When the Green Bay Packers take the field next season, someone besides B.J. Raji will line up at nose tackle. In a surprise twist, the veteran defensive lineman has decided to retire from the NFL.
In a statement released by Raji on Monday, he revealed his plans to take a "hiatus" from football but did not rule out a return in the future. Because Raji's contract expired earlier in March, the Packers do not have to place him on the reserve/retired list.
The news comes as a shock, especially given that reports indicated the Packers and multiple other teams had engaged in contract discussions with Raji as recently as this week. Per Wood, the seven-year veteran has chosen to walk away from "a very, very nice deal" from Green Bay as well as offers from several playoff teams. It remains unclear whether Raji had discussed the possibility of retirement with the clubs previously or only informed them of his plans Monday.
Green Bay has taken some steps to prepare for Raji's departure. The team signed defensive lineman Letroy Guion to a three-year, $11.25 million contract in February. Barring an unforeseen development, Guion expects to take over at nose tackle in Dom Capers' base 3-4 defense, a position he held down during the Packers' run to the NFC Championship game in 2014. The team has also developed former undrafted rookie Mike Pennel, though the league has suspended him for the first quarter of the season for violating its substance-abuse policy. General manager Ted Thompson may also select an interior defensive lineman during next month's NFL Draft.
If Raji has played his last down in the NFL, he leaves with a fairly distinguished record. In seven seasons, he started 78 of his 91 game appearances while amassing 151 total tackles and 11.5 sacks. Raji's best season came in 2010, when he anchored one of the best defensive lines in football and helped the Packers win Super Bowl XLV.