B.J. Raji’s fan club has probably taken a hit in membership the last few years. Let’s face it, he hasn’t shown much since 2012.
And ironically enough, that was because he was playing his natural position of nose tackle. In 2013 he became an example of what Clay Matthews was this past year — showing the rest of the Packers what a team player truly is — by playing defensive end.
After turning down over $8 million a year from the Packers, he signed a one-year prove-it deal worth $4 million before last season.
Then everything derailed for the 28-year-old. He tore his biceps and was done for the season. Usually professional athletes sign a one-year deal before either diving headfirst into big money or exiting stage left into retirement.
Raji just did the unusual by signing his second consecutive prove-it deal, which is one year for $3.5 million. And I haven’t always been the biggest believer of Raji, but I like this move. It not only strengthens the defensive line with a veteran player that won a championship but it will give much-needed help to the inside linebackers and help in stopping the run. The middle linebackers, which is why there is only one currently on the roster, and the run defense, ranked 23rd in the NFL, was the team’s kryptonite last year.
Even though Raji was the ninth overall pick only six years ago, he knows that this might be the end of the line. And that’s why I like this move. The Packers need a motivated and ready Raji to clog up the middle and force long third downs.
The Packers also need Raji to be a vocal veteran presence for newly signed nose tackle Letroy Guion, who received a one-year deal worth $2.75 million. Pictures of the 357 grams of marijuana, stacks of $190,000 in cash and a handgun went viral following Guion’s Feb. 3 arrest.
In order for Raji to help this team reach another Super Bowl, he has to cultivate Guion’s behavior. Raji will be judged by how he does on the field this season, but he can have an even bigger impact in the standings by making sure the 27-year-old Guion understands how many chances he has left.
And Raji should understand that very well. He is in his second turn riding the one-year deal carousel. He doesn’t know when the ride is going to stop, but general manager Ted Thompson sees something in him to keep the music playing.
Raji also helps out Thompson on draft day. Thompson doesn’t reach for need-based picks anyway, but now you can bet that he’s going to be more focused on bringing in some bodies that can play inside linebacker.
Bringing Raji back also tells the rest of the team that the Packers’ front office is committed to winning now. It tells them that they weren’t satisfied with getting unproven rookies to make an impact on defense. They want people who know how to win and can lay out the blueprint for others to follow.
Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn