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Thursday, March 6, 2014
Examining why Raji would do a 1-year deal

By Rob Demovsky

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The official three-day negotiating period before free agents can sign contracts with new teams doesn't begin until Saturday, but the agent for B.J. Raji no doubt has spent the last several weeks gauging his client’s value on the open market.

The information gathered by David Dunn likely wasn't overly positive.

B.J. Raji
B.J. Raji is close to returning to the Packers for the 2014 season.
Why else would Raji return to the Green Bay Packers for just a one-year deal, as ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported on Thursday was on the verge of being completed?

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the one-year deal would pay Raji about $4 million.

By most accounts, Raji did not play well enough in 2013 to warrant a sizeable contract. He went without a sack for a second straight season, although during that stretch his playing time on third down decreased significantly from early in his career.

Two years after playing 79.1 percent of the defensive snaps, Raji's playing time was reduced to 58.7 percent despite not missing a game.

"I don't label myself as a two-down defensive lineman," Raji said late last season. "I'm just a two-down defensive lineman for us this year."

Raji, 27, never complained about his diminished playing time or how he was used in coordinator Dom Capers' defense, but it was worth wondering if he would have preferred to test his skills in a defense that gives its front players more freedom to rush the passers rather than just eating up blocks, which is what Capers asks his defensive linemen to do the majority of the time.

"He's been a very good leader for us this year," Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said late in the season. "I think he understands the value that he has to us. Now, at the end of the year, who knows?"

While it's a risk for Raji to do just a one-year deal, if he returns to his 2010 form, when he had 7.5 sacks (including the playoffs) then he could be in line for the kind of contract he was hoping for this time around.

Raji's best seasons -- 2009 and 2010 -- came with him playing primarily at nose tackle, a role that Ryan Pickett (who also is scheduled to become a free agent) has taken over the last three seasons.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy suggested several times this offseason that there are tweaks coming to Capers' defense. With smaller but athletic defensive linemen like Mike Daniels and last year's first-round pick, Datone Jones, expected to take on greater roles, perhaps moving the 6-foot-2, 337-pound Raji back to the nose might be in the works.

McCarthy also said at last month's scouting combine that he preferred Mike Neal as an inside rusher rather than an outside linebacker, where he played almost exclusively last season. If the plan is to re-sign Neal, who also was in the final year of his contract last season, then it could be another reason to move Raji back inside. However, there was no indication on Thursday that the Packers had even initiated serious talks with Neal.