Hard to see Packers DT B.J. Raji's 'hiatus' from NFL coming

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In hindsight, maybe B.J. Raji's agent was trying to tell us something at the NFL combine last month.

Although Brian Murphy said there was mutual interest between his client and the Green Bay Packers about a new contract, he hinted that Raji may already have been thinking about his post-football life.

“B.J.’s a guy who'd love to spend his entire career with the same organization and then eventually go to work in their front office,” Murphy told ESPN in a story that appeared on Feb. 25.

However, there was no hint at the time that Raji was planning to start his post-football ventures immediately at age 29.

Perhaps it was Raji’s year away from football in 2014, when he missed the entire season after he tore his biceps tendon, that got him thinking about his future. After making a successful return in 2015, Raji announced Monday that he’s taking a "hiatus from the NFL” in 2016 and made no assurances that he would return to football.

Still, who could have seen this coming a month ago?

Two Packers sources told ESPN.com they were shocked when they first heard Raji was retiring, which was how the initial wording of Raji’s decision was reported.

There could be more to Raji’s decision, but Murphy and co-agent Camron Hahn (who sent Raji’s retirement statement to ESPN) did not return messages asking for further comment.

Talking to Raji during that 2014 season, you got the sense that he had started to think about life after football. Unlike some injured players who leave Green Bay to go rehab in some warm-weather location, Raji stuck around Lambeau Field. While working on his arm, he spent time around the Packers’ personnel department, watching film to study both schemes and players. He talked about how much he enjoyed the scouting side of the business.

The No. 9 overall pick in the 2009 draft, who is an unrestricted free agent, said he was walking away from a new deal with the Packers because “I knew that I would not be able to live up to coach [Vince] Lombardi’s 'total commitment' standard and made this decision out of respect to this great organization.”

“I am not exactly sure what the next phase of life will entail,” Raji said as part of his statement on his decision. “But I am confident that all of the lessons I learned during my NFL journey will provide a solid foundation for success.”

The Packers apparently wanted Raji back, so it leaves them with a hole on their defensive line, even though they re-signed defensive end Mike Daniels in December and defensive tackle Letroy Guion last month. One possible replacement for Raji is Mike Pennel, the former undrafted rookie who has been impressive in spot duty the past two seasons. However Pennel has been suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

Among the other options on the defensive line are Datone Jones, who seemed to be transitioning from defensive end to outside linebacker late last season; Josh Boyd, who spent most of last season on injured reserve; and Christian Ringo, who spent all of last season on the practice squad.