Not long after the Green Bay Packers’ season came to an end, names of players that would be offseason casualties were being thrown around by fans and beat writers alike.
Some names on the list were obvious.
Wide receiver Greg Jennings is probably gone via free agency and wide receiver Donald Driver will either be released or retire. Cornerback Charles Woodson will probably have to take a fairly steep paycut to stay.
All those names are to be expected. Another one a lot of people threw around was linebacker A.J. Hawk. In a way, this makes sense. Ever since Hawk was drafted as a top five pick in the 2006 draft, he has not lived up to expectations. He was touted as a “sure thing” in that draft and with such a high draft position, he was expected to make an immediate impact.
Such was not the case with Hawk.
During his rookie season, he had 82 tackles and 3.5 sacks, which both remain career highs as Hawk prepares for his eighth NFL season. He set career highs in 2010 for interceptions (three) and passes deflected (10).
That season the Packers won the Super Bowl and as the defensive play-caller, Hawk had a big role in the defense’s performance during that special season.
The rest of his career has been inconsistent, which has led many to believe that the Packers will cut Hawk this season. He’s owed a $4.9 million base salary next season and a $1.6 million dollar signing bonus. Hawk is not due to become a free agent until 2016. Given that the Packers soon will have to address the contracts of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews, Hawk very well may have to take a paycut to remain a Packer.
That said, he should remain in Green Bay.
Has Hawk been a disappointment so far? Yes. Keep in mind, however, that the first three years of his career were spent in a 4-3 defense before the Packers switched to Dom Capers’ 3-4 in 2009. The role of a linebacker is different in each defense and Hawk was called upon to drop into coverage more versus being just a pure pass-rusher.
That’s why Hawk had a career year in 2010. It was his second year in the 3-4 and it seemed like he had gotten into a groove, especially when Matthews was out with an injury.
2011 was a different story, but it was a bad year for the entire defense. It was a year that the offense could not be stopped and the Packers defense remained a liability that never cost them until it came to the playoffs.
Hawk finished that season with a career low in tackles (84) and many thought he would not be back for 2012.
Hawk did indeed return this past season and finished with a career high in tackles (120, with 81 being solo) and had 3.0 sacks but finished without a pass deflected for the first time in his career. Perhaps that last statistic is a big reason why many don’t want Hawk back for 2013.
That would be a mistake.
The story of Hawk’s 2012 cannot be told through statistics alone. With Matthews missing four games due to injury plus multiple other injuries to the linebacking unit as a whole, Hawk had arguably one of his best seasons. He struggled at times against Adrian Peterson and Colin Kaepernick, but so have a lot of people.
Hawk was constantly around the ball, as evidenced by his high tackle total, and seemed to thrive with Matthews out of the lineup. The Packers were very banged up at the position and the unit would have been in worse shape without the presence of Hawk.
He may not quite be worth the salary the Packers are paying him, but it would be in the team’s best interest to bring him back for 2013 and beyond. The Packers need to build their defense around Matthews and keeping Hawk would allow for a veteran presence while Nick Perry develops along with Dezman Moses, who played well when needed.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Packers part ways with Hawk this season, but fans need to at least consider if letting him go is truly the right move. He has at times been a bit of a scapegoat for the Packers’ defensive struggle,s but he’s not a player who fans are consistently yelling at when the defense gives up a big play.
Given the issues the Packers currently face on defense, that’s a good thing for Hawk.