Packers defense including the legendary pick-six against Chicago in the NFC Championship game during Green Bay’s 2010 Super Bowl run.

Raji missed the entire 2014 season with torn biceps and signed a one-year deal last season that kept him in Titletown. He claims, however, this may not be the last we see of “The Freezer” on a football field.

“This is not an official retirement. This is just taking time away from the game. I felt like I owed it to the Packers to be up front, and owed it to the fans to be up front and let them know how I was really feeling. I think this is the best way to do so.”

It is important to note his time away from football is not due to any health concerns. Rather, Raji did not want to play without full devotion from himself, referring to Vince Lombardi’s quote about commitment.

“I knew that I would not be able to live up to Coach Lombardi’s ‘total commitment’ standard and made this decision out of respect to this great organization.”

For now, Raji leaves football having earned a Super Bowl win and one Pro Bowl selection in 2011.

What does Raji’s hiatus mean for Green Bay?

Raji was not officially signed for next season, but in his released statement he acknowledged his agents and the Packers front office had a deal on the table for him to return to Green Bay. Assuming he would have returned, his vacancy now leaves even a bigger hole to fill.

Defensive tackle Mike Pennel received a four-game suspension from the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. His suspension alone warranted another body in the middle, whether it be via draft or free agency. Raji’s departure only enhances the need for a big man up front.

If there was ever a good time to have needs along the defensive front, this is the year. The defensive line in this year’s draft offers one of the deepest positions, perhaps, in the history of the NFL draft. The Packers hold the 27th pick in the draft and there should be great value at defensive tackle late in the first round.

Thompson usually sticks to his “best available” strategy over addressing the team’s “biggest need” but this year he should be able to kill two birds with one stone, barring any action in free agency.

Green Bay should have options in the draft at the position, including names like Andrew Billings, Vernon Butler, A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, and Kenny Clark. Several mock drafts had Green Bay selecting a defensive lineman. With the recent news from Raji, it seems almost inevitable the Packers will be thinking big by the time their pick rolls around.

Photo courtesy of chicagotribune.com.

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