B.J. Raji is a big man with a big contract coming to him, but how much is he really worth? Is Raji the terror of the 2010 playoff run and 2013 wildcard game against the Vikings; or his the movable object of 2011 and during the divisional round loss to the 49ers?
It can sometimes seem like we are playing a game of "One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other" when we talk about the big three contracts coming up this offseason. Two of those contracts are the biggest names on the team and two of the premiere players in the game today. The other….well, he’s big guy and a well known player, but he’s also a big question mark. So we have to ask ourselves, will the real B.J. Raji please stand up?
What Is The Problem?
The best way of capturing this problem is that the reputation of B.J. Raji does not always match the play that many Packer fans see on the field. Now his rookie contract is expiring and it’s time to pay him, but what is his real value?
Raji has shown to be a valuable part of the defensive line when surrounded by good talent. When he was playing next to Cullen Jenkins for a full season he was able to put together an impressive year in 2010 and a dominant playoff run. When he is left on his own he can’t seem anchor the line in the same way. In 2011 and the first half of 2012 Raji was a nonfactor, routinely getting pushed around at the NT position. Once he moved back to DE through the second half of the year he started to produce once again, if only in the run game.
So who do you believe in? The defensive end that has the athleticism to be a terror on the line and helped destroy the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs; or is the Raji who did not record a sack in 2012 and was absolutely owned in the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers more the real him? The painful reality is that both are true and that’s why the Packers are going to have to pay up for him.
How Did We Get Here?
For many players their draft status stays with them for better or worse. Aaron Rodgers will have his draft day story told until he retires. We will always hear about how a seventh round pick is valuable because of Tom Brady. A.J. Hawk will be a disappointment primarily because of his draft status; and Donald Driver will be a hero because he overcame the odds of his low round status. Raji is something similar. He was drafted 9th overall and so far has done enough to avoid being labeled a bust. As a result he probably gets more than his fair share of national media attention and other fan bases remember who he is when the Packers play them. It is this most of all that seems to inflate his value.
The reason why we are still wondering who Raji is comes from the fact that he has not settled into one position. Raji was drafted to be a dominant nose tackle, but due to a hold out his rookie year and ankle injury he did not get a chance to take the nose tackle position his rookie year. Instead that position went to Ryan Pickett and Raji played the five technique. The next year Raji moved to the nose and had the best year of his career. After a year and a half of poor play he moved back to the five technique and played well again. This back and forth and up and down play clouds the view of Raji.
How Are The Packers Reacting?
Things are quiet right now on the Raji front. He’s one of the big three contracts that need to get done sometime over the next year, but where he fits in that order is anyone’s guess. What is clear is that the Packers are making space to deal with these three contracts. The release of Charles Woodson brought that to the forefront. Now we play the waiting game to which of the contracts will come first.
This wait will probably have to wait until after the start of the next offseason. The Packers are making some rumblings which may indicate an early move in free agency as well as a deep draft class at Raji’s position. Once the dust settles on these moves then the Packers should be able to understand where their cap dollars are going and how much they can spend on Raji.
Other Elephants In The Room: