Raji Leaves Green Bay: What His Holdout Means To Revamped Green Bay Defense

Ryan CardarellaCorrespondent IAugust 12, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - MAY 1:  Defensive lineman B.J. Raji #90 runs as he participates in practice drills during Green Bay Packers Minicamp at Don Hutson Center on May 1, 2009 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

Packers first-round pick and ninth overall selection B.J. Raji was seen flying out of Green Bay last night, a bad sign for fans hoping to see the space-eating 330-pounder in green and gold anytime soon.

With contract negotiations between Raji and the club at an apparent standstill according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, it is unclear when the Packers' top pick will be back in town, and in uniform.

This is damaging news for the defense, with the line already missing fellow defensive linemen Johnny Jolly and (get this!) Justin Harrell due to injury, leaving the Packers  perilously thin up front.

And with the 3-4 so dependent on the linemen eating up blockers and holding the point at the line of scrimmage, the lack of progress is a bit disheartening.

Raji and Ryan Pickett are pegged to be the key cogs up front for the Pack in 2009, and they need to get those guys reps to establish some cohesion defensively.

While Raji is currently listed as Pickett's backup at nose tackle, Raji was expected to play left end and team with Pickett in occupying blockers for the linebackers.

The longer the contract negotiations drag out, the greater the risk that Green Bay will be relying on an out-of-shape Raji along with several injury-prone and less-talented linemen.

Where have you gone, Andrew Brandt?

But before you blame Ted Thompson and negotiator Russ Ball for the lack of progress, know that there are more influential reasons for the stalemate.

There is currently a logjam of unsigned draft picks around Raji, including sixth overall pick Andre Smith, and the No. 8-11 draftees.

More specifically, if you want to point a finger at someone, point one at San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

The tenth overall selection is throwing a major wrench in the slotting process by demanding to be paid like a top-five pick.

Raji and his people are understandably concerned to sign quickly only to see Crabtree's contract blow his out of the water.

Without his ridiculous demands (he slipped in the draft after undergoing foot surgery, but still thinks he's entitled to be paid like he didn't go under the knife), Raji would likely already be in camp riding children's bicycles around.

You can also point a finger at Raiders owner Al Davis, who reached for Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey at the No. 7 spot and then shelled out $38 million to sign him, further muddling the slotting process.

Crabtree considers himself a much better player than Heyward-Bey, and has threatened to sit out the season and re-enter the draft in 2010 if he doesn't get a "fair-market" deal.

It will be difficult to sign Raji until No. 8 pick Eugene Monroe and Crabtree get their contract situations settled.

As it stands, it may be days or even weeks before we see a key piece in the new 3-4 defense get onto the field, a disappointing setback for a defense looking to turn things around in 2009.