Recently, I told you why I thought that the Packers will want to keep defensive lineman B.J. Raji at nose tackle, with the thought that the team wants him to prove that he can man the nose for the long-term before giving him an extension. While this evening's breaking report does not confirm this supposition, it does seem to hint that this conclusion may be at least on the right track.
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network tweeted this out earlier this evening:
From Total Access: After early talks, #Packers plan to make DT BJ Raji play out the final year of his deal to earn a big, long-term payday— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 3, 2013
Again, this says nothing about what position the Packers plan to have Raji play, but it is very much a sign that the team wants him to prove his long-term worth in order to earn a long-term deal. However, in what may suggest that the team will be more likely to keep him than let him walk, the Journal-Sentinel reports this:
Though the numbers may not indicate it, Raji said coaches told him that 2012 was his best season with the team. Now, the Packers want to see more of the 2009 ninth overall pick before committing long-term money to him.
On the surface this may surprise you, but it holds up reasonably well upon analysis. By conventional statistical evaluations, Raji appeared to struggle in 2012. It was the only season of his career in which he did not record a sack, and he was not a part of any turnover plays the entire season--although that has not been a calling card of his anyway, as he has recorded only a single fumble recovery (in 2011) and one interception (in the 2010 NFC Championship Game). Pro Football Focus did grade Raji positively in 2012, with a +10.4 grade for the regular season, and it appears that the team agrees more closely with PFF's assessment of Raji than the conventional statistics.
Raji could very well be a candidate for the franchise tag next spring, although he will be part of a Packers' free agent class that is set to include players like James Jones, Morgan Burnett, Ryan Pickett, and Jermichael Finley. For a defensive tackle, the franchise tag value in 2013 was just above $8.4 million, and if the tag continues with a consistent increase year-to-year, it could be close to $9 million in 2014.