Heading into this offseason, the general consensus was that Green Bay had two major players to extend: franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers and pass rusher Clay Matthews. That wasn't the perception a year earlier, however. Back then, most believed defensive lineman B.J. Raji also required an extension before the start of the 2013 regular season.
What a difference a year makes.
Last offseason, many believed that because Matthews and Raji had less time on their contracts, and were more severely underpaid, they would be the first to receive extensions with Rodgers' deal coming soon after. It didn't hurt that all three players were represented by the same agent.
As it turned out, Matthews and Rodgers signed extensions less than 10 days apart. Each now earns at or near top dollar for their respective positions. In contrast, Raji's contract situation doesn't appear to be close to a resolution. That hasn't worried the fifth-year defensive tackle, however.
In an interview with Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Raji made his feelings explicitly clear.
Green Bay gave me my first opportunity, my first shot at this thing. Obviously I've had a great run here. I love the people here. It's a great organization, it's a great city for football. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
There's no way to misinterpret that statement; Raji wants to stay in Green Bay. The only question is whether the Packers feel the same way. Any doubt the team has is likely predicated on Raji's up and down career. After a strong showing in the Super Bowl season, Raji played inconsistently in 2011. Raji rebounded well this past year, but he played largely at left end. While players at that position still retain value, they aren't paid nearly as well as nose tackles. Much like Jermichael Finley's position dispute during his contract negotiation, Raji will likely argue that he is a nose tackle while the team will claim he's an end, and an argument can be made that Raji needs to play on the nose to cash in.
Another factor that could affect Raji's future is the Packers' list of impending free agents. A big contract for Raji could cause the team to lose Sam Shields, James Jones, Ryan Pickett, Morgan Burnett, and/or Evan Dietrich-Smith, not to mention the cavalcade of Packers set to become free agents after 2014. Under Ted Thompson, Green Bay has been one of the most cap savvy teams in the league. For Raji to get his wish, he may have to accept less money. Alternatively, Raji could go Joe Flacco on the Packers and have a monster contract year. Such a season may price Raji out of Green Bay.
That's quite a way down the road. For now, Raji will keep saying the right things and hope that the team finds the cap room to retain his services past 2013.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Co. He has previously written for Lombardi Ave, College Hoops Net, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is also currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter: @JBHirschhorn