There aren’t many Green Bay Packers fans who love safety Charles Woodson more than I do. The Heisman-winning, Super Bowl-winning, 2009 Defensive Player of the Year has resurrected his career and his reputation since coming to Titletown in 2006.
The 15-year veteran has been a stabilizing presence for a Green Bay secondary that is full of young, inexperienced players, especially since the loss of Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins early in the 2011 season.
Woodson is under contract with the Packers through the 2015, but is due $10 million next season. That’s a lot of money for a 36-year old guy, especially considering the blockbuster deals the Packers will have to negotiate with Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, as well as B.J. Raji over the course of the next couple of seasons.
Ideally, Woodson would renegotiate his deal for less money and a chance to take this Green Bay team back to the Super Bowl, but he has to do what’s best for him financially, and I certainly wouldn’t blame him if he declined to voluntarily take a salary reduction.
Though the Packers are certainly not a sentiment-driven organization, and though they believe strongly in developing their young, unknown players, I have to think Green Bay would do all that they reasonably can to keep Woodson. He is still a smart, shrewd defender who causes problems for opposing quarterbacks, and his off-field role continues to expand.
Woodson is one of my favorite NFL stories ever. With the Oakland Raiders, Woodson developed a reputation as a player with a bad attitude, known for sleeping in meetings, butting heads with coaches, and spending late nights on the town. Additionally, he struggled with injuries his final couple of seasons in Oakland. As a result, the free agent market for Woodson was less than tepid, leading to Green Bay being the only team to offer him a contract.
Woodson never planned on staying in Green Bay longer than it took to secure a contract elsewhere. There are stories of head coach Mike McCarthy kicking him out of practice, of Woodson having to be photoshopped into the team picture because he refused to take off his hat; it seemed like it would be more of the same from the troubled player. But, as Woodson says, he and the city of Green Bay “grew on each other,” and now he says he loves his life in Wisconsin.
Woodson’s abilities have always commanded the respect of his teammates on the field, but his maturity has led to greater off the field respect. “Every time there has been a vote for captains or player council,” said Rodgers, “[Woodson] always wins. Anytime he speaks, I think he’s starting to realize he has a lot of respect in the locker room and guys listen to him. They appreciate what he has to say.”
The locker room role that Woodson plays certainly will not be lost on the Green Bay organization. Coaches have spoken about the role Woodson has played in developing players like Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, and how his study habits have set the example for the younger players. The Packers should do all that they can to keep Woodson, not only for his play-making ability on the field, but for his leadership as well.