B.J. Raji, the ninth selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, the darling of the Green Bay Packers 2010 defense when he helped lead the team to a Super Bowl XLV championship, is a free agent headed toward the marketplace and ready to sell his services to the highest bidder.
Recent news that the Packers may show an interest in both Raji and nose tackle Ryan Pickett broke this week at the NFL Combine when Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said the team may be interested in signing both of them – on the team’s terms.
Pickett is a great locker room influence, a quiet leader and a solid football player in the twilight of his career. Maybe he has a year or two left in the tank and if the Packers think they can bring him back on their terms, he may be worth it.
But as for Raji, coming off his worst statistical year, he is still only 27 years old and could be seen as a player who might have more success in a 4-3 scheme than a 3-4. Given that, he might also enter into a tepid free agency season. Will the offers he receives be any better than the multi-year $8 million per-year offer he and his agent David Dunn left on the table at the beginning of last year? Probably not.
The fact that Raji shunned the Packers offer and then turned in his worst season on the field (13 tackles and 6 assists) makes one wonder if the team really wants to pursue a signing. Shouldn’t they just let him walk? After all, they did just let M.D. Jennings take a hike after he was pathetic at the safety position. Is Raji any different than Jennings? This is the National Football League where it’s not about what you’ve done in the past but what you have done today – Raji hasn’t had a sack in three years and was simply invisible the past two years.
Among the rankings of profootballfocus.com, Raji ranks 54th out of 55 in value among the free agent defensive linemen. Even C.J. Wilson and Pickett rank above him. Heck, even Colin Cole ranks higher than Raji.
In my mind, I’m like every Packers fan – we can’t get by the image of Raji’s interception and return for a touchdown that helped seal the NFC Championship Game in Chicago in 2010. But that was a long time ago. Maybe there are other teams that will pop that tape in and watch it before sliding an offer sheet across the table, but the Packers have to erase that tape and look toward the future.
With more than $30 million in salary cap room, the Packers certainly have the flexibility to play the market and look at some of those other defensive line free agents. Do they really want to spend and reward a player who has not shown the production expected of him over the past two years? Do they give him a two-year contract and hope his production improves?
I say let him walk. Let him explore. If he finds a suitor along the way, then good for him. If he doesn’t and is interested in coming back under the terms of the team, then so be it.