While it’s difficult for anyone to determine what’s on Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson’s mind at any given time, we have to wonder what he’s thinking as he heads into tomorrow’s NFL Combine. Is he looking for a defensive back to bolster the loss of one Charles Woodson? Is he looking for a running back to add depth and a possible starter to the offensive backfield? Does he have offensive and defensive linemen dancing in his head.
Or maybe he’s got linebackers on his mind. Not so much because it’s an absolute need – at least at this point – but it might become a need in a couple of months. While the Packers have several areas that will need replenishment, inside linebacker may be nearing critical mass come June – that’s because the Packers may part ways with underachieving and longtime team member A.J. Hawk.
Why would the Packers do it in the first place and why wait until June? The answers to those two questions are simple. the former is because Hawk is nearing the point in his career where we will see diminishing returns – if we haven’t already gotten there. While he had 81 tackles and 39 assists last season, many of those tackles were four or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Rarely does Hawk disrupt plays in the backfield, though for the second time in his career he had three sacks.
The latter part of the question is that if the Packers wait until June to part ways, the Packers will gain $5.45 million against the salary cap, money the team could easily apply toward extended contracts for Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji and Aaron Rodgers.
The real question is whether Thompson will take the chance of relying on two players – D.J. Smith and Desmond Bishop – who are coming off serious injuries and may not be ready to come back by the start of training camp and maybe not until the start of the regular season. Brad Jones played well when Smith and Bishop went down last year, but in reality he’s really not any better than Hawk.
So, unless Thompson targets linebacker in the early rounds of the NFL and keeps his eyes on them at the Combine, it’s difficult to say just what the Packers will do with Hawk.
My gut feeling is that Packers stay with Hawk for at least just one more season. He is a known commodity, can provide another year of adequate, but not great play and it will give the Packers another season to draft and develop.