As the Green Bay Packers, along with the rest of the NFL, continue to trim the fat from their payroll, the obvious question is “Who’s next?” More than a question of talent, it is a question of Green Bay freeing up the needed money that’s going to make players like Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji very rich men.
Donald Driver was nudged into retirement, Greg Jennings is as good as gone, Jeff Saturday was released and my beloved Charles Woodson was released too. Is there another Packer who is set for the chopping block?
If asked, Packer fans would guess — nay, hope — nay, plead — for the next name to be that of A.J. Hawk. The linebacker, who signed a head-scratching six-year, $33.75 million deal before the 2011 season, has never been a fan favorite due to his failure to live up to expectations as the fifth overall draft selection in 2006.
As little as fans would miss Hawk, and as bloated as his contract is, it does not make a whole lot of sense for the Packers to cut Hawk because he would still be owed nearly $5 million by the team. Though I am not a fan of his half-hearted, two-steps-too-late tackling technique, Packers coaches have always been quick to defend him, calling him the quarterback of the defense. He is the player who receives the defensive assignment from the sidelines and is responsible for relaying the information to his teammates. (Hmmm, is that why the Green Bay defense is always getting caught in busted coverage?)
With the season-ending injuries to starting inside linebacker Desmond Bishop and his backup D.J. Smith this season, Hawk’s role necessarily expanded. (It is ironic good fortune for Packer fans that, while all other defensive players seem to drop like flies, he has never missed a single game of his NFL career.) I feel bad for being mean to him, so I will say that he showed improvement this season, especially in the second half. But, try as I might, that’s really the nicest thing I can find to say about the guy.
While it’s certainly unfair to blame all of the defense’s struggle against the run on one guy, the drop off from Bishop’s talent level to Hawk’s was glaringly obvious this season. If Bishop and Smith are ready to return to start 2013, he will return to his rightful backup role, despite the fact that he will be making more than Bishop and Smith combined. Considering the financial baggage of his contract, however, it’s unlikely that the Packers will cut ties with him. For now, Packer fans should just hope and pray that Bishop and Smith stay healthy next year.