In this Oct.
4, 2015, file photo, Green Bay Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji
(90) reaches for San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde
during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara,
Calif. Defensive tackle B.J. Raji says he is taking a hiatus
from the NFL and will not play in 2016 following seven seasons
with the Green Bay Packers. Raji said Monday, March 14, 2016, in
a statement that he made the decision after hours of
conversation with family members and mentors.
MILWAUKEE — B.J. Raji quoted Vince
Lombardi in announcing his decision to leave football for a year.
While the late Hall of Fame coach for
the Green Bay Packers would have been proud, the current team now has
a hole to fill on the defensive line.
Raji said Monday that he was taking a
"hiatus" from the NFL and would not play in 2016 following
seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers.
"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," Raji said in a statement. "I cannot rule out a
return to the NFL in the future, but I will definitely not be playing
during the 2016 season."
The statement was provided by Raji's
agents. The Green Bay Press-Gazette first reported Raji's decision.
Raji became a free agent after having a
good season in 2015 with 22 tackles in 15 regular-season games. He
bounced back last season after missing 2014 with a biceps injury.
The Packers posted a simple message on
Twitter, "Thank you, #90," along with a picture of Raji
celebrating with oustretched arms after a game.
Raji was also a free agent a year ago,
but settled for a one-year, $1.75 million contract to return to the
Packers following the injury.
He returned to form as a run-stopper in
the middle of the defense. A training regimen that included yoga
improved his flexibility. The personable Raji was also a respected
presence in the locker room.
"Coach Lombardi once said that
'Unless a man believes in himself and makes a total commitment to his
career and puts everything he has into it — his mind, his body, his
heart — what's life worth to him?' That is the approach I have taken
with football since I was a two-star high school recruit," Raji
When agents Brian Murphy and Camron
Hahn told Raji they had reached a new deal with Green Bay, Raji
thought back to Lombardi's edict.
Said Raji: "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
Raji did not broach the subject of
stepping away to reporters at the end of last season. He said this
offseason was the first he could remember being "pulled in
another direction, and I am excited to first be 'all in' with my
family back home, and then to explore new frontiers."
Raji also thanked the Packers
organization and fans.
On the field, it's unclear how Raji's
decision might affect general manager Ted Thompson's decisions. The
Packers have re-signed defensive linemen Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion
to prevent them from hitting free agency. Guion would likely step into
the starting lineup for Raji, just like in 2014 when Raji was hurt.
Backup Mike Pennel showed promise in
the 2015 season, but has been suspended for the first four games of
the 2016 season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
The Packers also have a need on defense
at linebacker, where coach Mike McCarthy intends to slide Pro Bowler
Clay Matthews back outside from the inside.
Matthews was one of two first-round
draft picks for the Packers in 2009, selected 26th overall, 17 spots
after Green Bay took Raji. Matthews and Raji helped lead the defense
in the team's Super Bowl run in the 2010 season.
"It doesn't seem that long ago
that Clay and I came to Green Bay together as first-round picks,"
Raji said, "and I am really proud of what we were able to
accomplish as a defense and a team, bringing a Lombardi Trophy to
The Packers on Monday also signed
former Georgia defensive end Ray Drew, who entered the NFL as an
undrafted free agent with Miami in 2015. Drew played in three
preseason games for the Dolphins and also spent four games on
Cleveland's practice squad.