Everyone suspected the worst when they saw Packers NT BJ Raji standing on the sidelines midway through Friday’s game against the Raiders.
Without his uniform, and his arm wrapped in ice, it was reported that Raji had suffered an arm injury during the game. The extent was not yet clear. Yet because of the Packer injury history over the past few seasons, anyone who follows the Packers always thinks worst case scenario anytime someone on the team gets injured.
These worst case thoughts were confirmed yesterday, when it was reported that Raji had torn his bicep, and would most likely be lost for the entire 2014 season.
This season ending injury completes a full circle for Raji over the past three seasons.
He had gone from riding high after Super Bowl XLV, to somewhat of a down season in 2011, to two very uninspiring seasons in 2012 and 2013. Raji had gone from budding superstar to budding draft failure.
Some will say that he suffered playing out of position for the past two years. After playing at a high level as a NT in 2010, he was moved to DE, and became nearly invisible.
Despite some rather unimpressive stats, the Packers still offered Raji a longterm contract offer which would have paid him close to $8 million a year. But Raji passed on this offer, deciding to play the final year of his rookie deal and hoping to capitalize on interest in free agency.
His reward for entering free agency? A 1 year deal worth $4 million. Far from the big payday he had hoped for, and certainly not the type of long term commitment from the Packers he was looking for.
Raji seemed to have things working for him this offseason. He had been moved back to his natural nose tackle position. He had flashed during practice and the first two preseason games some of the skills that helped make the “Freezer” a household name in 2010. He seemed to be back, and ready to make his presence known again.
And now, we will never know what this season could have been for Raji.
How this will affect the Packers and their plans for 2014 remains to be seen. Moving Raji back to NT was one of the key pieces to the commitment of improving the defense that Mike McCarthy vowed would happen. Now, inexperienced players such as Josh Boyd and Mike Pennel will be expected to pick up the slack the loss of Raji has created.
The season ending injury to Raji is most certainly not a reason to throw in the towel for the season. Remember, the Packers won three consecutive division titles with Raji on the field and not performing up to expectations. They will be alright. They will figure out a way to deal with this. Somehow, they always do when it comes to injuries.
As for Raji, the big question now is whether we have seen the last of him in a Packers uniform. Playing on a one year deal certainly showed him that the Packers were less than committed to him for their long term plans. Now that he will be unable to show the Packers and the rest of the league that he had regained the edge that had been lost for the past few years. The edge that warranted his number 8 draft pick in 2009. The edge that warranted an $8 million/year contract offer not quite a year ago.
All is not lost for the Packers. They will survive without BJ Raji this season. Will it hurt? Of course it will. Anytime you lose a starter it is going to hurt. But it will not hurt anyone more than Raji, who was hoping for a big season in order to cash in come contract time. Now it seems, that time may never come for him.
John Rehor is a writer at PackersTalk.com.
He can also be heard as one of the Co-Hosts of Cheesehead Radio. ---------------------
He can also be heard as one of the Co-Hosts of Cheesehead Radio.You can follow John on twitter at jrehor or email him at email@example.com.