One thing about the Green Bay Packers everybody knows is they do everything possible to keep their own free agents in house. That is why they wasted no time locking up Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews before they even got close to thinking about NFL free agency. That doesn’t mean they are out of the woods yet though. Some important names still sit on course to hit the open market unless they receive similar deals. Perhaps the biggest of the bunch is nose tackle B.J. Raji.
Packers content to let Raji and Sam Shields play out contracts
A great debate has surfaced recently about which players on the Green Bay defense deserve the highest consideration for extensions. Perhaps the two names at the top of list are B.J. Raji and corner Sam Shields. Both have played good football for the Pack in the past and are still young. It seems like only a matter of time before they each get a new deal. However, nobody seems to be in a rush. The prevailing thought is that Green Bay prefers to let Raji play out the rest of his rookie contract and then reevaluate his value in the 2014 off-season. This method has some good and bad to it. If their reservations are right and Raji struggles, they can bring him back at a discount. On the other hand, if he recaptures the form he displayed in 2010 (6.5 sacks, 29 tackles) then it could cost them a lot more salary cap space than simply re-signing him now. The problem is they aren’t sure what Raji is. They drafted him to become their primary nose tackle but recently his play has only been better at the 3-4 defensive end position. It hasn’t helped that the team has so little pass rush outside of Matthews. That is why it is hoped the addition of rookie Datone Jones and return of 2012 first round pick Nick Perry will allow Raji to fulfill the primary job he was drafted for at nose tackle.
Joe Philbin connection and Paul Soliai uncertainty make Dolphins a clear option
Another key to the situation is what Raji has in mind. While his first loyalties remain to Green Bay, he may not feel comfortable accepting a second tier deal from them considering all that he does for their defense. The key to that is the likelihood of their being a number of teams in need of a nose tackle for their 3-4 defense. One team that could become interested is the Miami Dolphins. Never mind how much spending they already did this off-season, but their interest in Raji comes from a few different factors. The first is head coach Joe Philbin. Before taking over in Miami he was the offensive coordinator in Green Bay, where he watched Raji blossom on the way to their Super Bowl championship in 2010. He knows what the 26-year old can do. The other part of the issue is how uncertain the Dolphins are at defensive tackle. Their two best interior linemen, Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, could become free agents next year as well. Since Starks received the franchise tag it is likely he will take priority in getting an extension, leaving Soliai as the possible odd man out. Considering Raji is three years younger and a more consistent pass rushing threat, it makes sense for Miami to bring him in.
B.J. Raji has 16 games to get the contract he wants. Whether that comes from Green Bay or another suitor like the Miami Dolphins is the question yet to be answered.