Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports and Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette first reported the news Monday. Raji missed all of 2014 but played for six other years in Green Bay, which selected him No. 9 overall in the 2009 NFL draft. The 29-year-old has posted 151 combined tackles and 11 sacks in his career.
Wood spoke with Raji, who said he turned down a "very, very nice deal" from the Packers and interest from multiple other playoff teams in favor of sitting out.
Raji expanded on his decision in a statement (via Wood), calling his forthcoming absence a "hiatus":
I am taking a hiatus from the NFL and will not play during the 2016 NFL season. This decision was made after hours of conversation with close family members and mentors and considerable self-introspection and is one in which I am absolutely certain. I cannot rule out a return to the NFL in the future, but I will definitely not be playing during the 2016 season.
Coach Lombardi once said that "unless a man believes in himself and makes a total commitment to his career and puts everything he has into it – his mind, his body, his heart – what's life worth to him?" That is the approach I have taken with football since I was a 2-star high school recruit. That total commitment was the foundation of my success at Boston College, helped me become a top ten pick in the NFL and helped me both make a Pro Bowl and win a Super Bowl. However, when my agents Brian Murphy and Camron Hahn informed me that they had a new deal with the Packers, I knew that I would not be able to live up to Coach Lombardi's "total commitment" standard and made this decision out of respect to this great organization.
After missing the 2014 campaign with a torn biceps, Raji agreed to a one-year, incentive-laden contract last offseason, registering 22 combined tackles and a half-sack in 15 games in 2015.
Back in January, Raji hinted he fought through other ailments last season but also expressed confidence in his skills as he entered the open market once again.
"I felt like when I'm healthy, I'm one of the better nose tackles in the league," Raji said, per ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky. "But that's a tough position to stay healthy at all year, and I felt like I had a few things that I nicked up and was just proud of the way I kept playing."
Banging away in the trenches can certainly take a punishing toll, so it's hard to blame Raji for wanting to give his body a rest despite probably having multiple productive years left in him.
Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus weighed in on Raji's career:
Raji is a guy who's entire career feels like unfulfilled potential. Weirdly think he was miscast in role. Was a 330lb 3-tech at heart.— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) March 14, 2016
The best season of Raji's NFL tenure came in 2010, when he registered 6.5 sacks and helped the Packers to the Super Bowl XLV title. He returned an interception for a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game, showing uncommon athleticism for a man his size.
Raji appeared well on his way to fulfilling his draft billing after that breakout season, but he's never really returned to that level of play.
After ranking 21st defending the run in 2015, Green Bay must prioritize bolstering depth across its front seven with Raji out of the picture. General manager Ted Thompson may well spend an early draft pick to find a potential Raji replacement or seek a veteran free agent like Terrance Knighton or Nick Fairley.